A basketball referee is never going to be praised or loved. The best he can hope for is to go unnoticed.
That, however, was not an option for veteran official Tony Greene, whose life was temporarily upended Saturday night when he ejected Jim Boeheim in the final seconds of Syracuse's 66-60 loss at Duke. By the time I reached Greene by phone Sunday night, he was on his way back to normalcy and relative obscurity. Yet, he realized that he had become part of something that won't soon be forgotten. "I've been in situations like that before," he said, "but not to this extent because of the nature of who was playing and who the coaches were. This one is a little different."
Greene, 55, is one of the most respected officials in the sport. That's why he was working such a big game Saturday night, and it's why he has worked five NCAA championships, including last year's final between Michigan and Louisville. Unlike most people who follow or cover college basketball, Greene did not spend a lot of time Sunday analyzing what happened. His day started with a 5 a.m. wakeup call to catch a 6 a.m. flight back to his home in Stone Mountain, Ga., where he works as a project manager in economic development. He went to church in the morning and spent the afternoon with his family. Though he considers himself Internet savvy, he does not have Twitter or Facebook accounts, so he did not keep himself updated on the minute-by-minute fallout. His only tether to that world came via the barrage of text messages (he estimates the number was around 75) that lit up his cell phone all day. Many of those texts came from fellow referees around the country.
"I felt support from the community of officials nationwide, from the east coast to the west coast, north and south, from Minnesota to L.A.," he said. "It was all thumbs up."
Greene did not want to discuss whether the call he made that set Boeheim off -- a charge on Orange forward C.J. Fair -- was correct. That kind of thing is frowned upon by league coordinators. He did, however, tell me that he and his partners, Roger Ayers and Jamie Luckie, watched video of the play on an iPad in the officials' locker room immediately afterward. When I asked Greene if he felt better after seeing the video, he replied, "Oh yes, absolutely."
It was also interesting to hear Greene explain what was going through his mind as the pivotal sequence began. "I'm one of those guys who expects the unexpected," he said. "I knew there's not much time left, and that they were most likely going go to C.J. Fair, who's not really a three-point shooter. You figure he's going to go to the basket, so you prepare yourself. You're thinking, how am I going to adjudicate what's about to happen based on the rules?"
Whatever you think of the call -- and I happen to think it was a block, but it was close, and I have the benefit of slow-motion instant replay -- there is no denying that Greene handled the aftermath superbly. That is a much bigger test of a referee's competence than his decision on a bang-bang play. Not only was Boeheim begging to get tossed, but he also kept jawing at Greene as Greene was explaining the technicals to the official scorer. Greene would have been justified in giving Boeheim a third technical, but that would have been going too far. Unlike Boeheim, Greene kept his cool and let the coach blow off steam as he was escorted off the court.
Suffice to say, the vibe at that moment was far different than it was a couple hours before, when Greene and Boeheim, who have known each other for many years, were yukking it up as they walked onto the court. So what happens when the two of them meet again? "We'll be fine," Greene promised. "I'm a professional. He's a professional. There are no grudges. It's just one of those things where the beat goes on. It's all a part of the job."
Meanwhile, Greene will be back to work Tuesday night at St. John's. Ideally, he'd like to enter the building unnoticed and leave the same way. He may get back to that point eventually, but it's going to take a while. Like the man said: It's all part of the job.
Other Hoop Thoughts
- Lost in the controversy about how the Duke-Syracuse game ended is the fact that Jabari Parker played his best game in a Duke uniform. It wasn't just his numbers (19 points on eight shots; 10 rebounds, including four offensive), it was how and when he got them. Unlike the loss at North Carolina last Thursday, when Parker all but disappeared down the stretch, this time he got stronger as the game went on. I also like that he rediscovered his three-point touch, going 3-for-3 from behind the arc -- the first time since the win over UCLA on Dec. 19 that he made that many threes in a game.
- And no, I'm not worried about Syracuse. You didn't think the Orange would go undefeated, did you? The players' legs are fine, but their minds are tired. As they get closer to March, they'll be reinvigorated. First, however, they've got to get through these next two road games at Maryland (on Monday) and Virginia.
