Outside the Hashmarks
April 7, 2017
Yikes, that game was awful. The NCAA championship? Yeah, that was the worst remotely competitive game of the tournament. Not because it wasn’t close and dramatic, because it was. No, it was awful because the refs had no clue what they were doing. The rhythm of the game was routinely interrupted by overzealous refs making tick-tack calls on players simply banging in the post, or incidentally running into each other, or simply hustling. The opportunity to see the true battle of basketball cultures was wasted by officiating that did both sides a ridiculous disservice. I’m not saying the officiating favored one side or the other, though there were key moments where Gonzaga got the short end of the stick. Overall, it was a fairly officiated game. It was just over-officiated.
College basketball separates itself from the professional game by promising free-form, flowing action. Players get up and down the court unimpeded by silly calls that would make LeBron James blush. Of course, that isn’t always the case. But it is in the championship. The stifling, “No-Fun-Allowed” defenses of the world often don’t make it, and the defenses that make the Elite Eight are often the same kind of free-form, do what you want defenses. Consider West Virginia, also known as Press Virginia, or VCU during the Shaka Smart era. Those defenses would never have survived that kind of officiating. When every reach-in is called a foul because you may have brushed a jersey, why go for a steal? If hounding someone on the inbound is going to be called a blocking foul because a knee collided with another knee, why press? If charges are going to be called blocking fouls because one leans backwards slightly to avoid the brunt of the hit, why try to take a charge?
Most importantly, why have big men, if banging down low is always going to be a foul? The University of North Carolina and Gonzaga was supposed to be the best battle down low of the tournament. UNC center Kennedy Meeks and Gonzaga’s Zach Collins was an absolute blast to watch when the two were just allowed to go at it. Until Collins picked up his fourth foul, and suddenly, the paint was clean. Then Meeks did, too. With both teams in foul trouble, the game slowed down and got really boring. I know, this isn’t the hottest take. Every sports site has a “The Title Game Sucked” article. But that just means that the title game actually did suck. I was expecting to watch the most interesting and nuanced game of the year. Instead, I watched a handful of officials dominate a game, then dominate discussion of that game. And that’s what really sucks, here.