The Final Four weekend is a favorite time for me. Not only does the basketball season come to an end with great anticipation of a fantastic championship game after six games of grinding post season basketball, that same weekend is the opening days of baseball. After disappearing in November, baseball comes out of hibernation. I love baseball, when “Hope Springs Eternal.”
A week earlier, Northwest Missouri State won the Division II National Championship. They played three great games in the Elite 8. The Bearcats shot the ball well, cleaned up on any missed shots and had very few turnovers. Very seldom did Northwest get into foul trouble.
That wasn’t true in the Division I National Championship. There were only three games last weekend. The games were exciting at the end but lacked excitement getting there.
Why? I’ve heard some talking heads of basketball blame in on the dome stadiums. Instead of looking at a closed arena, shooters are forced to look through a glass bank board. The shooters see a long stretch of football field filled with standing, frantic fans.
Those critics claim that the unusual background is the downfall of the college sharp shooters. I have had teams play in domed stadiums before. It looks like the basketball is the size of a pea going through a rim that is like the circumference of a ring on your finger.
Even so, I once had a NAIA team score 98 points on South Dakota in a dome and lose when the Coyotes scored 102. There was nothing wrong with that background.
In the 1990’s, my Doane College team played in the National Tournament in Angola, IN. There was one official from our conference selected to work the tournament. As luck would have it, he was assigned to work our second round game.
I had noticed a definite change in officiating in the first round when almost any screen that knocked off a defender was call an illegal screen. Since that game was a blow out, I really never thought much about it.
It didn’t change in the second round game. Doug Miller was the official. He still works games in the MIAA. Doug is a very good official and I have always had an excellent relationship with him. It wasn’t one-sided, but a bunch of illegal screens were called in the second round game.
Finally, out of frustration, I asked Doug what was going on with all the illegal screens. He told me the supervisor of officials had made it crystal clear that illegal screens were to be called, even if it was a close call. He said you either made the calls or were sent home.
More talking heads blamed the uneven games in this year’s Final Four on officials making calls they wouldn’t normally make. Strict observation from the supervisor of officials was to blame for this change in officiating.
It just so happens that Maryville had an expert witness to the finger pointing at the dome stadiums and game officials. Terry Olgesby had the honor of being the alternate official for all three games in the Final Four. Terry was at courtside in a full official’s uniform, ready if needed.
I asked Terry what he thought. He pretty much disagreed with both, especially the officials calling the Final Four differently. Terry was in the room when the officials were given their instructions before the games. He told me the observer said, “Officiate how you did that got you here.” There were no points of emphasis that hasn’t been pointed out all season.
So why were the games choppy? There is one thing both officials and coaches know. If the ball isn’t going in the basket, the game is hard to officiate. I know that from my coaching days. Officials look great when there aren’t many rebounding calls to be made.
Just look at the Northwest championship game. The Bearcats shot a high percentage from the field. Also, they controlled the ball for almost all 30 seconds in each possession. If their games had been football games, Northwest won the time of possession by a wide margin.
When there’s not much aggression from the offense for 20 second of the possession, the game is much easier to officiate. That still leaves the same question; why were the games hard to watch with the uneven play?
Again, I turned to Terry for an answer. What he told me made a lot of sense. During the season, Gonzaga and North Carolina just tried to out-score teams. Tough defense was optional. Averaging in the high 80’s per game, both team pretty much steam rolled to the NCAA Tournament.
When they advanced to the Final Four, the run and gun was still there, but the defensive philosophy had changed. Now both teams were chesting-up and trying to play a physical style of defense. That was something they hadn’t done much of during the regular season.
The results were predictable when both teams were shooting bonus free throws after four minutes into the second half. Gonzaga didn’t score a field goal for over eight minutes into the second half, but still was within one possession of the lead.
Those are coaching decisions, not due to officials’ supervisors or dome stadium’s backdrop. Some of the guys who worked my past college games may pass out if they read this, but I think the Maryville official, Terry Olgesby, got it right.
Personally, I really didn’t mind it. The biggest disappointment I had in the Final Four was Oregon getting beat. Their coach, Dana Altman, is from my high school, Wilber-Clatonia High School in southeast Nebraska. From this small school have come three college coaches. I’m the oldest and the only one on the women’s side. Jim Sykes is the Morningside men’s coach, is the youngest, and very successful.
Dana didn’t change. Oregon ran the same type of pressure and changing defenses like he had done all season, where he was the Pac 12 co-champion. The Ducks just didn’t shoot real well, but in the end, failing to rebound twice on free throws cost his team a one-point loss to North Carolina. Sometimes, there just isn’t anyone to blame.