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Tough loss? Look beyond the officials for an answer

April 10, 2015 Columns No Comments

NEW YORK – The nets are cut down, the smoke has cleared and Duke in the National Champion. The critics still are having a field day regarding the officiating. Some, such as Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, feel it was a too Blue Devil-friendly whistle in the stretch. Of further note is the out-of-bounds play late in the contest. Officials reviewed it on the monitor, awarded the ball to Duke, who canned a crucial three-pointer in the ensuing possession. A huge three-pointer at that juncture.

A closer look, provided by several internet sites, in the days that followed show the ball just grazing the fingers of a Duke defender. Even on review the critics cry, the officials did not get the call right. In fairness, the angles and close ups presented in the recent days were arguably better than the courtside monitor.

In the NIT final, the officiating came up for scrutiny. With under five seconds remaining in overtime, Miami led Stanford by one. Chasson Randle of Stanford took a foul line jumper. Randle leaned in on the shot to create contact and get a call. Following his release and descent to the floor the whistle blew. It did not come from the trail official in his area. Rather, the lead whistled the play. The signal indicated Randle was displaced by the defender on his return to the floor. Remember, you are an airborne shooter in the act until you return to the court.


Official Mike Roberts during the NIT championship game (Ray Floriani photo)

A tough call coming from the lead when the play was closer to the trail. Again, the lead probably ascertained that the trail may have been screened from his angle and did not get a perfect look while he (lead) had the view and was thoroughly certain. It was a lay an officiating supervisor would review post game just to get the officials’ input on making the call.

Randle canned the two free throws. Following a Miami turnover, a Stanford free throw ended the scoring as a desperation three-point attempt by Miami missed at the buzzer. Stanford claimed the NIT title, 66-64, and Miami mentor Jim Larranaga was none too thrilled with the ending.

Yours truly, an official for 27 years, is in no position to criticize. That is especially in light of knowing a number of these officials and having worked and/or been instructed at camp by some of them.

What can be said is officials make mistakes. They are human. Players make mistakes; we have witnessed missed dunks and turnovers, and coaches err on occasion. We are all human. Late-game calls, right or wrong, can be crucial. Are they the reason a team won and another lost? Not really.

During the course of a college game there are 65-75 possessions roughly for each team. In Duke’s 68-63 national championship victory, there were 122 (Wisconsin 62, Duke 60). The NIT final, an overtime affair, had 138 (each team having 69). Without a doubt, the Wisconsin and Miami staffs could break down their final game tape and identify a number of things they could have done differently. Remember, both were in a position to win. Wisconsin held a nine-point lead roughly midway through the final half. Miami led by three with under a minute left in overtime. A more patient offensive possession here, better shot there, help side defense making the adjustment. A number of things could be accomplished in a different way. And at times, a better way.

In the heat of post game battle, which can linger a few days when the stakes are as high as this, the tendency is to look at the officials in assessing blame. From an official’s standpoint, that risk, right or wrong, of having blame directed your way comes with the territory. It’s part of the deal when you don the striped shirt. In retrospect, coaches, players or fans putting the blame for a disappointing loss solely on the officials is misguided. And in the end, just plain wrong.

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