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Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Blow the whistle on shoddy officiating

By Jason King
ESPN.com

Moments after leaving the court following Saturday's 74-71 setback against Missouri, Kansas coach Bill Self asked a few onlookers -- "people that were unbiased … they weren't Kansas people," Self said -- about a controversial late charging call against forward Thomas Robinson that played a role in the Jayhawks' loss.

Bill Self
Bill Self wasn't pleased with an offensive foul called on Thomas Robinson in the final minutes of Kansas' loss to Missouri.

"I was told that I don't want to see the tape," Self said.

In other words, those people saw the same thing Self saw, the same thing ESPN analyst Dick Vitale mentioned during the broadcast and the same thing that still eats at Kansas fans days later.

The charging call on Robinson -- which came with 1:33 remaining -- was a bad one. The whistle should've never been blown.

"It comes with the territory," Self said. "[The game] didn't come down to one call."

Indeed it didn't.

Kansas coughed up an eight-point lead with less than three minutes remaining. Point guard Tyshawn Taylor missed a pair of free throws and Jayhawks defenders left Missouri's Marcus Denmon open for a pair of 3-pointers during the Tigers' 11-0, game-ending run. To say that one call cost Kansas the game is ridiculous, a discredit to Missouri.

But at the very least, it altered it.

Unfortunately, the situation has been commonplace in college basketball this season.

In the last few weeks alone, numerous outcomes have been affected by poor officiating in the closing moments of games.

• On Jan. 28, officials failed to whistle Syracuse for a blatant goaltending violation that would've likely forced overtime in its game against West Virginia. Instead Syracuse escaped with a 63-61 win.

• Two nights later, Texas coach Rick Barnes was irate when a foul wasn't called on Myck Kabongo's game-winning shot attempt at the buzzer in the Longhorns' 67-66 loss to Missouri. Missouri's Matt Pressey appeared to hack Kabongo on his left, non-shooting arm when he elevated on the baseline. Kabongo was forced to short-arm the shot and missed badly.

• The following evening, Kansas State's Rodney McGruder was knocked from his feet while attempting a game-winning jumper from the free throw line at Iowa State. No foul was called, and Iowa State's Royce White capitalized on the other end with a baseline basket that gave the Cyclones a 72-70 victory.

The recent issues with officiating are actually carryovers from the end of last season, when a handful of NCAA tournament games (Texas-Arizona, Syracuse-Marquette and Pitt-Butler) were altered by questionable calls.

A year ago, the officiating crew of Tim Higgins, Jim Burr and Earl Walton withdrew from the rest of the Big East Tournament after botching the end of an opening-round game between St. John's and Rutgers. The move was an admirable one. Officials need to be held accountable for mistakes.

Especially when they occur at the end of games.

And now, King's Court is officially in session …

In a zone

1. Draymond Green: The Michigan State forward pulled off a rare feat in Sunday's 64-54 victory over Michigan. Green grabbed 16 rebounds in the victory, which was one more than the tally for Michigan's entire team. Even more impressive: Green did it on a sprained knee. Michigan State outrebounded the Wolverines 39-15. Green is averaging 10.5 boards on the season.

Draymond Green
Bum knee? No problem. Draymond Green outrebounded Michigan all by himself in the Spartans' win on Sunday.

2. 5,858-5,857: That's the combined score of the last 75 Duke-North Carolina games, with Duke holding the one-point edge. No wonder the Blue Devils-Tar Heels rivalry is regarded as the best in college basketball. Duke and North Carolina play Wednesday in Chapel Hill.

3. Arizona: The Wildcats revived their NCAA tournament hopes by defeating Pac-12 title contenders Cal and Stanford on the road last weekend. Arizona is 7-4 in league play and four of its seven remaining games are at home -- and two of those contests are against struggling Arizona State and Washington State. Considering it has one of the game's better coaches in Sean Miller, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Arizona is experiencing an upswing at just the right time.

4. "The Mayor": Actually, maybe Iowa State fans should change Fred Hoiberg's nickname to "The Governor," because the Cyclones' success is causing the coach's popularity to increase throughout the entire state. At 7-3, Iowa State is right behind league leaders Kansas, Missouri and Baylor -- each of whom have two losses -- in the Big 12 title hunt. At the very least, Hoiberg's squad is setting itself up for Iowa State's first NCAA tournament berth since 2005.

5. Mid-major stars: High-level, NBA-caliber talent doesn't just exist at schools in BCS conferences. The following players have a chance to earn first-, second- or third-team All-America honors, or at least honorable mention: Mike Moser (UNLV), Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary's), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Isaiah Canaan (Murray State) and Damian Lillard (Weber State).