- Speaking of Virginia, how many of you realize that the Cavs are alone now in first place in the ACC? When I mentioned to Tony Bennett on Sunday that no one seems to know this, he laughed and said, "Fine by me." One reason this team isn't getting more buzz is because the way it plays can be, well, a little boring. According to Kenpom.com, Virginia is ranked 344th nationally in tempo and fourth in defensive efficiency. It's also first nationally in scoring defense (55.5 ppg). However, there is nothing boring about winning, and the players deserve immense credit for buying into an unglamorous system that yields success. "Our guys know that for us to have a chance to be good, we've got to hang our hat on defense," Bennett said. "We have great leadership and some older players. They've got a collective mindset where they bend but don't break."
- I realize it's only one game, but it was pretty discouraging to see San Diego State get throttled at New Mexico. It's just too difficult for this team to score. And if you're not familiar with the Lobos' inside tandem of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow, you might want to tune in. Those dudes are big, and they can really play. I don't know of another team in the country that has a frontcourt duo quite like them.
- Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell had 10 assists, four steals and zero turnovers in the Wildcats' 27-point win at Colorado Saturday night. Just making sure you knew.
- I've gotta think at the end of the day, the SEC is gonna get at least three teams in. Don't ask me how.
- Caught Rick Pitino on his cell phone late Saturday night a few hours after his Cardinals' big win at Cincinnati. He told me he was at a high school in Phoenix. "The score is 63 to 12," he said. To which I responded, "I hope your guy is on the team with 63 points." As for the beard thing, this is not just a minor diversion. There is a method to this man's madness. "I figured, these are the dog days of February, let's have some fun and see how long we can go without shaving," he said. "I've never grown a beard in my life. And remember, I'm a product of the hippie generation." Anything a coach can do to keep his team loose is a good thing. Like last season, the Cardinals are getting better at just the right time.
- Kansas junior point guard Naadir Tharpe played terrific defense on Texas' Isaiah Taylor in the Jayhawks' win on Saturday. Remember, Taylor is the freshman who scored 23 points in the Longhorns' win over KU on Feb. 1. But Tharpe's recent outside shooting is concerning. He shot 1-for-9 in the win, making him 10-for-39 from the field in his last five games. Problem brewing or a temporary blip?
- It was a rough week for Gonzaga, which lost to BYU and San Diego. But keep in mind that Spokane is one of the West subregional sites for the NCAA tournament, and the Zags' will be permitted to play there because it won't be in their facility, the McCarthey Center, but the Spokane Arena. That is, assuming Gonzaga makes the NCAA tournament.
- I haven't been the biggest Pittsburgh fan this season, but I don't believe the Panthers are in danger of missing out on the tournament. Yes, they are lacking any good wins (their best came on a neutral court over Stanford), but until they lost at home to Florida State on Sunday, they beat every team they were supposed to beat. That is usually more than enough.
- I give Steve Lavin a lot of credit for holding St. Johns' locker room together despite an 0-5 start in the Big East. Stuff like that is so much more important to coaching than drawing up plays. The Johnnies could have virtually sealed a bid if they had pulled off a win at Villanova, but with home games coming up next against Xavier and DePaul, I like their chances to get into the field.
- I haven't lost faith in Michigan State, but I have lost confidence.
- Here's something you don't see often: North Carolina's Marcus Paige leads the ACC in free throw shooting at 89.4 percent, yet the Tar Heels are ranked last in the conference at 62.2 percent. I didn't think that was mathematically possible.
- Looks like Minnesota won't be in the NCAA tournament this year. That home loss to Illinois last week was a killer.
- Best win of the weekend was earned by Stanford on Saturday, when it dominated UCLA -- the same UCLA team that blitzed the Cardinal by 17 points last month. You can call off the Johnny Dawkins Watch. Barring an epic collapse, the only thing this team has to worry about with regards to the NCAA tournament is where it will be seeded.
- Once more, with feeling: If you don't vote Doug McDermott for player of the year, you don't deserve a vote.
