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The Playcaller Returns

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Duke-Wake match-ups over the last six or eight years have always seemed to present plenty of opportunities to talk about officiating. Seems like a perfect opportunity for some play-by-play analysis!

First Half

19:42-Right off the bat it's decision time for the crew as Singler penetrates into the lane against LD Williams. Singler definitely initiated the contact there, but it's tough to see how Williams had a legal guarding position. Most games, I wouldn't even blink at this no-call, but this match-up has a nasty habit of being overly physical, and this game would have benefitted from a whistle there, even it was 50/50-maybe even because it was 50/50.

19:16-I don't like the start things have gotten off to, as McFarland, with no possible play on the ball, backs into MP1 on the alley-oop from Scheyer, again with no call. Normally the advantage-disadvantage idea would mitigate the no-call here, as Plumlee finished the shot; but the crew have to be aware of the history of this series and look to cut off any potential chippiness at the pass. This would have been a great 'message' play, affording the calling official an easy opportunity to tell McFarland that not playing the ball on airborne shooters simply won't be tolerated. Roy Williams stated in a recent N&O article on physical play in the ACC that a lot of rough stuff would be cleaned up with more early whistles. This game is looking like Exhibit A in his argument.

19:00-ish-Nolan Smith has the same play on Smith that LD Williams had early against Singler-nice consistency in refereeing this play, I guess.

18:50-I don't like the homer tag, especially in a space like this, but McFarland should have been called for an illegal screen here after setting a blind pick on Smith (not illegal), with his feet more than shoulder-width apart (illegal), while moving (also illegal, and making a potentially marginal foul obvious). The crew have now unintentionally given McFarland the idea that there are no problems with his level of aggressiveness.

18:22-Well, Lance Thomas's illegal screen here was a little more obvious, but not much. That call would look a whole lot better were it coming on the heels of a similar whistle on the other end.

17:10-Thomas picks up his second foul, bumping Aminu on the shot on the right block. Replays showed he could have been called earlier for holding the cutting Aminu going to the basket. That's the kind of "freedom of movement" play that NCAA Coordinator of Officials John Adams wants to see called every time. The players and coaches probably have a very different feel for this game-even three minutes in-if McFarland had been whistled earlier and Thomas had been called for the early hold rather than the late bump.

17:01-Tough play for the lead (baseline) official here. MP1 clearly shoves McFarland out of the way on the way to an offensive board. Things then go from bad to worse for the Deacons as Aminu is (correctly) called for the hit on Plumlee taking the ball back up.

16:37-Referees talk a lot about trying to make sure that calls 'fit' the game. This nickel-dimer called on Scheyer bumping CJ Hill ever so slightly on the perimeter? It doesn't fit. It's cliché, but you're almost forced to believe that the calling official knew he missed the push on Miles on the previous possession, and was going to try to make up for it by taking the earliest possible foul on Duke. The sad thing is that two or three calls just like this one in the first 90 seconds would have done wonders for the quality of this game.

16:16-Ish Smith called for a hold on Scheyer. One could tag this as a make-up call for the Scheyer foul a moment ago, or interpret it as a concerted effort on the part of the crew to clean things up. Or I guess you could argue that nobody knows what a foul is anymore. Time will tell.

16:16-Question: If McFarland had already picked up a foul or two, do you think Valentine has to tell him TWICE to back off of the in-bounds passer? McFarland could, and probably should have been called for a delay of game after ignoring the first warning. That someone with Valentine's self-confidence and aggressiveness is tolerating this kind of behavior does not say good things for Valentine's state of mind or where this game may be headed.

15:29-Aminu crashing into Zoubek on the offensive boards. You just have to call that, despite the fact that Zoubek corralled the rebound. It was reckless, undisciplined play, and no coach is going to say a word to you for calling it. He clearly displaced Zoubek, so it should have been easy. Blow the whistle, guys.

15:15-Zoubek called for the foul on Ish Smith at the basket on a play not substantively different from two earlier plays (one on each end) which were both allowed to play on. Coaches often cry out, "All I want is a consistent game." Well, that's not really true, as what coaches truly want is for every whistle to go their way. But if they're not going to get every call, then they'll usually settle for consistency. They're not getting it right now.

