Illini basketball

Why the referees were wrong at Breslin

Ah the Breslin Student Events Center, our home away from home.

Illinois “didn’t do enough to win” on Saturday in East Lansing. Luckily, Michigan State ‘didn’t do enough to win” worse.

Illinois shot a measly* 29.4% from the arc, and missed a quarter of their free-throws, including two straight misses by Ahmad Starks as the game went to the wire.

Three crazed blind referees tried but failed to steal the game for the Spartans, but MSU refused to grab victory from the jaws of defeat. They missed so many free-throws that their home crowd jumped to a standing ovation when Bryn Forbes connected on two straight.

By game’s end, Forbes would join Travis Trice as goat, incapable of converting. So the most outrageous screw job since Jim Bain won’t generate much more than an entertaining online pissing match.

You can read about that below. First, here are three reasons Illinois did win Saturday at Breslin.


People like to complain about Nnanna Egwu for all kinds of reasons.

  • He hedges too high on double-teams.
  • He shoots threes, and generally loiters around the high post.
  • He grabs fewer rebounds than some people expect from the center position.

On Saturday, Egwu’s high hedges were especially effective at stymieing Denzel Valentine — the only Spartan who seemed able to generate offense. (The MSU sports info people assign photogs to each team’s offensive end, for each half. Otherwise I’d have some good shots of Egwu hedging Valentine.)

On Saturday, Egwu buried 2-of-3 3FGs, which he launched when open, in the natural flow of the offense.

On Saturday, Egwu grabbed 9 rebounds (3 offensive) against a team — or in fact, a program — that’s considered untouchable on the boards.  He led all players in this category, keeping Illinois within one carom of a dead heat (35-34).

Nnanna appeared to be an entirely different player on Saturday.  But it’s not because he doesn’t have that aggressor in him. It’s because he does what he’s told to do, without question.

John Groce phrased it as “never complains.” But Groce seemed to be recognizing, even as he said it, that Egwu could be a violent rebounding force if he (Groce) simply gave the directive.

Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling and Branden Dawson are not subtle about grabbing boards (or opponents’ jerseys for that matter). Egwu roughed them up.

Maverick Morgan played alongside Egwu once again. Morgan’s low-post presence frees Egwu to do all the perimeter stuff people hate so much. Unfortunately for Mav, the low-post was once again a bizarro version of Bozo’s Grand Prize Game, in which Mav is unable to lay the ball in the bucket from a foot away.


Tom Izzo was so pissed at his team, he couldn’t even recognize the thorn in their collective side. Or maybe he just didn’t remember the first ten minutes of the first half. In my seven years experience of covering college basketball, I’ve learned that coaches usually remember exactly the moment you’re asking about. But sometimes they think you’re asking a different question entirely. And sometimes they don’t want to give a direct answer, for whatever reason.

I asked Izzo about the first ten minutes. MSU jumped all over Illinois, and then lay supine as Illinois didn’t quite jump all over them, back.

What happened to change that momentum?

Izzo didn’t have an answer apart from the old stand-by “making shots.”

A 10-2 Michigan State lead slowly devolved (from their perspective, but also kinda from our perspective as well) into 11-11.

The guy who changed the momentum was Ahmad Starks. His unfazed demeanor corrupted the Spartan’s aggression-oriented defensive scheme. His shooting forced them to alter defensive rotations. His size and speed played mouse to their transition elephant.

“If I were wearing green, I’d be really pissed right now,” I said to IPHD’s Jason Marry, sitting to my left, as Leron Black gave Illinois its first lead, 12 minutes into a blowout-turned-grudge-match.

Then I asked Graham Couch, sitting behind us on press row, what was wrong with MSU today? He said they’d been this way all year. No interior offense, no perimeter offense. If they ain’t got transition offense, they got nada.


He’s back.

KNunn has been gone, or partially present, all year. On Saturday, his persistent drives to the basket demonstrated that his knee is fixed, physically and mentally.

Nunn and Malcolm Hill found a weakness in the Spartan’s defensive line. It was basically the same weakness that Malcolm exploited for the game-winner against Penn State.

When starting from the top of the key, both Malcolm and KNunn have figured out that their perimeter defender will push them out but not up, and cheat slightly toward the left (to block the lane and the right-hander’s dominant hand). The low-post help defender will push down, but not out (to protect the rim), and also cheat left.

Malcolm uses his left well, and Kendrick is left-handed (except when signing autographs).

KNunn also used a floater, and his mad hops, to exploit the Spartans in the low-post.


I don’t know how Jaylon Tate’s box-out non-foul looked on live TV. What you may not have seen was the extent to which Spartans Travis Trice, Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling, the Izzone etc. biased persons campaigned for some kind of call.

It was all an act, a pantomime, a feint. It was pretense. And it was, in person, so obviously pretense. It’s unconscionable that this hamming nearly stole a win for the home team.

The officiating crew ruled that Jaylon had committed a dead ball foul against Travis Trice. They gave MSU (Forbes) a pair of extra free-throws that might have changed a deficit into a lead, with less than a minute to go.

It was probably Trice’s acting that made the three men — all of whom probably have testes if not cojones — sympathize.

After the game, they probably realized they’d screwed up.  But refs never admit a mistake. So to double-down on their bad judgment, they released a statement about the ruling.

