Duke gets too many calls

Back from vacation, having recovered from my college basketball illness in time to have watch most of the Sweet 16 games down to last night’s final.  And the title of the post says it well.  Duke and Coach K get too many calls.  They just do.  Yes, their guys made plays and shots when needed.  Yes, they run an offense designed to open driving lanes and draw contact.  Yes, they were lucky the Badgers were worn down from the Kentucky game.

However, if you look at last night’s championship, you’ll note a very key point in the game, with Wisconsin playing well and up by about 7-8 at around the 15 minute mark of the second half.  Suddenly, the refs find their whistles.  The same thing happened against Michigan State and Gonzaga.  Four fouls in a row.  Every bump is a foul.  A Duke player jumps into the defender it’s a foul.  Duke charges are instead blocks on the other team, etc.  On the other end, Duke hand-checked with abandon and it wasn’t called.  Maybe the refs can only take so much of Coach K’s voice and at some point they just capitulate and start making those calls.

No one was more surprised or annoyed than Wisconsin coach, Bo Ryan.  As he told reporters after the game, and as he’s said many times, “We just don’t foul.”  It’s pretty much true.  The Badger haven’t been whistled for many fouls this year or in recent years with Ryan as the coach.  It’s how they play and also testament to Bo Ryan’s own sideline presence.  So it must have been pretty disheartening to see Duke in the double-bonus with so much time left.

As an Illini fan, I truly didn’t like the thought of Wisconsin winning a title.  It just doesn’t seem right.  But as a basketball fan I was really pulling for the Badgers down the stretch.  A big part of it was the officiating.  Too much.  And that’s a shame.

Blame the Refs!

This weekend, Illini fans were treated to one of the strangest, most head-scratching, end-of-the-game referee decisions we have seen.  It was a potential game changer with about 30 seconds to go, and because of the thin margins for teams like Illinois and Michigan State, it was a potential season changer as well.  Hard to give this call justice, but here it is.

Your basic hard screen-out on a bonus free throw…  What you don’t see in that little clip (or actually you start to see it) is the Spartan player looks over to be sure the ref is watching, then doubles over in agony as if he’s been groin-smacked.  Maybe he was…  Sure doesn’t look like it.  Anyway, the refs called nothing, so they went to the video screen for a replay and assessed a technical foul – fouling out Jaylon Tate, giving the Spartans two more free throws and the ball, and sending the Illini Nation into a collective rage.  Fortunately the Spartans only made one FT, gave up the ball, and Illinois won in the end.  But speaking to my brother and others, we can’t remember ever seeing such a poor decision, so clearly influenced by the home crowd and the reputation of the coach (Tom Izzo, Dean of Big 10 hoops coaches).  This call resulted in a twitter slap-fight between ESPN talking head Dan Dakich and the mayor of Champaign, Don Gerard (no vote-trolling there). Continue reading

Bowl Watching

Like so many others, we watch a lot of college football around New Year’s.  This year, our very own Fighting Illini were in the party again, making it to one of those also-ran Bowls:  The Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.  Illinois lost 35-18 and probably should have won – though you wouldn’t know it by the score.

With all these bowl games, especially in light of the inaugural 4-team playoff, the sports talkers have been discussing bowl viability, money, TV contracts, etc., and as we sit here watching Oregon pound Florida State, we have some thoughts as well.

If you’re among those who think that the major conference re-shuffling and re-jiggering is horrible, look no further than the now-departed BCS system.  Between the BCS contract and the guaranteed conference contracts to various bowls, the Big 10, Pac 12, SEC, and ACC had ample motivation to expand.  More money.  More prestige.  More TV markets.  Now that we’ve finally entered the playoff era, there’s a chance the system could correct itself over time.

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Pentagram: #1 De-Creaned

It’s been a rough 2013 for the Fighting Illini.  The promise of Nov-Dec. wins, surprising confidence and offensive execution, and a new uptempo attitude all slipped away as the Big 10 slugfest continued.  Realistically, the NCAA tournament has slipped off the radar.  Or maybe not…

Griff, the winner

One way to get over the hump is to end your home losing streak with a win over Indiana.  Who happens to be #1 this week…  On a last second shot…  After coming way back from behind in the last five minutes.

It just so happened that the Hoosiers were ranked at the top this week – a happy coincidence of scheduling and other teams losing.  They are not #1 (especially now), and certainly not the best team we’ve seen; that would be Michigan.  But we’ll take it.  If someone gets to knock the smirk of Tom Crean’s face, it might as well be Illinois!

Five points in the upset Pentagram…

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B1G… WTF?

Well, the Big 10 Conference (B1G for you noobs) has added Maryland and Rutgers.  Welcome, Turtles and New Jersey-ites…

 

Does anyone like this move?  Is anyone excited?  We can’t really find them.  Maryland fans don’t want to leave their regional ACC rivalries, but they understand why it’s a good move financially.  They’re broke after all and had to cut seven sports last year.  This is basically what ESPN talking head and Maryland alum Scott Van Pelt said on the radio:  “don’t like it; understand it.”  Are you looking forward to that sub-500 Illini-Turtles football clash?  I know I am (we might be able to actually, you know, beat them).

Rutgers opinions are pretty similar.  They understand the financials and certainly understand the tenuous situation of the Big East.  On the other hand, they’re worried about winning games in football and basketball, and who can blame them.  Rutgers has been a lot better in football the last several years, but the Big East has also been substantially weakened.  It will be an uphill battle to bowl eligibility for them.  In basketball, well, good luck there. Continue reading

On Penn State

The whole situation is grotesque.  The sports and moral conversations, the reaction in some quarters, the fines, the implications…

I debated those implications with friends and co-workers yesterday and today:  what this means for college sports, football, the Big 10, even my own Fighting Illini.  But I kept thinking about what this means to the whole institution of college sports.  Kept thinking about people at high levels in positions of trust, who didn’t have the fortitude to act on behalf of society’s most vulnerable.  Several commentators pointed to similar scandals faced by the Catholic Church – an apt and damning comparison.

Because football was like religion at State College, PA.  Joe Paterno was the Arch Bishop.  Paterno – the guy so many held up as an example of college athletics, done the right way, and it turns out he was no better than the rest.  Worse, maybe, because his hubris and vaunted position not only afforded him the leeway to do nothing, it also obliged others to cover up on his behalf. Continue reading

Mixed Bag for Orange and Blue

New Year’s Eve obliged Illini Fans to ply their remote control skills, set up two TV feeds, or head to the sports bar.   With the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco and a basketball game at Purdue on concurrently, we chose the sports bar option.  The football team, looking energetic if not particularly skillful,  defeated UCLA  20-14.  As the same time, the basketball team started well before a horrible stretch of play saw them go down by nearly 30 to the Boilers, losing 75-60.

Some general reactions to the two games follow, but specifically we’d like to point to the lack of offensive bite and execution by both teams.  Football has had it’s problems all year and again struggled against a UCLA team that had given up 50 or more in previous games.  Coach Beckman will need to find some playmakers fast if he wants to compete against decent teams.  Weber’s crew continues to struggle on the hardwood, looking positively clueless and inept at times.  They seem determined to make up for not getting good shots by turning it over in bad spots.  We’ve harped on the ‘Motion’ offense repeatedly and will probably continue to do so until Coach implements some changes or is no longer here.  The bottom line is, you have to score to win.  And if you’re good on offense, people generally enjoy watching you play.  If the Illini are going to move themselves up in the hierarchy in both revenue sports, they need to improve their scoring. Continue reading