The college hoops schedule is light this week because of final exams. (For once, we in the over-40 crowd can crow to the under-20 gang that we have it better.) So I figured this was a good time to administer my own little exam, Hoop Thoughts-style.
The topic for today's test is the most difficult play in basketball to officiate: The charge/block call. As your proctor, I am ably assisted by the nation's foremost authority on this subject, John Adams, the NCAA's coordinator of officials. The plays used in this exam are the same ones that Adams used while teaching his zebras the nuances of the charge/block call at officiating clinics around the country last summer.
Here's how our test will work. We have spliced 10 plays into one highlights reel. After watching each play, decide for yourself whether the play was a block or a charge. I will warn you that neither the officials making these calls nor the broadcasters analyzing them are correct on every play. You will have to make up your own mind.
Because I am a benevolent professor who likes to see his students get A's (bell curve, schmell curve), I will give you some important guidelines:
Just because a defender is moving does not mean he can't take a legal charge. This is a common misconception. The key factor is whether the dribbler has left his feet. If the offensive player jumps off the floor on a drive, the defender must freeze. But if the dribbler is still on the floor, the defender may draw contact by moving backwards, laterally or at an angle -- as long as he first establishes position. The only thing the defender can never do is move up and into the offensive player.
You are probably also aware that a secondary defender cannot legally take a charge if he is standing in the restricted area, aka "the arc," under the basket. There are no such plays on this test. Wouldn't want to make it too easy for you.
Got it? Good.
Decide for yourself: Block or Charge. The answer are provided at the end of this column along with Adams' explanations. Good luck Hoop Thinkers!
Five Really Good Players On Really Bad Teams:
Butler 6-11 senior center Andrew Smith had the game of his life last week against Northwestern, scoring 19 of his season-high 24 points in the second half of a 74-65 win. Of course, you might have read somewhere that Indiana has a pretty good center, too.
Don't you just love how the Barclays Center has entered the college hoops fray? This is the best game at the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival, and it features John Beilein coaching against his former school, which happens to be coached by a guy named Huggins. Unfortunately for Huggins, Beilein has much better players -- namely point guard Trey Burke, who has 35 assists and six turnovers in his last five games.
Kansas State is drawing some praise for its 7-1 start, but the Wildcats' best win was on the road against George Washington. The Zags have had a full week to marinate on that bad home loss to Illinois, and I expect them to rebound.
Again, I point to the difference between wanting to win and needing to win. The Gators have been rolling over opponents with big names but lesser talent, but the Wildcats have been laying in wait for this one. I think Zona will play with abandon and hold serve at home.
I normally would favor a home team in a rivalry game, but given Memphis' point guard issues this season, this is a bad matchup, even if Louisville is still without Gorgui Dieng (wrist).
The Bears are still smarting from that last-second loss to UNLV last weekend. That followed an embarrassing 25-point loss at Wisconsin. If they can't make a stand here, they never will.
I figured the Boilermakers would struggle, but not this much. They shot just 30 percent in last Saturday's loss at Eastern Michigan.
Another coach takes on his former employers -- this time, it's Alabama's Anthony Grant. The bigger problem is that his Tide is taking on Treveon Graham, Troy Daniels, and the rest of the VCU Rams, who have played a rigorous schedule but remain in dire need of a resume-building win.
I love getting the chance to spotlight a game between two really good, under-the-radar mid-majors who are geographic rivals. Duquesne beat West Virginia on Tuesday night to secure its fifth win in six games, and the Dukes should ride their advantage on the glass to victory in this one.
