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Officiating a Disaster as Iowa State Robbed

5446741618_d71f0cb066_zIf you filled out your bracket using RotoViz’s March Madness Simulator, you know Iowa State-Ohio State was projected as a win by the Buckeyes, although the app liked the Cyclones a lot. That’s how it played out on Sunday with ISU staying close even after the Mayor’s squad lost their most important player to injury. With a dramatic surge late, the Cyclones appeared in strong position to win after Will Clyburn scored and was fouled by Aaron Craft.

Unfortunately, the officials made yet another in a long string of atrocious block/charge calls, ruling that Craft had slid under in time.

A couple of things here. First, it’s debatable whether this should even have been a judgment call because Craft’s last step left him clearly inside the restricted area. He then rises up on his toe, taking his heel off the line. Since he doesn’t take another step, it’s difficult to see how that would count as establishing legal guarding position.

Second, even if he’s not in the restricted area, he’s definitely not set when Clyburn leaves his feet. It’s a clear cut block. Of course, officials appear to get less than 50% of these bang-bang calls correct, so the actual ruling came as a surprise to no one.

I’m not an Iowa State fan, but I appreciate the Cyclones because they’re one of the few teams that play basketball the way most of us were taught. Ball movement, unselfishness, dribble penetration, shooting.

Dear God, it’s nice to watch a team that can actually shoot.

It’s also foundationally important to note that many of these charges we’re seeing are not the product of good defense. When a team fails to control dribble penetration and a teammate dives under an elevating player, that’s bad defense. If the officials call a charge, that incentivizes terrible defense. It also incentivizes dangerous play. Defenders diving under offensive players is a much more serious safety issue than one of the other flashpoints of the tournament.

Of course, those who’ve religiously watched the first weekend of the tournament know exactly what I’m talking about. The proliferation of flagrant fouls challenges the limits of absurdity. Several of the flagrant fouls this weekend have been called even though the defender was originally ruled for the foul.

I think everyone is in favor of rules that prevent the vicious use of elbows. Most kids who grow up playing high school basketball break a nose or lose a tooth at some point. However, rules that don’t allow the offensive player to defend his space serve to incentivize dangerous play. If you’re an athlete playing on one of the world’s biggest stages, you’ll gladly take an elbow in the face if it earns you two shots and the ball. So all weekend we’ve been treated to defenders literally throwing their faces in the line of fire. Again, that incentivizes a style of defensive play that is simultaneously technically unsound and dangerous.

I applaud Aaron Craft for his incredibly intense play, and the heroic dagger he hit to send Ohio State into the Sweet Sixteen. He’s an awesome player and is playing well within the rules the way they’re being interpreted.

I also hope the NCAA makes an effort in the offseason to align the rules and incentives in a way that eliminates his style of play. Riding the dribbler, constantly hacking with the hands, and diving under penetrating players to bail out the poor defense of his teammates is not good technique. It’s spectacular hustle, but it’s not good defense.

It’s just terrible officiating.

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