- Georgetown has one of the oddest NCAA tournament resumes I've seen, but it's not as strong as it first appears. The Hoyas have nonconference wins against Michigan State, VCU and Kansas State, but all were on neutral courts, and the Spartans were playing without two starters. The Hoyas had a solid win over Xavier on Saturday, but they're still a game under .500 in the Big East, with road games at Marquette and Villanova remaining as well as a home game over Creighton. Not impossible, but not likely, either.
- Speaking of Xavier, look at the end of its season: at St. John's, vs. Creighton, at Seton Hall, vs. Villanova. The Musketeers could easily lose all four, which would leave them two games under .500 heading into the Big East tournament.
- I'm surprised that Marcus Smart's return to the court wasn't bigger news, mostly because it happened during a busy Saturday afternoon. Not only was it good to see him play well (16 points, 10 assists, six steals), it was also refreshing to see him having fun again. When I reached Cowboys coach Travis Ford on Sunday afternoon, I asked him if he believed Smart has changed because of what happened. "I don't know if he's a changed person, but I do think he has learned a lot," Ford said. "This has given him a chance to reflect a little bit. We watched film a lot. We talked a lot. He got to watch us play fairly well without him in two of the three games. I think he was anxious to add to our team. He had a smile on his face out there, but he was determined to affect the game in a lot of areas, and that's what he did."
- Incidentally, I know the Pokes have work to do, but I have a hard time believing they won't make the NCAA tournament. They're too good to miss out.
- Are you ready to live in a world where Nebraska makes the NCAA tournament and Indiana doesn't?
- The good news: Dayton is back in the bid biz with six straight wins. The bad news: Those wins came against the bottom teams in the Atlantic 10. But how's this for a finish: At Saint Joseph's, home vs. UMass, at Saint Louis, home vs. Richmond. Three out of four would just about do it -- which would mean six teams dancing from the Atlantic 10. Remember, the Flyers have a terrific nonconference record with neutral court wins over Gonzaga and Cal plus a road win at Ole Miss.
- Bad loss for Tennessee at Texas A&M over the weekend -- especially because it gave the Aggies a season sweep -- but the Vols are far from dead. Their regular season finale at home against Missouri is gonna be huge. Keep in mind they have a win over Virginia (albeit at home) to hang their hat on. That's looking better every week.
- Baylor coach Scott Drew told me over the weekend that a major reason why his team has turned its season around has been point guard Kenny Chery's recovery from a turf toe injury. Chery only missed one game (a win at Oklahoma State), but he was badly hobbled the last few weeks. "He was playing in games, but he wasn't practicing. I probably should have kept him out longer," Drew told me. "The other thing that has happened is our defense has been much better the last few games. I'd like to say we did something schematically to change that, but I think our guys have a greater sense of urgency about that now. Losing is tough on everybody."
- Did you happen to catch the wild ending to the UNLV-Boise State game late Saturday night? UNLV appeared to have won on a three-point buzzer beater by Deville Smith, but after going to the replay monitor, the referees ruled that he got the shot off a split-second too late. When they explained their decision to the coaches, Boise State's Leon Rice did a hilarious squat-and-fist-pump before shaking hands with UNLV coach Dave Rice. That was a huge game between two bubble teams. Imagine if that ends up being the difference between Boise State going to the tournament and UNLV missing out? That's February Madness, people.
- SMU is legit. The only thing missing from the Mustangs' resume was a quality road win, which they got on Sunday at UConn. (And at Gampel Pavilion, no less.) That gave SMU a sweep over the Huskies. I love this team's depth and athleticism, and it will only get better as 6-foot-11 junior center Yanick Moreira continues to recover from the knee injury that sidelined him for 10 games.
Continue reading: Five games to watch ... A few minutes with Bo Ryan ... Seth's AP Ballot
Five Games I'm Psyched To See This Week
Syracuse at Maryland, Monday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Syracuse's game at Duke ended late Saturday night, so this is a quick turnaround. Meanwhile, Maryland had the weekend off. But if Jim Boeheim thinks the ACC league office is doing the Turncoat Terps any favors these days, then he has really gone off the rails. A week ago, this looked like a trap game, but now it's hard to envision the Orange losing three straight.
Syracuse 68, Maryland 60
Oklahoma at Kansas, Monday, 9 p.m., ESPN
When Kansas is playing its best, it might be the best team in the country. And when the Jayhawks are at home, they usually play their best.
