Syracuse and Ohio State's Elite Eight match up was always destined to be a battle of physical teams. It had the potential to be college basketball at its finest, with two hard charging teams attempting to assert their dominance over the other. Yet, the three man crew sent to officiate the Eastern Regional Final failed to allow these two great teams to show what they could do under the bright lights of the NCAA tournament.
The officials called a combined 48 fouls, plus a technical foul to Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, leaving the game choppy, slow, and stuck in the half court. It quickly became a question of free throw shooting and avoiding foul trouble. It was difficult to watch, with hardly a minute passing without a foul and a trip to the stripe. At times you wondered if the men sent to officiate the game were traffic cops, with the way they were blowing their whistles and waving their arms around like fools.
Now, as Syracuse grad, I am certainly a biased source, but I did have Ohio State winning this game. Jared Sullinger is clearly a man amongst boys, and without defensive anchor Fab Melo, this game was always going to be an uphill battle. Yet, I feel somehow cheated, not that Syracuse lost to a very good Ohio State team, but that the game wasn't allowed to breathe.
I don't believe the officials were unfair, I just think the officials forgot their role in the game. They needed to attempt to keep the game fair while allowing it to flow; they needed to maintain the spectacle of March Madness. Instead, they called every foul they could justify to themselves.
In Syracuse's Epic 6 OT victory against UConn in 2009, they only managed to commit 2 more fouls then they did last night against Ohio State. Even more alarming, Ohio State attempted 42 free throws, which was the exact same amount that UConn attempted in that game, which included 30 minutes of overtime.
Now, I'm sure the NCAA's Head of Officials will come out and say that they got most of the calls right. I won't argue that. I just think that in a sport where officials are relied upon to use their judgement, particularly on 50-50 fouls in a hard fought game, it is a shame that this crew allowed themselves to become the story.
It's a shame that, unlike the 6 OT where my memories are of the players, all I will remember from this game is the officials.
Its a shame that I'm still left wondering who the better basketball team was, because what we all just saw was not the game I've grown to love. It was something else, something I hope to never see again.