Other Hoop Thoughts
? Here's an extra point for you on the officiating front. Often times, when a potential flagrant foul situation arises because of a swinging elbow, whoever is broadcasting the game will put the rulebook's language on the screen. It reads: "A flagrant 1 personal foul shall be a personal foul that is deemed excessive in nature and/or unnecessary, but not based solely on the severity of the act." However, the rulebook also lists several examples of plays that would warrant this call. That list includes "[i]llegal contact with an elbow that occurs above the shoulders of an opponent
This is a critical, often unmentioned distinction. Often when you see these replays, the broadcasters say they are looking for an indication that the offensive player swung his elbows "excessively." But as you can see, if there is contact above the shoulders, then it doesn't matter whether the elbows were swung excessively. And it
OK, no more rule tests for this week. I promise.
? I love that coaches still refer to watching "tape." Sometimes they'll even use the word "film," which for some reason makes me think of Charlie Chaplin. I can imagine the 13-year-old kid who hears this and asks, "Daddy, what's tape?"
? There are lots of notable mid-semester transfers becoming eligible this week, but none is more significant than Missouri's Jabari Brown, a 6-5 freshman guard from Oakland who transferred from Oregon and will make his debut on Monday. In light of Michael Dixon's dismissal, it is even more critical that Brown give this team some pop from the perimeter. The question is whether he will bring a winner's mentality. Remember, this is a guy who transferred just two games into his freshman season. Makes you wonder.
? Creighton's Doug McDermott has made 17 of his last 24 attempts from three-point range. Just making sure you knew.
? Everybody likes to rag on UCLA point guard Larry Drew II, but the kid is averaging more than eight assists per game on a terrible offensive team. So he must be doing something right.
? Good bit of trivia I did not know: Sean Miller threw the pass that led to Jerome Lane's epic, glass-shattering dunk for Pittsburgh in 1988. So how come Raftery didn't scream out, "Great pass, Sean!"
? I also did not know until recently that Ohio State guard Shannon Scott is the son of Charles Scott, the North Carolina legend who was that school's first African-American scholarship athlete. Charles Scott was later a star in the ABA, setting the league's single-season scoring record at 34.6 points per game. That's some quality DNA right there.
? Speaking of Ohio State, allow me to provide my annual quote from the great basketball professor, Clark Kellogg, on the laws of rebounding: "You're allowed to go over-the-back. You're not allowed to go
? Zen Hoopster that I am, I've often written that a truly great player is able to play well when he's not playing well. Exhibit A is Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr., who is 6 for 33 from the field in his last three games but has been hitting the glass (nine rebounds in the win over Arkansas), playing tenacious D and staying within the offense. That's a big reason why the Wolverines keep winning.
? Michigan State freshman point guard Denzel Valentine is shooting 41 percent from the floor, 29 percent from three-point range, and on the season he has nearly as many turnovers (22) as assists (28). Yet, Tom Izzo is leaving him in the starting lineup. That should show you how much Izzo wants Valentine to develop as a point guard, which would allow Keith Appling to slide off the ball (where he belongs) and hopefully lead to more scoring post feeds to the bigs.
? Lost between Anthony Bennett's overpowering display and Mike Moser's injury was the outstanding performance that UNLV sophomore forward Bryce Dejean-Jones turned in against Cal. A 6-5 transfer from USC, Jones repeatedly slashed to the rim for 22 points in just 25 minutes. I'm telling you, these Rebs are legit.
? My biggest concern with Gonzaga is the Zags don't really have go-by-you guards. They can all shoot and pass, but nobody's ankles are getting broken.
? Speaking of which, it's Gon-ZAG-guh, not Gon-ZAH-guh. And Xavier is pronounced ZAVE-ier, not Ex-AVE-ier. Please make a note of it.
? My eighth grade grammar teacher also told me that "often" is pronounced "OFF-en," not "OFT-en." But apparently the jury is still out on that one.
? I didn't realize that North Carolina's freshman center Joel James only started playing basketball as a sophomore in high school. That's incredibly late for a guy who ended up at such a high-major program.
? If you're going to make a short list of the nation's top point guards, you better have Notre Dame's Eric Atkins on it. Over his last 143 minutes, Atkins has dished out 33 assists and committed one turnover. That is not a typo.