In a funk

1. West Virginia: The Mountaineers continue to underperform. They'd lost three straight games before defeating Providence on Saturday -- and that win wasn't all that impressive, considering it came in overtime against the Big East's last-place team. It will be interesting to see if West Virginia's struggles cost Kevin Jones a well-deserved spot on the first-team All-America squad.

2. Coaching ailments: I can't remember a season when so many coaches were forced to deal with unfortunate situations off the court. In the last week alone, Connecticut's Jim Calhoun (spinal stenosis) and College of Charleston's Bobby Cremins (exhaustion) have taken indefinite leaves of absence because of health issues. St. John's coach Steve Lavin has been out for most of the season while recovering from prostate cancer surgery. And Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy missed the first month of workouts after being diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson's disease.

Festus Ezeli
Just when it seemed like Vanderbilt had found its stride, it lost consecutive road games at Florida and Arkansas.

3. Duke's free throw shooting: The Blue Devils are shooting 70.1 percent from the foul stripe on the season. But they were atrocious in Sunday's 78-74 overtime loss to Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mike Krzyzewski's squad missed all six of its free throws in the extra period, which allowed the Hurricanes to hold on for the victory. Seth Curry, Austin Rivers and Quinn Cook misfired on two charities apiece.

4. Vanderbilt: Just when it looked as if they had turned the corner, the Commodores dropped back-to-back road games against Florida and Arkansas. Granted, conference road games are always tough, but remember, this is a team that entered the season ranked seventh before falling out of the polls after losses to Cleveland State and Indiana State. Vanderbilt had won 10 of its previous 11 games before last week.

5. Connecticut freshmen: Andre Drummond, DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright arrived in Storrs last summer amid a wave of fanfare. They haven't come close to living up to expectations. Drummond, who is projected as the No. 2 pick in this summer's NBA draft, is averaging just 9.7 points. He was scoreless in Monday's 21-point loss to Louisville. Daniels scores just 3.6 points per game. Boatright has been impressive at times, but he's missed nine games because of NCAA-mandated suspensions.

Questions for the King

Will there be a better night for college basketball this season than Wednesday?

Saturdays are usually pretty strong, but for a midweek slate of games, Wednesday is about as good as it gets. Georgetown at Syracuse, Kansas at Baylor and Duke at North Carolina are the headliners. But don't sleep on some of the under-the-radar games such as Notre Dame at West Virginia and Marshall at Central Florida.

Who is the deepest team in the country?

That's a tough call, but I'll go with Syracuse, simply because the Orange are making the best use of their depth. Ten players are averaging at least 12 minutes per game, and Syracuse's best player (Dion Waiters) is its sixth man. It says something when your 10th man can come off the bench and contribute 13 points, which guard Michael Carter-Williams did Saturday against St. John's. North Carolina and Baylor should also be in this discussion.

Why isn't John Calipari being mentioned as a national coach of the year candidate?

Good question. Calipari definitely deserves to be in the mix. The Wildcats may be loaded with talent, but that doesn't make Calipari's job easy. Most kids that view college as a one-year pitstop on the way to the NBA care more about their stats and success than they do about playing team basketball and playing defense. Calipari is one of the few coaches who can make one-and-done players realize the importance of those things and embrace them. You'll never see a Calipari player average 20 points a game. Instead it's always four or give guys averaging between 10 and 15 points for a national championship contender. The most telling stat about Calipari, though, is this one: Kentucky currently leads the nation in field goal percentage defense. Opponents are shooting just 35.6 percent against the Wildcats. That's coaching. People shouldn't discount the job Calipari has done just because he has a talented team.

Good things come in threes

Three predictions for Wednesday's big games

1. Kansas 78, Baylor 69: The Jayhawks are 16-2 all time versus the Bears, and they'll be full of fire after choking away Saturday's game at Missouri.
2. Syracuse 64, Georgetown 58: The Hoyas don't have enough depth or offensive firepower to beat the Orange on the road. Jim Boeheim will get career victory No. 880, which will move him into sole possession of second place on the all-time wins list at one school.
3. North Carolina 84, Duke 72: The Tar Heels have another gear they've yet to display. We'll see it Wednesday night.

Three teams I'd take out of this week's top 25 poll (and who I'd replace them with)

1. Virginia: I realize the Cavaliers have an impressive record (18-4) and that they've played some close games against good teams. But at some point, don't you have to beat someone decent to stay in the rankings? Squeaking by Clemson and NC State just doesn't do it for me.
Replacement: Iowa State.

2. Harvard: I have a hard time believing a team that beats Columbia 57-52 at home is one of the top 25 squads in America. The Crimson are 20-2, but their best two wins are against Florida State (back on Nov. 25) and Saint Joseph's.