Kansas 79, Oklahoma 64
Xavier at St. John's, Tuesday, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1
This game is mighty bubblicious. Xavier seemed to have righted its ship before getting its doors blown off at Georgetown on Saturday. As I noted above, this is the start of a brutal four-game finish for the Musketeers. St. John's is a much improved, more mature team than it was a month ago. Plus, the Red Storm will welcome back senior forward Orlando Sanchez, who missed the Villanova game to attend to the birth of his daughter.
St. John's 70, Xavier 59
Missouri at Georgia, Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPNU
Even though Georgia is alone in third place in the SEC, the Bulldogs have a ways to go to climb into the at-large picture because they have so many bad losses. However, they beat Missouri in Columbia on Jan. 8, and they've won five of their last six. I spy a desperate home team.
Georgia 77, Missouri 74
Cal at Arizona, Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPN2
You think Arizona remembers what happened in Berkeley on Feb. 1?
Arizona 85, Cal 65
A Few Minutes With ... Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan
SI.com: At one point you guys had lost five out of six games. Now you've won five straight, including road wins at Michigan at Iowa. What's the difference?
Ryan: I don't think there's much of a difference. Sometimes it's just the way the schedule plays out. We had two games in a row at home where we shot 5-for-24 [from three] against Northwestern and 3-for-17 against Ohio State. Obviously, if you're not making shots, you're gonna take a bump in this league this year.
SI.com: When you're in the midst of a bad losing streak, is it hard to keep everyone together?
Ryan: Well, that's your job as a coach. If I go out there on the court moping around, that's not going to help. I try to maintain the same amount of intensity for every practice, and that means not getting too high or too low.
SI.com: I've never been to one of your practices, but I've heard you're pretty quiet. Is that true?
Ryan: That's what everybody says. Instead of saying 10 words, sometimes you can say one or two, and that's everything you need to say. I think it started when I was at Wisconsin-Platteville. I had such smart kids. Most of them were engineers. I found I didn't have to repeat myself as much.
SI.com: Speaking of which, you spent 15 years in Platteville before you were hired at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Did it bother you that it took so long for a Division I school to find you?
Ryan: It's not like I was being ignored. Some Division I schools had talked to me, but it had to be right. When UWM opened up, I decided hey, it's always good to leave after two straight national championships.
SI.com: You had only been at Wisconsin-Milwaukee for two years when Pat Richter hired you at Wisconsin, so you were pretty unknown. Why doesn't that happen anymore? Is it because ADs want to win the press conference?
Ryan: You're right about that. ADs and administrators want the wow factor. Here's how it went down. I got a phone call on a Monday, I was sitting in my office at UWM. Pat called and I said, "How's your search going?" He says, "Let me ask you this. Are you ready?" I said, "You know I'm ready." He said, "All right, be here tomorrow night." That was the entire interview.
SI.com: How impressed are you with how well Frank Kaminsky has played this year?
Ryan: The thing I'm most impressed with is his body language. He's not getting as frustrated. In the past, he would beat himself up at times. I think he sees how active [freshman forward] Nigel [Hayes] is and he's playing off of it. Nigel has brought us a lot of energy. He has been a big factor.
SI.com: What did you think of Jim Boeheim's double-technical ejection on Saturday night?
Ryan: I know Jim well. He has been out here to speak at our Coaches Versus Cancer event, and I know him through USA Basketball. It's just one of those moments you get in coaching. This is a competitive game. He just expressed himself, that's all.