14:48-I'm going nuts if I'm Gaudio or LD Williams right now, as Zoubek has his arm on top of Williams's shoulder as the Duke center goes after what looked like an attempted alley-oop from Scheyer. In real time it looked like Zoubek may have travelled before going up and appearing to be blocked cleanly by Williams. Even if Williams grazed some of Zoubek's forearm there, it doesn't fall into the category of 'obvious.' Really tough for coaches, players, and officials alike when there's as little rhythm to the officiating as there has been thus far. The best thing that could happen for the game right now would be for the teams to trade baskets for a couple of smooth minutes and let everybody (except presumably Lance Thomas, he of two-fouls fame) forget about what the officiating has looked like in the first five minutes of this one.

14:30-After three viewings I still don't see the travel on Aminu here. That means even if it was there, it's going to be tough to maintain that level of precision and accuracy on travel calls for the rest of the game.

14:21-Gaudio is having a word with Ray Natili during play, probably about Zoubek's near-shuffle a minute ago, and asking why his guy gets whistled while the home guy doesn't. I'm wondering, too.

14:13-I cannot remember a more disjointed start to the officiating of a big game. Zoubek was just whistled for a travel there. I'm not the least bit surprised that the crew found a travel on Zoubek, given recent events. The problem is that if Zoubek was in fact guilty, it was only after he'd been illegally bodied up-twice-by the Deacs' Woods. Both coaches are probably starting to get exasperated at this point, and I can't blame them. And we're still not even six minutes in! This is not going to end well.

13:51-No offense to the G-Man, but I don't think we need to be told about swinging elbows being a point of emphasis this year when Woods clocks Zoubek in the jaw so obviously. As long as it's seen, that's a foul in any season. The good news is that we have our first whistle in memory that nobody is questioning.

13:48-Obvious illegal screen on Singler as he delivered a double-forearm shiver to the back of Aminu. Singler is certainly known to have an edge to his game, but that is the stupidest foul I can remember from him. Hard to know what was going on in his head there, but it would be tough to argue that the inconsistent officiating had nothing to do with it.

13:22-MP2 plows Ish Smith going after the loose ball after Smith has his lay-up blocked on the break. No doubt about this play, except that it was allowed to happen in the first place. If we go back ten seconds, we have the following sequence: McFarland committing an obvious travel as he tries to wheel in on Zoubek, followed by what might have been a foul up high on Zoubek. McFarland's shot comes off the rim to MP2, who jumps high to secure the rebound momentarily until being jumped into by Woods. As a result of the contact, the ball pops into the air and is controlled by Duke, eventually leading to the break opportunity. One could argue that there was no real disadvantage created there, as the team that deserved the ball got it. The problem with that logic is that advantage/disadvantage philosophy doesn't just apply to players, but also to the game. And right now, what this game needs is for every obvious foul to be called, and for marginal travels to be left alone so the obvious ones can be called without everybody in the gym wondering what the hell is going on. At this point nobody knows what's going to be called and what's not. Nobody on the court can feel good about this game right now.

13:08-Woods treats Scheyer like his personal blocking sled in trying to secure an offensive rebound. Shockingly (except not really), there's no whistle. Duke comes up with it, but geez, it's only a matter of time in this one.

12:54-Are we getting to that point sooner than later? MP1 gives McFarland a solid shove in the back underneath during a rebound. Joe Lindsay's right on top of the call, and would have been even if McFarland had not embellished. McFarland's self-satisfied grin a few seconds later makes perfect sense. As an official, you never like to see that sort of grin, as it usually mean that you just got chumped. Lindsay certainly didn't get chumped there, but if any of the crew saw McFarland's smile, nothing at all should surprise from here on.

12:26-What can you say? On the same possession Scheyer is steered off-course two different times by Chas McFarland hand-checks, poor Ish Smith takes a shot to the chops from MP1 as the two of them go after a rebound. Yet again, none of those plays was whistled. Scheyer then commits an obvious hold of McFarland's uni, almost certainly a response to getting fouled twice in one possession by the Wake big man.

