Going in to last night’s national championship game between North Carolina and Gonzaga, many were anticipating a thrilling and unforgettable performance, perhaps on par with last year’s Villanova-UNC title game. It’s easy to understand why. After all, these are the two best teams in the country, both playing spectacular basketball all season long, as well as in the tournament.
Unfortunately, most expecting that kind of game were incredibly disappointed. While exciting in spurts, last night’s championship game was anything but thrilling. And, while it may have people talking for quite some time, it will be for all the wrong reasons. Last night’s game looked more like a refereeing contest where a basketball game happened to take place. There were a combined 44 fouls and 52 free throws between the two teams. It seemed like the players couldn’t breathe on each other without being called for something.
The excessive fouls severely disrupted the rhythm of the game, if there ever was a rhythm to begin with. Every time one of the teams started to get into a groove, they were stalled by an unnecessarily tight foul call. No, the refs didn’t force North Carolina to make just 15 percent of its 3-pointers and they didn’t cause Przemek Karnowski to score just once from the field the entire game, but when the whistle blows as much as it did, it does a lot to throw teams off their game.
This ugliness was obvious to anyone watching last night, and people everywhere took notice. LeBron James, along with several others, took to Twitter to express their frustrations.
Man I can’t watch this anymore man! I would like to see the kids decide who wins the game! I mean Bruh!! Smh
— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 4, 2017
Let these kids play. Put the whistles away.
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) April 4, 2017
Once again… the refs are the stars of the game. Thanks #NCAATournament
— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) April 4, 2017
This wasn’t supposed to happen. This wasn’t what fans or players wanted and certainly not what they deserved. There was no reason to believe, heading into this game, we would get anything other than another instant classic. Instead, we ended up something that felt like the referees were having a contest to see who could call the most fouls. Fouls are basketball’s necessary evil. They are meant to keep the players in check. But last night, it was the refs who needed to be held in check.
To the player’s credit, they didn’t blame what happened on the referees. Even on the losing end, Zach Collins (who fouled out with just over five minutes left to play), said he needed to “play smarter” and “not foul as much’’. Well Zach, kudos to you for showing some class, but most of the blame here does not fall on you. The truth is, out of the five fouls called on Collins, at least two, and probably three, were highly questionable. In a National Championship game, you leave debatable calls alone and let the kids play.
I’m not usually one to complain about poor officiating, and frankly, I find those who do on a regular basis pretty annoying. But calling last night’s debacle out for what it was isn’t complaining, it’s telling the truth. Hopefully the referees will learn from this lesson, and maybe next year, we will get something resembling an actual basketball game.
Image credit: (Getty Images)