I'm not sure what I was watching on the court in Monday night's NCAA Championship game. I thought I'd tuned in to watch a No. 1 seed take on No. 5-seeded Butler, but what started with all of the trappings of a solid basketball game soon erupted into one of the worst displays of officiating that college basketball has ever seen.
The first half was an assault by Duke's big men in the paint, and in the second half, Butler figured out that they could knock Duke's perimeter shooters to the floor without consequence. Duke continued to foul in the paint, and before long the game was an ugly foul fest, with missed (or ignored) calls, incorrect calls and downright head-scratching jump ball calls.
Make no mistake, Duke played well enough to win the game. But none of those referees should ever be allowed on a basketball court again. This type of game is bad for college basketball, because it allows for cheap shots, hand checking, grabbing in the paint and judgement calls.
Before you think this is an anti-Duke column, consider the atrocities that were committed by both sides:
1.) Both Kyle Singler and Gordon Hayward were fouled on drives to the basket multiple times; these were not slight, touch fouls, but blows to the head, body checks and arm grabs.
2.) Brian Zoubek was called for a touch foul on the perimeter and one in the paint but not called for two over-the-back calls and two blatant push offs.
3.) Lance Thomas was called for a walk when he was pushed to the floor, but not called for a flagrant, or even intentional foul as he violently yanked Hayward to the floor on a breakaway.
4.) Kyle Singler blocked a shot cleanly, the ball bounced to the floor, (still in play) and a jump ball was called.
5.) Jon Scheyer's blocking foul, incorrectly called a charge, was one of the most egregiously bad calls I've seen.
6.) Kyle Singler was called for a travel when his defender slid under him and they both fell to the floor.
7.) Mark Howard lowered his head and steamrolled into Zoubek, but Scheyer was called for a phantom foul as he reached for the ball.
The list, unfortunately, doesn't stop there. Hand-checking, pulling players out of bounds, hammering three point shooters; it was just horrible. And hearing Clark Kellogg and Jim Nance spout praise for the game just gave it a "jump-the-shark" feeling. We could all see what was happening at home, and it wasn't pretty. If Butler had managed to win, Duke would have every right to complain about the officiating as well.
The reason this is all bad for college basketball is because it sets a precedent of clumsy play and inconsistency. In polls of basketball fans regarding the NBA and the sagging NBA ratings over the past 20 years, the fans always mention the inconsistency of refereeing in the pro game. Now that inconsistency has reached full bloom in the college game.
It's not good for long term success, but considering how the NCAA is hell-bent-for-leather on ruining the NCAA tournament with expansion, it seems they think the path to more money is to copy the NBA officiating style. I'm sure they will point to the higher ratings of last night's game as proof of their success, but I'm pretty sure the ratings were higher due to people wanting to see if Butler could knock off Duke, not because it was a slugfest.
Oh well. The championship was a once a great thing for the NCAA. Congratulations to a very balanced Duke team for managing to survive an awful display of officiating.