Officiating By the Book Sinks Illini; More Thoughts
as 2010 Closes
College Basketball Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers serves as an impenetrable
wall between the interpretations of what exactly constitutes "intent to harm."
Illinois and Missouri were locked in one of those typical Tiger thrillers --
games bred by a fast-and-furious style of maximized possessions and end-to-end
action. Each team landed fast jabs, but nary was a knockout punch thrown into
the final minute.
When all appeared lost for the Illini, Missouri's Michael Dixon was stripped of
the ball in the aptly termed "coffin corner", and D.J. Richardson stepped into
an open three-pointer to draw the Orange and Blue within one at 62-61.
However, in a scrambling situation, a quick inbounds and hit-ahead passes left
streaking Laurence Bowers with a clear path to the rim for the go-ahead layup.
Mike Tisdale, in full damage control, simultaneously hit Bowers with a braced
two-hand push to the back. Bowers converted the layup despite the contact, and
a three-point play would have given the Tigers the 65-61 advantage with
approximately 40 seconds to play.
Bowers didn't hit the floor. The wide-shouldered forward wasn't in physical
danger near the basket support or camera row. Tisdale didn't follow through
with excessive force or lunge forward in an attempt to hurt Bowers. He was just
trying to foul the Missouri player without allowing the basket, an intention he
failed to achieve.
Yet, according to official John Higgins, he also failed at what is deemed a
"foul" in the NCAA rulebook. Higgins immediately raised his arms in an "X"
shape, indicating an intentional foul and awarding two further free throws and
the basketball in Missouri.
In the process, Higgins also awarded the Tigers the game.
Before choosing which side of the great river to stand on, review the
definitive declaration of what the NCAA terms an "intentional foul."
Section 4. Intentional Personal Fouling Guidelines for calling the intentional
personal foul are:
A. Any personal foul that is not a legitimate attempt to directly play the ball
or a player is an intentional personal foul.
B. Running into the back of a player who has the ball, wrapping the arm(s)
around a player and grabbing a player around the torso or legs are intentional
C. Grabbing a player's arm or body while initially attempting to gain control
by playing the ball directly is an intentional personal foul.
D. Grabbing, holding or pushing a player away from the ball is an intentional
E. Undue roughness used to stop the game clock is an intentional personal foul
and, if severe, should be called a flagrant personal foul.
F. It is an intentional personal foul when, while playing the ball, a player
causes excessive contact with an opponent.
I can omit the final four guidelines because they didn't apply in this
situation. Guideline B can be interpreted loosely, yet Tisdale did not push AND
wrap his arms around Bower's torso nor take his legs out from under him.
This argument focuses on Guideline A: "...not a legitimate attempt to directly
play the ball or a player." When reading this guideline by the book, there is
little wiggle room in Higgins' determination. Tisdale did not make a legitimate
attempt to directly play the basketball because he didn't have the time in
Bower's race to the rim.
However, an addendum to the guideline states: "The intentional personal foul
must be called within the spirit and intent of the intentional-foul rule."
To which Higgins' holiday response was: "Bah, humbug."
Turning the compelling conclusion of the Braggin' Rights clash into a six-
point possession was neither exercising the spirit of the game nor was it
fulfilling my golden officiating credo: time and place determine discretion.
Without flagrant malice, Tisdale was just trying to prolong the game and give
his team an opportunity to respond. Higgins took that opportunity away, using
his whistle as the Holy Grail and influencing Missouri's 75-64 victory.
Higgins could have -- and I vehemently argue SHOULD have -- whistled Tisdale
for the foul he committed and let the 10 players on the floor decide the game
in the closing 40 seconds. It was still a game Missouri led, and one the Tigers
likely would have still won.
Yet, Illinois' Demetri McCamey didn't get the chance for late-game heroics.
Illinois head coach Bruce Weber was furious during the game, resulting in a
technical foul that just tied a bow around Higgins' gift wrap.
He was still justly perturbed after the game in speaking with the press,
suggesting the "spirit of the game" rule was broached by the authoritative
actions of a man neither fan base came to see play a deciding factor.
"I don't like the intentional foul call," Weber exasperatedly stated. "You
can't have that play be the (difference in the game). In essence, he probably
made the right call. But there's a thousand of them in the game and they don't
Those last two lines illustrate the rule's grey area. In this case, Higgins
leaned on rule of law instead of interpretation of law. I wouldn't make a
strong case for his inclusion on the Supreme Court, and I have sound advice for
the next time he has the direct responsibility to make such a decision.
When any doubt exists, swallow your whistle. Let two NCAA tournament teams
decide the outcome on the floor.
WHAT WE LEARNED THIS WEEK:
1. Baylor has failed every test this season. First, star guard
LaceDarius Dunn created an off-court headache with issues involving a domestic
dispute allegedly gone physical with a girlfriend. Then, the Bears beat up on
Texas' finest second-rate programs before finally get tested against Gonzaga.