12:11-(It's now taken me an hour to get through eight minutes of game action, another bad sign) Lance Thomas just commits his third foul, a really bad one, on an obvious push in the back on a rebound. But what's troubling me at this moment is Mike Gminski talking about how players have to read the game and how the officials are calling it. This game is unreadable! Sure, Duke has committed a handful of uber-obvious fouls-and even if they hadn't, Thomas knew he was committing a silly foul there-but so much that would otherwise qualify as "obvious" has gone uncalled that it's tough to know what to make of things. I would simply say that it appears that Duke is the team having far more difficulty adjusting to things right now, as they are the team committing frustration fouls, whereas Wake seems much more comfortable with where things are.

11:34-McFarland goes over the top of MPII for a tip-in. Classic example demonstrating the inanity of the phrase "over the back" as commonly used. The Wake big man sort of goes over the younger Plumlee's back, but there's no foul unless there's actually a push. Had Plumlee put a body on McFarland there would have been a real decision to make for the officials; but instead it was an easy no-call for the crew and an easy basket for Wake.

10:21-There was no replay here, but what little piece of the play that was visible seemed to show McFarland saying hello to Nolan Smith on the way down-court with a shoulder-check. Looks like a quality call on McFarland. (One of the reasons that the general understanding of officiating suffers-in addition to a paucity of commentators who truly understand the rules-is that there is often no rhyme or reason to production staffs' decisions about which replays to actually show the TV audience.) Given the limited coverage of this play on the live look, there is little doubt that most Duke fans surveyed would say, "Great call," while many Wake would say, "maybe just incidental contact." If we could get a full look at this play from Fox, the truth of McFarland's intent would out. Whether I'm right or wrong here, isn't McFarland much less likely even to take a chance on that play if he'd been whistled on one or more of the plays mentioned above?

8:43-Sort of a strange development at this point, as the flow of the game has improved along with the quality of the whistles, but Wake has now officially gotten chippy, as LD Williams gives MPI an obvious forearm to the mid-section as he tries to get through a screen by the Duke big. Normally what happens in situations like this is that the team that is more out of its comfort zone in terms of style of play struggles more. Duke had a couple of out-of-character plays earlier, but they seem to have settled in a little bit. If that pattern holds and Wake continues to commit the stupid fouls, this game could get ugly in a hurry. Joe Lindsay is now talking to Ish Smith, who I'm guessing is Wake's captain, probably telling him to get his team under control. This would normally be called "preventive officiating," but it would have been much more preventive if such conversations had taken place much earlier in the half.

5:43-Could have been a foul on Aminu crashing the glass hard and displacing MPII, but if Plumlee meets him with a box-out, this play calls itself. Aminu is such a great leaper, with such long arms, that the perception is sometimes going to be that he can do things legally that others would have to foul to accomplish. Now a replay from Duke's last possession shows that MP1 gave Aminu a little uncalled bump in the back before the Duke tip-in.

5:27-Another Wake offensive put-back. Here's another perception angle on officiating: when officials aren't used to seeing defenders actively box people out, they're less likely to call fouls on those rare occasions when the offensive rebounder is actually guilty of something. It's not conscious discrimination going on here, it's just that in the absence of certainty, the official is probably going to default to the most representative memory, which in this case is the no-box-out- and -no -foul scenario.

2:42-In a different game, a foul might have been called on Miles Plumlee here. Gminski correctly pointed out that he did push Aminu under the basket a little bit to gain position for the offensive board, but there are a couple of keys here: first, Aminu was hooking Plumlee a little bit on his box-out; and second, Plumlee's push-off didn't involve a full lock-out of the elbow, an important key for officials. That said, I have no problem with taking a foul on Plumlee here, except that it wouldn't have fit with previous officiating on offensive rebounds.

2:10-Nice block call by Ray Natili against Kyle Singler on the baseline. Singler definitely didn't get to the spot before Stewart went airborne. Coach K is letting Natili have it, but in this particular case it's undeserved.