This Week's AP Ballot
* (Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Florida (2)
2. Wichita State (3)
3. Kansas (6)
4. Arizona (4)
5. Duke (5)
6. Syracuse (1)
7. Louisville (11)
8. Creighton (9)
9. Cincinnati (8)
10. San Diego State (7)
11. Saint Louis (12)
12. Kentucky (13)
13. Villanova (14)
14. Wisconsin (19)
15. Michigan (22)
16. Virginia (17)
17. North Carolina (24)
18. Michigan State (10)
19. Iowa (15)
20. SMU (NR)
21. UConn (16)
22. Iowa State (20)
23. Memphis (21)
24. Ohio State (23)
25. New Mexico (NR)
Dropped out: Texas (18), Stephen F. Austin (25)
Deciding on a new No. 1 team was easy. Deciding how far to drop Syracuse? Not so much. When we get to this time of year, I tend to base my rankings more on how teams have played recently as opposed to their overall resumes. Given that Syracuse lost at home to Boston College before losing at Duke, and given that Duke took the Orange to overtime in the Carrier Dome two weeks ago, I didn't think it would be right to rank the Orange ahead of the Blue Devils. Yet, given that Duke also lost at North Carolina last week, I didn't want to rank it ahead of Kansas and Arizona. So that's how Syracuse ended up at No. 6. My guess is that they will end up higher when the AP poll is released today.
Why did I jump Kansas ahead of Arizona? Because I can. I think the Jayhawks are the better team, although I must say I was impressed with the way Arizona manhandled Colorado. Of course, I'm just guessing, but that's what voters do.
I didn't like seeing Saint Louis drop without losing, but that's what happens when you get leapfrogged. Louisville deserved a promotion for gutting out a win at Cincinnati. I've been singing the Billikens' praises all season, but the reality is that they have not beaten a single team that is currently ranked in the Top 25. The two occasions when they had the chance, against Wisconsin (neutral) and Wichita State (home), they lost. They still have road games to play at VCU and UMass, and frankly I'd be surprised if they won both.
I've given Michigan State the benefit of the doubt because of its injuries, but that time has passed. This is the last week of February, and you are who you are. And right now, the Spartans are just a good team, not a great one.
By far the most reaction (negative, of course) I got on Twitter when I released my rankings Sunday night was from Iowa State fans who were incensed about seeing their Cyclones at No. 23 -- especially since Iowa is three spots higher. (The Hawkeyes were also two spots higher than Iowa State in last week's AP poll.) Many of them cited Iowa State's win over Iowa as reason to rank the Cyclones ahead, but that argument does not hold water with me. In the first place, the game was played on Dec. 13. That's an eternity ago. Second, it was held in Ames, and the Cyclones won by three. That's a wash. From a rankings perspective, Iowa State took a significant hit when it lost four times in five games (although to be fair, two of those losses were to Kansas). Then they got their doors blown of at West Virginia two weeks ago. Their four wins since then were over Texas Tech and Texas at home and then at TCU last weekend. It's hard to make up ground that way. The last two weeks of the regular season are relatively easy for them as well. So I don't envision the Cyclones shooting up the rankings before the start of the Big 12 tournament. Sorry, guys.
SMU, who I ranked two weeks ago but dropped following its loss at Temple, was a no-brainer to be ranked again this week. The Mustangs completed a season sweep over UConn, so they had to be ranked ahead of the Huskies.
I also ranked New Mexico three weeks ago but took the Lobos out after they lost at Boise State by one point. So I felt compelled to rank them after they soundly beat San Diego State. Unfortunately, that meant dropping out my sentimental favorite, Stephen F. Austin, even though the Lumberjacks haven't lost since Nov. 23. The argument over whether SFA would pale in comparison to the debate that will rage if they win their final four regular season games and then lose in the Southland Conference tournament. Part of me hopes that will happen so we can have that debate, which I believe would end with the Lumberjacks getting a bid at the expense of a mediocre, uninteresting team from a "power conference." Whatever that is.
You know it's late in the season when you get to the end of your ballot and have very few candidates to consider seriously. I was prepared to rank UCLA for the first time this season, but the Bruins spoiled their chances by losing at Stanford. Every time it seems UCLA is ready to get over the hump, it falls back. The other teams that finished in a tie for 26th include UMass, which clipped VCU at home to notch its fourth win its last five games; Oklahoma, which beat Oklahoma State and Kansas State last week and would surely get back in the rankings if it wins at Kansas tonight; and Nebraska, which is on a five-game winning streak that includes a victory at Michigan State. The Cornhuskers have a very favorable next three games before finishing at home against Wisconsin. If they end the regular season two games above .500 in the nation's toughest conference and then acquit themselves well in the Big Ten tournament, then they will probably get an at-large bid. Imagine that.