They failed. Next came a bounce-back statement versus Washington State. They
lost. And finally a very winnable game against Florida State. Apparently not
that winnable. In-between the three losses was a 33-point thumping of San
Diego, but that does not mask Baylor's major flaw. It can't make shots against
defenses that match up systematically or athletically. Dunn needed 22 shots to
score his 29 points against the Cougars then went 5-of-15 against Florida
State's lanky defensive unit. The Bears didn't shoot better than 36.7 percent
in any of the three defeats and are still looking for a consistent third scorer
behind Dunn and Quincy Acy.
2. Kansas State's off-court troubles have started to affect
its on-court play. The Wildcats walked a tight rope of bad statistical
measurables for weeks then the ceiling fell down with the suspensions levied
against Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly for receiving impermissible benefits in
connection with the purchase of clothing at a local retail store. The Wildcats
looked poor with both in the lineup in a 57-44 loss to Florida, shooting just
27.3 percent from the floor. Pullen needed 17 shots to score 19 points and
Kelly was held without a field goal. Then, in the hours after the suspension
was announced, the Wildcats made just 14-of-26 free throws and turned the
basketball over 23 times in a 63-59 loss to UNLV. Pullen's three-game
suspension ends on New Year's Eve against North Florida, but the totality of
Kelly's absence has not yet been determined. Maybe the three-game respite will
heal Pullen's tired legs and psyche. No matter the outcome, Kansas State still
has not rectified its woeful foul shooting and turnover problems.
1. Duke (11-0): Maybe the most noticeable ripple affect I
didn't discuss in the aftermath of Kyrie Irving's injury was Kyle Singler's
move back to his more comfortable small forward position. He is averaging over
five points more per game and his three-point shooting has jumped by over 10
percent in Irving's absence.
2. Ohio State (12-0): Impressive and balanced in 92-63 rout of
highly- discussed Oakland Golden Grizzlies. The more Jared Sullinger shines,
the more open looks Jon Diebler and David Lighty will see as conference play
3. Kansas (11-0): Josh Selby was as advertised again in 15-
point win over California. Not only does he give the Jayhawks another
legitimate scorer, but he takes offensive pressure off Tyrel Reed and the
4. Connecticut (10-0): Huskies have been riding Maui wave for
a while now. The fact remains this team MUST increase its defensive efficiency
or a stark plummet to the middle of the pack could result once the Big East
5. Syracuse (13-0): So Fab Melo has been a flop. Who cares!
Syracuse is playing with such confidence offensively, illustrated by its 11-
of-12 start to the second half against defensively-sound Drexel.
6. Pittsburgh (12-1): Ashton Gibbs toe-to-toe with UConn's
Kemba Walker is the matchup of the week. Brad Wanamaker will have plenty of
opportunities against less skilled defenders. His success rate in those
advantageous situations will be the difference.
7. San Diego State (14-0): Looked lethargic in victories over
San Francisco and IUPUI. Another yawner before conference play starts with road
trips to TCU and Utah.
8. Georgetown (11-1): Hoyas looked really good at Memphis. The
difference was the 15-point, 10-rebound stat line put up by Julian Vaughn. He
and Hollis Thompson are the difference between a Sweet 16 club and a Final Four
9. Missouri (11-1): Sent a Christmas card to John Huggins. Be
careful of that December 30th tilt with Old Dominion.
10. Villanova (10-1): Corey Fisher needs to penetrate more and
use his strong upper body in December 30th matchup with Temple's Juan
11. Purdue (11-1): A bunch of routs since impressive December
4th thumping of Alabama. The Boilermakers have not found a third scoring option
through this easy slate, which could spell trouble in the rough-and-tumble Big
12. Kentucky (9-2): New Year's Eve tilt with Louisville
shouldn't serve as a distraction for John Calipari's kids. None of the big
playmakers are old enough to drink...legally.
13. Texas (10-2): The young Longhorns have quickly become
Kansas' most formidable conference competition with Kansas State in flux. Don't
agree? Play back a tape of their systematic beat down of Michigan State in East
14. Central Florida (11-0): Still undefeated. Still not
respected. Conjuring images of his flu-ridden father in the NBA Finals against
Utah, Marcus Jordan (NOT slated to play according to head coach Donnie Jones)
hobbled on to the court in the second half against UMass, making 5-of-6 free
throws down the stretch and leading his Golden Knights back to Orlando with
15. Cincinnati (12-0): In a week where many top teams bit the
dust, I highlight one of the nation's eight remaining unbeatens. Bearcats best
out-of- conference win came against Dayton, where they held the Flyers to 34
points. That defensive calling card should produce two conference victories on
home turf before border war with Xavier gives us a peek at Cincinnati's staying
WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS WEEK:
The Big East will have many great games this season. It all begins with
Connecticut and Pittsburgh on Monday night at the Petersen Events Center. Two
keys to watch for: Connecticut's on-ball defense and Pittsburgh's success in
guarding Alex Oriakhi in the post.
Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out
Your Hoops Bracket." Click
HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on
an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State
Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the
Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.