1:28-The Mason Plumlee reverse dunk. Ugh. I was just thinking that this game had really smoothed out pretty nicely over the last eight minutes or so, and with LD Williams and Lance Thomas with three fouls and McFarland and Mason Plumlee with two, it looked like everybody could just play basketball in the second half with no shenanigans. This play changes things. First, Mason should have been whacked with a technical foul for taunting following his dunk, no question about it. The fact that he wasn't is a miss for the crew--especially given the circumstances of this game--and Wake's players aren't going to forget about Mason's display. We'll be fortunate to get to half-time without further incident, and if the second half goes off without a hitch I'll be surprised.

1:13-Mason will learn from the last fifteen seconds. After the crew passed on the technical, there was no way he was going to get away with anything like the challenge he just made to Woods on the shot in the lane. It was a solid call even without the previous woofing, but one that doesn't always get made.

1:12-Woods called for a rebounding foul off of the free throw. He's probably wondering why he's being singled out for such minor contact after all that's happened under the glass. It's not fair, but he can thank Miles Plumlee for that, as there's no way the officials are going to let anything funky happen in the last minute-and-change of the half.

Half-time-If I'm on the crew I'm very concerned about this second half. This game didn't get off to a shaky start, it got off to a bad one. Things finally settled down, and the Plumlee taunt came as somewhat of a surprise given the rhythm that the game seemed to have settled into. Both teams did a horrible job protecting their defensive glass, so we know that everyone's going to make a more concerted effort to box out. Guys have to be rewarded early for quality box-outs, and no stray elbows or extended arms need be allowed for bigs trying to establish post or rebounding position.

It's possible to steer this game home safely, but it's going to require maximum intensity from the officials. There's foul trouble on both sides, and given that more fouls could have been called, nobody deserves any benefit of the doubt this half. Better to call a marginal foul, especially early in the half, than to let something go that could lead to an escalation of any sort. It would be nice to see some shots go down early and minimal offensive rebounding on both ends of the court so that everyone can settle back into the game.

Second Half

18:58-MP1 catches CJ Harris on a switch and gets an arm up near Harris's face in trying to establish position to catch an entry pass. Would love to have seen a foul there, but there's no call, and Thomas completes the high-low pass for an easy bucket.

18:44-Miles is living a charmed life, as he puts both hands on Ish Smith on a drive down the lane, again no call. That should be an automatic whistle. If Gaudio is taking any coaching cues from the officiating here, it's probably not a good sign for the game.

17:41-Wake rips off seven quick points, which one hopes will take the sting out of the two no-calls they suffered early in the half. Breathing a little easier here, but not much.

17:12-Singler goes McFarland on McFarland, going over top of the Wake center after a significant bump in the back. It doesn't excuse the no-call, but the point can't be stressed enough: if teams would do a better job of executing basic box-out technique, college basketball would be a much cleaner game. Now let's see how McFarland reacts.

17:01-Quality foul call against Miles Plumlee pushing McFarland from behind in the post.

16:42-Thomas should have picked up his fourth as he (accidentally) hit Aminu in the face in attempting to challenge the alley-oop from Ish Smith. Because of the geography of that play, none of the officials had a good angle to see it, but that's not going to make Aminu or Gaudio feel any better about things. Wake's patience has got to start wearing thin at this point, as they haven't gotten a break yet this half.

16:36-Zoubek called for a foul on a defensive rebound. I certainly didn't see a clear foul, but if I'm Duke, I don't think I can muster much indignation at this point.

16:18-Double- foul called on Zoubek and McFarland fighting for position as Singler's shot was in the air. Great call, necessary call. And yet still, this is not looking good. The crew have to be looking up at the clock thinking, "We still have sixteen minutes to go here?"

15:42-Zoubek and McFarland get tied up again, with McFarland eventually going to the ground. No call here, which is probably sound, as it's tough to see if either one was really any more guilty of anything than the other. But McFarland did end up on the ground while Zoubek did not, so that's not a good thing.

15:30-Okay, very interesting play here. Nolan Smith misses a lay-up in transition, contested by McFarland. Zoubek comes crashing in from behind McFarland, knocking him completely out of the play. But in so doing, he knocks the ball off the board and into the arms of CJ Harris, who starts the break the other way. Now this kind of play is very often no-called, given that the offended team ends up with a clear numbers advantage in transition, and would probably prefer that situation to a foul. But in this case I think you have to grab the foul on Zoubek there, especially since it was committed against the game's most volatile player, a player who happened to go to the floor in a scuffle with Zoubek twelve seconds earlier. Please, let's just get to the under- sixteen timeout so that everyone can cool off.

