Monday, January 13, 2014

Replaying The Game

Among TigerBlog's takeaways after watching Penn's 77-74 win over Princeton in men's basketball Saturday night - not live at the Palestra but instead on TV - is that Stan Van Gundy is a very good analyst.

Must run in the family. His brother Jeff is also tremendous.

Jeff is already established as one of the top color commentators for NBA basketball, not to mention a fixture in those fairly humorous commercials. Stan, whose coaching career lasted longer, is much newer to doing games on TV, and so he finds himself not at NBA games but instead at games like Princeton-Penn.

And yet he's a natural.

For instance, Penn's Darien Nelson-Henry was at the foul line with 5:41 to go. After he made his first, giving Penn a 66-63 lead, Van Gundy said that the next would be a very important one.

TigerBlog assumed he was going to fall back on the standard tools of broadcasting, such as chronicling how many possessions one team is ahead of the other. And so at that moment, TB would have bet big money that 1) Van Gundy was going to say it would make it a two-possession game and 2) TB would roll his eyes because there was so much time left to go that being a two-possession game wasn't a big deal.

So what did Van Gundy say?

He pointed out that Nelson-Henry was coming out of the game on a made foul shot and that Penn would be in a much better defensive situation without him in the game on the next possession, something that would require a made foul shot.

And that's what happened. He made the foul shot and came out. And the Princeton possession ended in a turnover.

That was a pretty sharp pickup by Van Gundy.

Then there was the final minute of the game, when the refs constantly went to the monitor, for extended periods that brought the pace of the game to a halt. What did Van Gundy say?

Basically this: "Everyone says that the important thing is to get the call right ultimately, but I disagree. Not when it disrupts the game this much."

From start to finish, TB was very impressed with Van Gundy.

TB is also long on record as being against replay, mostly because of the way the tempo of the game dissolves - and because refs love becoming the center of attention. Sorry, but he's seen it happen too many times not to believe that's the case.

And because what's the point of stopping a game midway through the first half to see how much time should be on the shot clock? Just play.

Now, after Saturday, TB adds another reason to hate replay. It can't correct major errors.

TB doesn't expect officials to get every call right. Not at all. And TB has almost never seen a game that was decided by refs, even with calls in the final seconds that were basically wrong. Even in those circumstances, the team that lost on a bad call at the end had ample time during the game to avoid being in that situation.

But if you're going to have these replay stoppages, at least give the refs the ability to correct an obvious mistake. TB saw it in two games on TV Saturday night, and in both, the replay simply enforced for the officials that they had made the wrong call. They couldn't do anything about it though.

In the Princeton-Penn game, Princeton's Will Barrett clearly got fouled on his offensive rebound/put back with 31 seconds left and the score 72-71 Penn. And Hans Brase didn't foul anyone on the loose ball after that, which should have just been a held ball, not a foul against Brase (his fifth) that resulted in two foul shots for Penn, which put the Quakers up three.

Of course, Barrett tied it on a three after that and Penn's Miles Cartwright clearly was fouled as he drove with five seconds left. And Cartwright calmly knocked both foul shots down, giving Penn the winning points.

And TigerBlog is in no way suggesting that Penn didn't deserve to win, that the refs were in on it, that Princeton has any sour grapes, none of that. Or, for that matter, would Princeton necessarily have won had Barrett gone to the line for two foul shots, 31 seconds left, down one.

It's just that the refs have no recourse in that situation to correct an obviously incorrect call, and if that's the case, why bother having replay reviews? The same thing happened for the refs in the Butler-Georgetown game, when the Hoyas' Nate Lubick fouled out on a play where clearly he committed no foul, something the replay showed definitively.

No, every call can't be subjected to replay review to see if it was a foul or not. The games would never end. But at least in a end-game situation, perhaps there can be some mechanism to correct such calls - since TB grudgingly admits replay isn't going anywhere.

And where does the loss leave Princeton?

Obviously the Tigers are 0-1 in the Ivy League and now have more than two weeks before the next league game, which just happens to be at Harvard on Jan. 31. Harvard is likely to be 2-0 in the league that night (if it can beat Dartmouth Jan. 26), while Princeton will definitely be 0-1.

It would seem like a must win for the Tigers, and certainly a win would help. But it's not make-or-break. There's simply too much season left.

A loss to Harvard would mean that Princeton could not win the league unless it ran the table after that and had Harvard lose to another team at some point. But hey, there's just too many games left to be writing anyone off yet.

TB said last week that winning in the Palestra wouldn't be easy. It never is, for starters.

And Penn, even with its seven-game winning streak, was a better team that its record, and a much better team with Nelson-Henry back. And the Quakers did the No. 1 thing they had to do - play from ahead, putting so much pressure on the Tigers, who, to their credit, did come back and take the lead.

And Princeton had one of those nights - 6 for 21 from three-point range - that can do in a team that relies so heavily on the long ball. And Princeton had to play with the pressure of knowing that it had three weeks off and Harvard next.

Oh, by the way, the last play by Princeton, that cross-court pass from T. J. Bray to Barrett on a sideline out-of-bounds, was a pretty gutsy call by Tiger head coach Mitch Henderson, who, if TB's memory serves,  himself executed it more than once, including in a win at Marquette in 1996.

So no, it wasn't the start that Princeton would have wanted in the league, especially after looking so good in its non-conference schedule.

But 0-1 isn't the end. TB doesn't even think 0-2 would be.

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