Friday, March 11, 2011

Big East Tourney: Official Issues and More

(photo courtesy of

After three days of watching the Big East tournament, I have a few observations. I'll start with the attention-grabbing incident involving the referees from the St. John's-Rutgers game.

-How do you not blow the whistle? Even if you're not staring at the clock as an official, it was pretty obvious from Tim Higgins' point of view that Justin Brownlee stepped out of bounds before the horn went off. This wasn't a toe on the line either, he was way out of bounds. Even if Higgins somehow didn't see that, how do you not call a travel?

Brownlee picked up his dribble with three seconds left and continued to move before launching the ball into the stands. I've also heard cries for a technical foul to be called once the ball was thrown into the crowd. I'm glad nobody called a technical foul, because that's a terrible way to hand a team a game, but someone should have blown a whistle for any of these three violations.

If a whistle was blown, the play could have been reviewed and Rutgers would've been given the ball with 1.7 seconds left and a chance to win the game. After the way they played the Johnnies in what was essentially a road game, they deserved that opportunity. And the officiating crew that "resigned" also deserved some punishment.

The other issue here is the referee rotation. Why should officials have to work consecutive games? Unlike the players on the court, refs aren't well-conditioned athletes. They don't get to sit on the bench for minutes at a time to rest either. The Big East should have a different officiating crew for every game in future years to prevent things like this from happening.

-Connecticut's win over Pittsburgh surprised many, but not me. That pick alone may win me my Big East Tournament bracket, but it's surprising to see how a number placed next to a team can influence people's opinion of that team so greatly. Connecticut finishing ninth in the Big East regular-season standings made people think there was a vast difference between them and top-seeded Pittsburgh. There isn't.

Any college team with a lottery-type talent like Kemba Walker for the Huskies will always have a chance to pull an upset. And how much of an upset was it really? Connecticut is a top-20 team and even found their way into the top-10 at one point after starting the season unranked.

They're a better team than Georgetown and Cincinnati, who finished ahead of them in conference, and you can argue they are on a similar level if not better than West Virginia and St. John's. I wouldn't even be surprised if they beat Syracuse tonight and went on to win the tournament, although that would be mighty impressive to win five games in five days.

This is a good young basketball team peaking at the right time, and with a player like Walker on the floor you always have a chance late in games. People slept on UConn and will likely do the same come time for the NCAA Tournament, which is a huge mistake. This team has Elite 8 potential if they get the right matchups; Walker is that Carmelo Anthony/Stephen Curry-type of college player who can carry a team deep into March.

-No other real surprises or storylines have come out of the first three days, but I will say that it's now obvious to me that the top six teams in the Big East (Pitt, Notre Dame, Louisville, Syracuse, St. John's and Connecticut) are better than the other five who will likely make the tournament (Marquette, West Virginia, Georgetown, Cincinnati and Villanova).

If Chris Wright makes it back for the Hoyas, they have an outside shot at the Sweet 16. But without Wright in the lineup, they are a prime candidate for a first-round upset if they get a top-eight seed. Austin Freeman is great, but without Wright that offense doesn't really go.

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