15:24-Interesting that coming back from the media time-out, the Fox sideline reporter intros a story about Jon Scheyer and physical play by noting that in this game, "bodies are hitting the ground all over the place." It's not that Gminski and Brando have completely missed what's happening here, but they certainly don't seem to be as in-tune with the emotional pitch of this game as they should be.

14:54-If the crew could have ordered up a play in the last time-out, it probably would have been Obvious Foul on Zoubek. The Duke big man obliges on Aminu's drive to the hoop. That sends him to the bench with four fouls, which cannot possibly hurt this game.

14:27-McFarland is called for a foul on an attempted rebound against a well-positioned MP1. Much, much more contact has been allowed in this game without being called.

13:39-McFarland draws his fourth foul on a wonderful bit of body-control by Scheyer as he absorbs contact and converts the bucket. Quality call. It will be interesting to see what form the game and the whistles take with McFarland sitting for what will probably be extended minutes.

13:20-Okay, I'm shocked that Gaudio hasn't gotten himself whacked yet. Aminu just took the ball to the hoop, and for about twelve feet was being re-routed by Mason Plumlee's extended forearm. Missed shot, no call. That's a bad miss for the crew. Two of the three officials had poor looks at the play, but one had a clear angle. You have to make that call.

13:16-Know what probably doesn't happen if you make the previous call? This ugly play. Ish Smith is called for an intentional foul as he challenged Mason Plumlee's transition dunk attempt. This play, along with the Tim Brando's absurd but predictable commentary surrounding it, deserves its own extended treatment; but suffice it to say that for multiple reasons-not the least of which can be found in the rulebook-this was a good call. Again, though, a complete analysis of the play requires that we consider the larger context. Does Ish Smith challenge in this way if Plumlee hadn't gotten away with his blatant first-half taunt? Does the play occur if Aminu gets the benefit of a foul call four seconds earlier? It might have still happened, but it would not have happened at the 13:16-mark of the second half.

11:21-Thomas called for a slight hand-check against Ish Smith. John Clougherty's pulling his hair out right now wondering why the more obvious hand-check on Mason Plumlee at 13:20 couldn't have been called as well.

11:09-McFarland enters after Zoubek fouls out. He sat for only 2:30, but it feels like much longer.

10:14-Very, very nice call by Ted Valentine on Mason Plumlee's illegal screen. I know I'm a broken record at this point, but this game would have been so much more enjoyable to watch, play, coach, and referee, if calls like that had been made early. (Very funny that seven seconds later Brando says, "Tightly called since the outset...")

4:28-Woods delivers a hard foul to Singler on another dunk attempt. This play has some definite parallels with the earlier play that was called intentional, but the differences dictate a simple shooting foul, as was the call. More on those differences in the upcoming discussion of the Ish Smith intentional foul.


What to say about this one? If no one sustained any lasting injuries, all involved should feel lucky. The Nolan Smith-runover notwithstanding, I really don't think McFarland was the same type of problem in this game that he has been in many previous outings. But he certainly made things difficult for Duke and the officials in both live- and dead-ball situations.

In passing on some of those early plays involving McFarland, the crew painted themselves into a corner by forcing themselves to allow similar stuff involving other players to go uncalled. But of course some things have to be called, and the players couldn't seem to figure out the difference. When that happens, it actually makes it tougher for the officials to figure it out as well. As a result, we watched 40 minutes of basketball in which no one ever seemed comfortable with the officiating. That's never a good thing, but it's not always the really bad thing it was in this game.

It's very simple, but some of the best advice I've ever gotten in officiating: a mentor I had early in my career used to say that when you feel like things are getting too chaotic, when the game is starting to manage you rather than the other way around, "Blow the whistle. Blow the whistle." Like every other rule of thumb it has exceptions; but this game would have benefitted greatly from a greater willingness to do that simple thing.

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