Replacement: Gonzaga.

3. Louisville: The Cardinals tout just one win over a ranked opponent, as Vanderbilt was No. 19 when Louisville edged the Cardinals in overtime on Dec. 2. I'll change my mind if Rick Pitino's squad wins at West Virginia on Saturday.
Replacement: Southern Miss.

Three interesting quick facts

1. Indiana's victory Saturday at Purdue was its first non-Penn State Big Ten road win in four years.
2. Kentucky has defeated just one ranked team (then-No. 4 Louisville) in the last two months.
3. Missouri's Marcus Denmon had missed 31 of his previous 36 attempts from 3-point range before going 6-for-9 from beyond the arc in Saturday's win over Kansas.

Three things for fans to debate

1. Best big man: Thomas Robinson, Anthony Davis or Jared Sullinger?
2. Bad team with the most reason for hope in the future: DePaul, USC, Providence or Texas Tech?
3. Coach who is ready for a bigger job: Saint Mary's Randy Bennett, Long Beach State's Dan Monson or Southern Miss' Larry Eustachy?

Report Card

A: Reggie Johnson: Miami's 6-foot-10, 284-pound center had 27 points and 12 rebounds -- both season highs -- in Sunday's victory at Duke. The Hurricanes' 14-7 record probably would've been better if Johnson hadn't missed the first nine games with an injury.

Johnson
How much did Miami miss Reggie Johnson? The Canes were 5-4 without him; they're 9-3 with him, including Sunday's win at Duke.

B: Josh Pastner: The Memphis coach is doing a nice job following a rocky start that included the near-transfer of point guard Joe Jackson, an injury to Charles Carmouche and the regression/demotion of former standout Wesley Witherspoon. Memphis has won 10 of its last 12 games, including Saturday's 72-68 victory over Xavier.

C: Louisville: The Cardinals are far from a great team, but their 19-5 record is impressive considering a rash of injuries to some of their top players. Louisville has won its last five games -- including four by double-digits -- but an upcoming stretch against West Virginia and Syracuse will test its mettle.

D: Cousy Award committee: While I agreed with most of the 12 finalists for the award, the group erred in a major way by leaving Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor off its list. Taylor is averaging a team-high 19 points and 5.1 assists against Big 12 competition while shooting 52.2 percent from the field. He's also 3-1 in head-to-head matchups with finalists Casper Ware (Long Beach State), Phil Pressey (Missouri), Pierre Jackson (Baylor) and Aaron Craft (Ohio State). Taylor's only loss was to Pressey's Tigers. Taylor scored 21 points in that game while helping hold Pressey to two points.

F: Whiny coaches: It was a bit surprising to hear Maryland's Mark Turgeon complain about a dunk by North Carolina's John Henson in the final seconds of the Tar Heels' 83-74 win. Turgeon sounded petty. Sure, the right move would've been to let the clock run out, but Henson said he wanted to regain a little confidence after having his shot blocked all game by Maryland 7-footer Alex Len. "I don't know if I initially wanted to dunk," Henson told reporters. "But instinct … he's running at me and I'm under the basket and it just kind of kicked in. I'm happy with the decision. He'd been blocking my shot all night, and it's good to get at least one shot on him." The dunk wasn't unsportsmanlike. Things happen in the heat of a game. Good for Henson for not apologizing.

Thoughts from press row

1. Alabama's NCAA tournament hopes took a hit when star forward Tony Mitchell was suspended indefinitely following the Crimson Tide's victory over Ole Miss on Saturday. Mitchell ranks second on the team in both points (13.1) and rebounds (7.0). Alabama is 15-7 but just 4-4 in SEC play.

2. The quote of the week goes to Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver, who shot down speculation that underachieving coach Seth Greenberg may be on the hot seat after this season. Weaver said he was encouraged by what Greenberg is doing with the Hokies -- even though Virginia Tech hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2007. At most programs, a lack of postseason success would cause questions to surface about a coach's job security. "That may be true at places that have been going to the NCAAs over the years," Weaver told reporters. "That hasn't been the case at Virginia Tech." Um, Jim … isn't that kind of the point?

Travon Woodall
Part of Pitt's disastrous stretch can be explained by Travon Woodall's absence. He's averaging 17.8 points a game during the Panthers' four-game winning streak.

3. After dropping its first seven Big East games, Pittsburgh has won four straight against league opponents and stands an outside chance to make the NCAA tournament. The Panthers -- who won the regular-season conference title last year -- probably need to finish at least 9-9 in the Big East to be considered. That means upcoming road games against unranked South Florida and Seton Hall are crucial. Guard Travon Woodall is averaging 26.5 points in his last two contests.

