From the Bird’s Nest: “LIVE, FROM THE SUN BELT CONFERENCE, IT’S SATURDAYYYYYY NIIIIIIGHT!!
You know, I really don't like harping on officials.
I rarely believe that officiating costs a team a game. The one exception might be the Middle Tennessee game when three officials choked on their whistles on an obvious goal-tend which allowed Middle Tennessee to take a one point lead over Louisiana with less than a minute to go in regulation.
But it's silly for any of us to ignore the 2000 lb elephant in the room.
Saturday night in the Sun Belt is worse this year than ever before.
Now, before this year, I must admit that there were fewer reasons to complain about Saturday nights. But this year, the Conference has taken a major step backward.
If you talk to coaches around college basketball, all they ask for is consistency. Call it both ways. And, set the tone early for how closely you're going to call a game.
Officials' supervisors will tell you that it's the players' responsibility to adjust to the way the game is being called.
Now, keeping that in mind, here are a couple of things from Saturday.
Only two fouls were called in the first six and a half minutes of play. The first free throws of the game came at 13:49, when Alex Garcia- Mendoza fouled Travis Bureau on a three point shot attempt. UALR didn't commit its seventh foul until 4:35 remained in the first half. The Cajuns didn't allow UALR to get into the bonus until 3:37 remained. Neither team got into the double bonus until 1.5 second remained in the first half. I'm thinkin', wow, maybe we've got some guys who are actually going to let the players decide the game. Just fourteen fouls were called in the first 17 minutes.
I should have known better.
Over the final 23 minutes, 34 fouls were called.
Now, how are players going to adjust to how a game is called when officials can't even adjust? Call it like a major college crew for seventeen minutes and then take us back to the old American South for the final 33?
Mike Wood, the supervisor of officials for the league, will be quick to point out that there are many officials on his list that also officiate in the Big XII, ACC, SEC and CUSA. And, he would be correct.
But you'll not see those guys on Saturday. And, frequently not on Thursday either.
And, therein lies a big part of the problem. As has always been the case, the Sun Belt simply doesn't pay what other conferences pay. And therefore, the more experienced officials say adios to the Belt when Saturday rolls around. The past couple of years, under the Sun Belt/Big XII/CUSA scheduling agreement, Saturdays, while not quite as good as Thursdays, had gotten to the point where it was tolerable.
Tolerable is not a word I would use to describe Saturdays in the Belt this season.
This past Saturday, Sidney Cohen, Jeffery Smith and Emmanuel Upton were the officials. We saw Cohen in the season opener against New Mexico State. Smith was part of the threesome that set back basketball twenty years with that 64 foul performance against Middle Tennessee. It was Upton's first game at the Dome. Smith has officiated a lot of games this season. And, he is not known for officiating games that have a lot of fouls called. But most of his work has been in the Northeast and Colonial Conferences. In fact, the only two Sun Belt Conference games that he officiated this year are the two games at the Cajundome, where 111 fouls were called. Cohen has officiated only nine games all season. Every game he has officiated has involved a Sun Belt School. In the four Conference games he has officiated, an average of 44.5 fouls have been called. Anything over 40 is a lot. Upton has, in the past, refereed some CUSA games, but this year his phone, like Cohen's, hasn't rung much. He has called exclusively in the Sun Belt and MEAC. He has only worked Saturday Sun Belt games.
Saturday, in addition to the sudden change in whistle patterns after the seventeen minute mark of the first half, there were a few other eyebrow raisers.
*-A backcourt violation against UL's J. J. Thomas, called from 15 feet behind the play. Replays showed Thomas had not crossed mid court when the violation was called.
*-A missed travelling call against the Cajuns' Bryant Mbamalu. Mbamalu hit a 15 foot jumper after the obvious walk.
*-Another obvious missed travelling call against UALR's Eric Kibi, who took, oh, about twelve steps before making a basket. I also think they missed a double dribble against Kibi as well.
*A pushoff by UALR's Solomon Bozeman just before the call on J. J. Thomas at the end of the first half.
*That, of course was followed by the foul call on Thomas. The whistle blew as the horn sounded for the end of the first half. Bob Marlin, obviously not happy with the call, stormed toward the locker room.
And was hit with a technical foul for going onto the court. After the horn had sounded. And, since he was storming off the court, the official said Marlin was "charging" him.
The officials, to save face, put 1.5 seconds back on the clock. Presumably so they could justify the technical foul in the officials report.
Many of the calls in the second half, should have, in my own not-so-humble opinion, been no-calls (as they were during the first seventeen minutes of the game.) This includes the foul on Raymone Andrews with 8.8 seconds left (Andrews 5th of the game) which allowed Bozeman the free throws that gave UALR the lead. And, there should have been a no call on the foul called which allowed Bureau the chance to win the game. If neither foul is called, the players get to decide the game.
Players deciding the game....a concept that is lost on Saturday Night in the Sun Belt.