So what fun would college sports be if there wasn’t a bit of officiating controversy?Â And why should the Final Four be any different?Â But in this case, despite downplaying the screw job handed to them in the closing moments of their semi-finals loss to Louisville, it seems to us that Wichita State has a legitimate gripe.
After Louisville’s Smith missed a three-pointer with 3:55 remaining, there was a pinball-style scramble for the rebound that featured multiple players falling to the ground. It appeared Baker, who ended up with the rebound, got dragged to the ground by Louisville’s Stephan Van Treese.
As teams went into the huddle for the television timeout, the Shockers â€“ trailing 60-58 at the time â€“ were expecting Baker to shoot free throws. In fact, as officials went to look at the monitor, it appeared there was a chance Van Treese might get hit with a flagrant-1 foul, which would have been two free throws and the ball.
“I thought the initial call was on (Louisville),” Wichita State associate head coach Chris Jans said.
Instead, officials called a double foul on both Van Treese and Baker, who had made some contact with Van Treese while going for the ball. That was a fateful moment because possession after a double-foul is determined by the jump ball arrow, which was going in Wichita State’s direction. Obviously, the Shockers could have used it later.
“I was going for the ball, trying to get the loose ball and I thought he bear-hugged me and threw me to the ground,” Baker said. “But apparently I must have hit him first.”
And of course, that set the stage for your favorite zebra and mine…The Hessian himself…to stick the final dagger into the hearts of Scary Wheat fans everywhere.
First, let’s review the rule, shall we?
Section 37. Held Ball
Art. 1. A held ball occurs when an opponent places his or her hand(s):
a. So firmly on the ball that control cannot be obtained without undue roughness; or
b. On the ball to prevent an airborne player from throwing the ball or attempting a try and both players return to the playing court with both hands on the ball or (men) the airborne player returns to the playing court never losing control of the ball.
That leaves some very subjective judgement to the officials when such situations arise, granted.Â But remember that officials allegedly want the players to decide the outcomes and thus often swallow their whistles down the stretch even for calls that would be rather obvious during the rest of the game (we can argue the merits of that approach if we wish, but that’s not the point here…the point is they do it regularly and don’t mind saying so).
So with 8.8 seconds to go and the Shockers down 71-68, Louisville misses a free throw and Wichita State’s Ron Baker comes down with the rebound.Â Off balance and feet shuffling, he’s forced to put the ball on the floor to regain control.Â That’s when Louisville’s Luke Hancock gets a hand in there and probably at least touches the ball.Â From the angle it’s actually very hard to tell if he touched the ball or not, but he probably did.Â But it seems apparent that he got a lot of arm too, but again that’s fairly difficult to tell as well due to the angle.
And the angle is the thing here.
NCAA basketball official extraordinaire Karl Hess, never one to shy away from making a call despite not seeing the play in question clearly, never hesitates to make the call from behind the play despite not being able to see ball or the necessary details.Â Held ball, the aforementioned possession arrow going Louisville’s way, Ball Game.
Here’s the play…you decide (click for the animation)…
So why then would such a gray area call be jumped upon so quickly by Herr Karl?Â A quality official of such obvious high integrity?
We wish we knew.
Ultimately, a lot things happen in the 40 minutes between tip off and final horn.Â To point to one thing as the reason a given team wins or loses is not the point here.Â But for a crew of officials that was allegedly graded well enough to get a Final Four assignment, this is just a bush league call down the stretch.
And at the very least, it did cost Wichita State their last shot at trying to tie the game and forcing overtime.