Nobody misinterpreted the rule. The rule was inapplicable to the situation.  Jaylon Tate’s box-out was thoroughly unremarkable, completely ordinary.

Yes, Jaylon Tate’s movements are a bit herky-jerky, as I’ve written here before.  Earlier in that very game, Tate hit himself in the crotch while playing with his typical abandon. Did the referees think that contact was intentional?

Here’s why the call was wrong: The ball was not dead.

There are two ways the ball could have been a “dead ball,” and for Jaylon Tate’s “foul” to be a “dead ball foul.”  If the ball had gone through the hoop, as the Wymer statement claims, it would have been a “dead ball.” If the free-throw had been the first of two, rather than a one-and-one, the ball would have been “dead.”

Tate’s contact  occurred before the ball went through the hoop. That much is plain from the replay. Wymer, Valentine and  Perone made an error of fact.

Because it was a one-and-one, Tate was boxing-out his man. This error should have been seen and reversed on review. Slow-motion makes it clear to see, as millions now have.

Of course, this was not the first time a referee has botched an obvious call.

But most botched calls don’t take place in the final minute. Those that do are subject to video review. The remarkable quality of this botch is that the officiating crew reviewed the play, and then fabricated a defense to justify a clearly erroneous ruling.

My hunch is that one of the referees blew his whistle in the grip of a senior moment, forgetting that rules for lane violation changed years ago.

For absolute beginners, here’s a pedantic explanation of rules known to every basketball player and referee, from 3rd grade up.

When Ahmad Starks fouled Travis Trice with 33.2 seconds remaining in the game, that foul was Illinois’ 8th “team foul” of the second half. A team’s 7th foul in either half triggers a free-throw for the other team. If the other team makes the first free-throw, it’s awarded a second free-throw. This battery in potentia is known as the “one-and-one.”

A team’s 10th foul of either half triggers two foul shots — another term for “free-throws.”

The other way to trigger two foul shots is to foul one’s opponent in the act of shooting. And if one fouls one’s opponent in the act of shooting a three-point shot, that shooter is awarded three free-throws (unless the shot attempt is successful).

It was not a shooting foul. i.e. Starks did not foul Trice in the act of shooting. Per NCAA rules, then, when Travis Trice stepped to the free-throw line, he was shooting the “front end” of a “one-and-one.”

Here’s a screen shot of, and a link to (.pdf), the NCAA rule on lane violations.

The call would have been correct, by both rule and fact, if the contact were of the “unnecessary, unacceptable and excessive” manner (all three, mind you) required by the cited rule and the lane violation rule were different, as it once was.

Under the old rules, players could not enter the lane until the ball hit the rim. The state of Maine still used this rule for high school basketball, right up through last season.

Here’s rule 10-3.1

The ruling was based on a sequence of events that never occurred. The evidence is demonstrable.

So if the refs whistled Jaylon because his man crumpled at the crotch, here’s the question for that officiating crew, Rick Boyages and Jim Delaney: If contact is deemed “unnecessary, unacceptable and excessive” based on the reaction of the contacted player; shouldn’t someone from Indiana’s Hoosiers be permanently disqualified for knocking Aaron Cosby’s eyeball out?

I mean, he was actually injured.


Over the years, I’ve written on message boards (under my own name, as always) that Dan Dakich is awful. I’ve never seen the need to tell him in person. And now, I don’t have to.  Everybody knows it.

Presumably Canadian whisky influenced Dakich’s online argument with noted sports fan Don Gerard. (I presume not only that Dakich was drunk, but that he prefers awful forms of drink.)

The Dakich-Gerard e-fracas may help keep the botched call in the public’s memory. The botched call may help remind the public how awful Dan Dakich is. It’s a win-win.

Dakich has experience at cheering for terrible officiating which seeks to steal a win for the home team, but fails. In the 2008 B1G Tournament, Dakich watched from the sidelines of Indianapolis’s Canseco Fieldhouse as Ted Hillary, Zelton Steed & Sid Rodeheffer awarded Indiana’s Hoosiers three extra attempts at a winning basket.

The Hoosiers, like the Spartans on Saturday, were able to connect on just one of those three.  And amazingly, as with MSU on Saturday, the Hoosiers lost despite all the help.

You’ll remember that Dakich wasn’t hired to be Indiana’s coach. They brought him in as a schoolmarm, to be the (hopefully?) guileless, ruly killjoy that would, ostensibly, check Cellvin Samsung’s incorrigible urge to cheat.

Dakich became interim head when Sampson volunteered to leave town in exchange for money. As interim head, Dakich delivered a 3-4 record, losing Indiana’s opening games in both B1G and NCAA tournaments.

The only time Dakich was hired to be a head coach was when Jim Larrañaga left Bowling Green. Larrañaga had done so well building that program that he was hired away by George Mason. He did so well at George Mason that he was hired away by Miami.

Dakich did well enough with Larrañaga’s recruits, but he couldn’t sustain the program. Perhaps that’s the reason he says Illini fans should rue the day they fired Bruce Weber.

The year after Larrañaga took George Mason to the Final Four, Dakich was fired. His record over the final two years was 22-39, 8-26 in the MAC.

Weber’s Kansas State team is about to lose its 13th game of the year. K-State’s fans don’t expect to win a 13th game.


*I hope it’s OK with Jenny McCarthy that I employ the epithet “measly.”  I assume she’s immune to criticism.