? I just love that N.C. State played at Reynolds Coliseum last weekend, and I love that Michigan State is playing in Jenison Fieldhouse tomorrow. Wouldn't it be great if we had one day when all these big-time teams that play in huge, antiseptic arenas play one game in their musty old gyms: Carolina at Carmichael, Maryland at Cole Field House, Louisville in Freedom Hall, Georgetown in McDonough, right on down the line.
? I also love watching games you've recorded where I don't know the outcome? Also: We all say we "TiVo'd" games and shows, but is anybody still using TiVo?
? A deep bow and tip of the cap to Mike Williams, the assistant trainer at Utah State who saved the life of Danny Berger, the junior forward who collapsed and stopped breathing at practice early last week. Williams revived Berger by performing CPR and using a defibrillator. Talk about an assist.
? As well as Duke has been playing, the Blue Devils will get some much-needed depth in their frontcourt when 6-11 redshirt freshman center Marshall Plumlee returns to action next week. Plumlee has missed the season's first four weeks because of a stress fracture in his left foot.
? I was disappointed to hear ESPN announce that this will be the last year for BracketBusters. I realize the thing had grown too unwieldy over the last 11 years, but it always gave us a few really good match-ups in February we wouldn't have otherwise gotten to see. I also liked that the home team had to return the game the following year.
? As the judge, jury and sole selector of the annual SI All-Glue team, I would just like to say: I see you, Kevin Young!
? Here's a stat you don't see every day: Oklahoma's leading scorer, 6-8 senior forward Romero Osby, has made just as many free throws (33) as field goals this season. I'm not really sure what to make of that, to be honest.
? I've gotta believe at the top of coaches' pet peeve lists is seeing a player miss a shot or commit a turnover -- and then exacerbate the error by committing a foul out of frustration 90 feet from the basket.
? I think Rutgers' Mike Rice can be a good coach, but I have been critical of his overexuberant sideline comportment during games. Apparently, he's even worse during practice. This week, Rutgers fined Rice $50,000 and suspended him for three games for inappropriate behavior and language during practice. I hope Rice has learned a valuable lesson here. He has a lot to offer, but he cannot succeed as a coach if he is his own worst enemy.
? Here's a dirty little secret: Syracuse is ranked 217th in the country in three-point percentage (31.8) and 212th in free throw percentage (67.2). If you take James Southerland out of the mix, the Orange is converting 28.3 percent from three. Do I spy a fatal flaw?
? I saw Creighton's Grant Gibbs score a bucket recently by tossing an inbounds pass off a guy's back and dropping it in for a layup. I love that play. If you grew up in Maryland, that's called a "Gatlin." With apologies to my buddy Kenny Smith, here's why.
Dipping Into The Email Bag
I'm really glad James brought this up, because Providence has quietly been one of the feel-good stories in the early going. Despite being decimated by injuries and eligibility issues, the Friars are off to an impressive 7-2 start, thanks largely to the contributions of 6-1 junior guard Bryce Cotton, who is averaging nearly 21 points per game.
What's more, this team is about to benefit from a few important additions. Freshman Kris Dunn, whom many recruiting experts dubbed the number one point guard in the senior class, is expected back by the end of the month after being sidelined for six months following surgery in June to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. Senior guard Vincent Council has been out with a hamstring injury but is also due to return soon. And Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson, a 6-10 sophomore forward, will become eligible next week.
One player sitting out who won't be available is Ricky Ledo, a 6-6 freshman who was also highly-touted in high school. Ledo is not academically eligible to play this season, but the school caught a break when the NCAA deemed him a partial qualifier, which meant he was allowed to practice with the team. Ledo is extremely talented, but he has had a troubled past that included attending four different high schools. So it's critical that he be exposed to the structure that comes with being part of this program.
In other words, the short-term and the long-term future is bright for this program. That is a testament to the boundless energy of second-year coach Ed Cooley, an intelligent, charismatic and passionate guy who grew up in Providence and spent all of his adult life in New England. Cooley was entering his sixth season at Fairfield and was just getting that program rolling when Providence called. It was an offer he couldn't refuse, and it is turning out to be a very smart hire.