4. A friend recently approached me with an odd question. "What's wrong with Terrence Jones?" he said, referring to Kentucky's forward. When I informed him that Jones was averaging 12.5 points and 6.4 rebounds for a team that's 23-1 and ranked No. 1 in America, he shrugged his shoulders. "Yeah," he said, "I guess I just thought he was supposed to be really good." Some people just don't get it.

5. It's good to see that Washington is finally starting to figure things out. With players such as Tony Wroten, C.J. Wilcox, Terrence Ross and Abdul Gaddy, the Huskies are the most talented team in the Pac-12. But in mid-December they were just 5-5. These days Lorenzo Romar's squad is 16-7 overall and 9-2 in the Pac-12, which puts them one game ahead of Cal and Colorado (both 8-3) in the league standings.

6. Gonzaga is facing a must-win situation in Thursday's home game against St. Mary's. The Zags have won or shared the last 11 West Coast Conference titles. But at 8-2 they're 2½ games behind St. Mary's (11-0) in the league standings. And Gonzaga has already lost to the Gaels once this season.

7. Creighton and UNLV were both upset on the road last weekend. Creighton lost at Northern Iowa and UNLV fell at Wyoming. Still, both teams will be involved in mammoth, must-see games Saturday. Creighton and Wichita State, which are 11-2 and tied for first in the Missouri Valley Conference standings, play in Omaha, Neb. UNLV hosts San Diego State. The Aztecs have a one-game lead over UNLV in the Mountain West race.

8. Baylor has won its last four games, but the Bears won't beat Kansas on Wednesday if they don't start making better decisions on offense. Backup guard A.J. Walton isn't the guy you want shooting pull-up jumpers from 18 feet with three minutes left in a tight game. Forward Cory Jefferson isn't a 3-point shooter and 6-foot-9 freshman Quincy Miller has no business lowering his head and trying to take people off the dribble from the perimeter. I'm not saying he's not good enough to do it, but that's not Miller's game. You can sneak by bottom-tier teams such as Texas A&M and Oklahoma State playing that way. But that won't fly against a top-10 squad such as Kansas.

9. Weber State standout Damian Lillard averaged 37.5 points in victories over Portland State and Northern Colorado last week. Lillard went a combined 25-of-36 from the field in those two contests. He's averaging a national-best 25.5 points on the season.

10. If Kansas wins its rematch with Missouri on Feb. 25, I doubt the Jayhawks will commemorate the victory with a T-shirt like the Tigers did in the aftermath of Saturday's win in Columbia.

Pit stops

George's, Waco, Texas: If I ever decide to move away from Kansas City, Waco will be on my list of possible destinations. The weather is nice and the schools are great. But I'll be honest: The main reason would be because of George's. If you visit this space often you know that I've spent quite a bit of time in restaurants and bars across the country. I've yet to find a place as impressive as this spot just off of Interstate 35. The chicken fried steak is the best I've ever had, although lately, I've had a hard time ordering anything except the recently-discovered grilled club tacos, which are filled with beef or chicken, melted cheddar and jack cheese, bacon bits, pico de gallo and shredded lettuce with a side of ranch. Heaven on a plate. George's takes on more of a bar atmosphere after about 9 p.m. The cheap, 18-ounce schooners of ice cold beer -- Big O's, they're called -- help draw longtime regulars and Baylor students alike. With the jukebox playing everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd to George Strait, it's impossible not to have a good time. Country star Pat Green even wrote a song about the place. Stop by sometime and you'll see why.

Secret Pizza, Cosmopolitan hotel, Las Vegas: Actually, the name of the place may be "Hidden Pizza." Or maybe the place doesn't have a name at all. There's certainly no sign above the door. If the word hadn't spread about this hole-in-the-wall down a long corridor on the third floor of Vegas' newest hotel, no one would even know it even existed. I first stumbled upon the place after leaving Marquee nightclub -- wow, by the way -- around 3 a.m. last fall. From what I can remember, the pizza was just how I like it: piping hot with thin and crispy, New York-style crust. The following night I found out that Cosmopolitan guests can have full pizzas delivered to their rooms. Just another reason to stay at what has become my new favorite Vegas hotel.

Chink's Steaks, Philadelphia: A King's Court salute goes out to ESPN.com colleague and Philly native Dana O'Neil for recommending Chink's during a recent trip. Opened in 1949, Chink's is every bit as good as Pat's and Geno's, which are two of Philadelphia's most popular destinations for cheesesteaks. In fact, because of the delicious bread and generous portions of meat, I'd venture to say it's even better. Or maybe it was fountain soda or the "extra thick" banana milkshake that put things over the top. Whatever the case, my first visit to Chink's certainly won't be my last.

Jason King covers college basketball for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKingESPN.