"Nobody roots for Goliath" — Wilt Chamberlain

 

Three years ago 7 foot 2 inch Roy Hibbert made his presence known in the NCAA tournament. More than any other team that year, the Hoyas nearly upset the eventual champion Florida Gators while giving up their last lead with 28 seconds remaining during the last of 28 minutes played by Roy Hibbert. …Last year Hibbert would lead his team into the Final Four by posting four straight double-doubles including a six-block effort against Tyler Hansborough’s North Carolina Tar Heels. Hibbert would do this despite being whistled for two fouls in the first 10 minutes of each of his previous seven games. The win against the Tar Heels helped produce a once-in-a-generation Final Four center contest between Hibbert and Ohio State’s Greg Oden. ESPN’s Andy Katz writes of the contest: “Hibbert was tremendous… he more than held his own against the younger, more celebrated Oden. Problem was, he spent too much time as a spectator… When Hibbert was out, the Hoyas were simply lost.” Hibbert played only 24 minutes. Oden, also in foul trouble, only played 20 as the marquee big man match-up was reduced to a game of small ball. …Yesterday, Roy Hibbert’s Georgetown career came to a close. CNNSI’s Stewart Mandel writes:

 

Most memorable upset: Davidson over Georgetown. The ‘David vs. Goliath’ analogy is usually cliché — Jim Nantz uttered it almost as soon as the clock expired — but it does seem to apply in this case. It was literally the triumph of the little guy (Stephen Curry) over the giant (Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert), with the Wildcats rallying from a 17-point second half deficit to boot.”

 

With Davidson not having any player taller than 6’8’’, Mandel’s narrative would be a great one – except for one tiny detail. Georgetown’s “Goliath” spent most of the game on the bench — again. Hibbert was whistled for his 4th foul while there was still 11:37 left on the clock and the Hoyas maintained an 11 point lead. With Hibbert’s absence, the help of nine offensive foul calls and 30 total free throw attempts, Davidson would prevail behind a brilliant late shooting display by Stephen Curry. Georgetown became only the 2nd team in NCAA tournament history to shoot over 60% from the field and still lose. After the game ESPN broadcaster Digger Phelps remarked: “I thought the X-factor in this game was Roy Hibbert getting into foul trouble. First two minutes of the game – he’s got two fouls [and] he’s down on the bench. He doesn’t play but 16 minutes for the whole game. When you look at Roy Hibbert on that bench – that to me was the reason why they lost that game.”Both Phelps and Dick Vitale were very generous in their praise of Davidson, their coach, and especially Stephen Curry. But those accolades did not stop them from highlighting a much larger problem plaguing NCAA college basketball. Vitale adds:

 

"And let me say this: it’s been bothering me for a long time guys, and I’m going to share it here. Hibbert gets into foul trouble. I really have a problem with our game in that we have star players and a couple of whistles and they are out of the game. We are the only sport where a player is penalized [and] put to the sideline because of a whistle. Think about that. I would love to see a rule change to where a guy… he can stay in the game… coach’s discretion. If he goes over the foul limit and then if he fouls – it’s two shots and the ball. But at least your preparation… getting ready for the game… you can play your star player. Certainly that hurt Georgetown and that’s part of the game."

 

Vitale is not the only one who has been bothered for a long time by this. Georgetown fans and Roy Hibbert himself have had their last three seasons defined by questionable calls at best and phantom fouls at worst. Consider that in his final game the last three years, Hibbert has averaged only 22.7 minutes because of foul trouble, but has attempted only 5 free throws over those three games (avg. 1.7 per game).  Now consider how "hot" Hibbert was in those three losses, as he ended up shooting 17-25 or a spectacular 68%. Think about THAT.

“Big Man Bias?”: Is Vitale overreacting when bringing up rule changes? Hasn’t college basketball had the same 5-foul rule since forever? Do we really need to get drastic? The answer is “no”, “yes”, and “yes”. Firstly, the rule has always been a bad rule for the very reasons that Vitale articulates. However, the problem is much worse because today’s referees officiate differently. Gone are the: unwritten rules that the best players should ultimately decide the games and that only REAL fouls should be whistled at critical junctures. Add to that what has seemed to emerge as a “big man bias” where tough man-on-man defense has been replaced by flop artists in search of their next Oscar. No one pays a price more than the very few “classic centers” that still exist.

“The Golden Era": Georgetown has a long tradition in great centers including Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, and Othella Harrington. In his three championship games between 1982 and 1985, Ewing averaged over 35 minutes per game during three All-American center matchups. In his freshman year he played 37 minutes while North Carolina’s Sam Perkins played 38. In his senior year, he played 39 minutes while his Villanova nemesis Ed Pinckney played 37. And in one of NCAA history’s greatest center matchup in 1984, Ewing and Akeem Olajuwon both got into serious foul trouble and still each managed to log 30 and 32 minutes. About the only similarity between Hibbert and Ewing is that Patrick also received a meager five free-throw attempts over the course of his three championship games. While statistics like these and other information have prompted some to raise the prospect of a longstanding Georgetown bias, this column will refrain from that argument without further analysis.

"The Stolen Era?": After yesterday’s game, Georgetown coach John Thompson III was virtually fighting off tears as he reflected:  “I’ve got a very special senior class… They’ve done so much for me. I just feel like I let them down.”… With all due respect to the heartfelt class displayed by Coach Thompson, blame is to be shared by the NCAA and its referees.  While someone owes Roy Hibbert an apology, the cause goes far beyond Georgetown basketball. Now it is time to blow the whistle on the whistle-blowers. Vitale’s suggestion of “two shots and the ball” for any foul over one’s personal limit seems like a much more reasonable alternative. If such a measure is too drastic for the NCAA Rules committee, then we would minimally suggest adding a 6th foul like the NBA. Whatever the final solution, something must be done… so that the next time highly anticipated pairings like  Oden vs. Hibbert or Davidson vs. Goliath come along, the outcome will be decided by who is playing with game on the line instead of who is laying in vain on the pine.