First of all, you can change the "if" to "when" while referencing the departure of the seven Big East Catholic schools. That outcome is certain. The only question is how we get there.
As for Temple's fate, you'll have to cry me a river. That school did what every other school is doing these days. It grabbed the biggest pile of football cash without any regard for the athletic department's long-term health or the damage that realignment is doing to college sports. Losing Temple was a huge blow to the Atlantic 10. So let me ask Jordan the question he asks me: If you were the A-10, would you take them back?
That said, I don't believe the Big East Seven will simply merge with the Atlantic 10. When those schools become their own entity, they will try to poach the best teams from lesser leagues, and there are some juicy targets in the Atlantic 10 in Xavier, Butler and St. Louis. And on and on it goes. It's like The Radiators sang in their song "Law of the Fish": Big ones eat the little ones, little ones got to be fast.
Randy has an excellent point. Indiana's first true road game will not happen until Dec. 31 at Iowa. Part of that was circumstance -- the Hoosiers drew a home game against North Carolina this year in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and Kentucky backed out of the home-and-home series because John Calipari wanted the games moved off-campus. But most of it was by design. Unfortunately, a lot of top coaches are doing it this way. It's understandable, but I'm not sure it's good for the sport.
Tom Crean does not set up the Big Ten schedule, even if it looks that way. The Hoosiers start off playing the bottom of the league and largely at home. Their tough stretch begins Jan. 30, when they play three out of four games on the road at Purdue, Illinois and Ohio State. That means Indiana will likely be the last undefeated team in America.
Will their homebody nonconference schedule hurt the Hoosiers' preparation for the NCAA tournament? I doubt it. But I sure would like to see the nation's number one team put itself through a tough road test or two during the first two months of the season.
Seth Davis Asks: Block Or Charge
"Once the dribbler left the ground to pass or shoot, the only thing that defender could have done was turn to protect himself. He cannot move. On this play, the dribbler leaves the ground and the defender slides to his left to force contact, and he erroneously draws a charge."
"The defender is not doing one thing wrong. He establishes legal guarding position and he moves backwards to maintain it. In this situation, where the dribbler does not leave his feet, the defender is allowed to move laterally or away from the guy he's guarding. He just can't move up and into him. He has both feet on the floor and he's facing the dribbler, and he gets run over for his trouble."
"Again, Gutierrez did nothing wrong. He's a legal defender who gets run over. The fact that he's moving has nothing to do with it. He establishes position and then moves legally to maintain it. He has an imaginary semi-circle around him to work with, as long as he does move into the dribbler."
"Crowder is moving legally to maintain guarding position. The guy hits him dead square in the chest and knocks him to the ground."
"It's almost the exact same play. The Harvard kid establishes legal guarding position and moves legally to maintain it. It does not matter that he's still moving at the point of contact."
"My teaching point here was that when a defender is close to that restricted area arc, we want to get a good look at him and make sure he wasn't inside it. The dribbler left his feet, so there is higher threshold here. The defender has to freeze except to protect himself from a collision."
"This is exactly what you can't do. The Kansas player moved up and into the player he was guarding and created the contact. If he had just stood there, it would have been an easy charge call."
"The defender moved after the Syracuse player left the floor. He only slides a foot or two, but it's enough."
"The defender illegally moves up and absorbs contact. What's interesting there is that on an offensive rebound, the defender that's guarding the man with the ball automatically becomes the primary defender. So he can take a charge even if he's inside the circle. He may have been the secondary defender when the first shot was released, but once there is an offensive rebound, the play resets."
"Dieng clearly moves after Kidd-Gilchrist leaves the floor. You only see that from the overhead replay, which is why this is such a tough call. At the point Kidd-Gilchrist leaves his feet, Dieng is supposed to be frozen."