East Lansing, MI
College basketball has put an emphasis on freedom of movement and has stressed that they want their referees to call fouls in a manner that does not mirror the game of basketball of the past. To their defense they have not hidden their intentions, but that doesnâ€™t mean that their intentions are not free of controversy.
As someone who sits courtside at college basketball games and reports and comments on them or a living, I can tell you that this metamorphosis of the game is frustrating. The changing rules have given way to supposition, intuition and ambitions that have one referee calling a foul on one end and another ignoring it on the other. The bedrock of the issue is a lack of consistency.
Games that are only 40 minutes now can have 40 or more fouls called in a game and the freedom of movement craved by the NCAA, has turned into foul shots on nearly every possession. The game has gone from up-tempo and moving to free throws.
If you are frustrated as a fan and I am frustrated as a journalist can you imagine how Tom Izzoâ€™s team feels? He said, â€œI think theyâ€™re frustrated. I think theyâ€™re â€¦ itâ€™s hard to play in a game where every time you move there was a call. Whether it was right or wrong doesnâ€™t have any bearing on it. I mean 36-38 free throws in a game like that is, thatâ€™s hard. Itâ€™s hard and frustrating for them, itâ€™s hard for them.â€
Izzo added, â€œBut our players, I think understand that weâ€™ve got to play smarter. You know, Iâ€™ve got to coach it better, it really comes down to that. If we are putting our hands on guys 40 feet from the basket, and thatâ€™s what they call, Iâ€™ve got to do a better job. So I think It falls on me, not on the officials, not on the players. Itâ€™s just been an adjustment. I think whatâ€™s happened is, certain teams, and Wisconsin is one of them, they were driving to get fouled rather than driving to score, because they donâ€™t have a lot of shooters. We did not adjust to that, and thatâ€™s my fault as much anybodyâ€™s so Iâ€™m going to try to do a better job with that.â€
That raw emotion is why covering Izzo is genuine. Whether on the record or off, those of us who cover Izzo are never left wondering how he really feels. That makes reporting to you easier. On this issue, Izzo is echoing on the record his genuine frustration. So how does a tough as nails Upper Peninsula Spartan coach change the way he teaches the game to his pupils?
â€œI think Iâ€™m just gonna tie the guysâ€™ hands to their bodies and let them walk around like mummies and see if we can guard somebody that way. Weâ€™re going to tie towels behind our back and above our heads, and Iâ€™m not making fun of it, I havenâ€™t done a good job, I have not adjusted to the rules, itâ€™s not the players, itâ€™s me, and thatâ€™s the way itâ€™s got to be.â€ Izzo admitted that the changes werenâ€™t a secret. The NCAA said they were coming. â€œItâ€™s been widely publicized, itâ€™s been widely accepted, maybe Iâ€™m the only guy thatâ€™s not accepting it. So Iâ€™m going to have to do a better job. Donâ€™t put any of that on the players, but that all on me. Iâ€™m going to have to do a better job of making sure they donâ€™t foul. Itâ€™s going to fall on me, not them. I had no problem, other than a couple of reaches, of where it was going. I really didnâ€™t. So I feel like Mark Dantonio a couple of years ago at Notre Dame; Iâ€™m not going to change everything, Iâ€™m just going to try to make the best adjustments I can make and hopefully thereâ€™s no calls like that.â€
In fairness the Spartan head man isnâ€™t a young gun. This game he has had so much success with and was ingrained in him from his earliest days up north is changing. That style has led him to 18 straight NCAA tournaments, seven Final Fours, a national title and seven Big Ten titles.
Izzo says of changing, â€œSo if thatâ€™s the way itâ€™s going to be, then thatâ€™s the way we have to play. It is an adjustment for us and maybe Iâ€™ve been too stubborn to adjust. We talk about it. I think I could coach a hundred years and I wouldnâ€™t tell a guy to play that play any different.â€
So how has the NCAA explained the changes? â€œMy understanding is that if you do anything with two things - if you put two knees on them, two hands on them, two eyes on them - anything with twos is an automatic. Itâ€™s what it is. I didnâ€™t think it was that way, but Iâ€™m figuring it out. If you put two knees on him, if you put two hands on him, if you put two eyes on him, anything with twos, I guess, is automatic. It is what it is. I didn't think it was that way, but I'm figuring it out.â€
Izzoâ€™s critics will cry out that his complaints are because the Spartans have lost back to back games. They are delusional. Back when his team was undefeated and ranked number one in the nation he still had the same problems. â€œI remember talking to you guys a lot in the first half of the year and we won every game. So at least somebody in this world is consistent. Iâ€™m a consistent complainer, I guess. But I think I have been pretty consistent on that, to be honest.â€
But do not worry or fret Spartan Nation. Izzo can adapt, the question is if the referees and the NCAA can find a way to be consistent. Good luck with that.
â€œI can adjust to anything just about, but thereâ€™s got to be some consistency within your team and gotta be some consistency â€¦ the game canâ€™t be called one way inside, one way outside. Some teams are more perimeter, and some teams are more inside. So if itâ€™s called differently â€¦ if a touch is a touch itâ€™s a touch everywhere on the court.â€
True to form Izzo deflected the blame from the players and again shouldered the burden for Sundayâ€™s game in Wisconsin. â€œWe lost the game because I have not done a good enough job adjusting to these rules. And Iâ€™m a little confused (like Joe) Iâ€™m not sure Iâ€™m gonna figure out and find out â€¦ is the east and west? Is the this and that? Is advantage â€¦ is the â€¦ gotta do a better job of that.â€
He finished with, â€œYou know what. Coaches have to adjust to the way players are. Gotta adjust to the different, you know, every five years there is a whole other player out there. You got to adjust to that. You got to adjust to all the things. I think Iâ€™ve got to do a better job of knowing what I gotta adjust to. Social media I have no problem. I just hate it all, I adjust to it. I donâ€™t like it. This, there is degrees of. And Iâ€™ve got to get a better handle on whether something â€˜is that gonna be the way it is?â€™ But if it is, I just hope itâ€™s consistent. Thatâ€™s all I hope for is itâ€™s consistent. And if they think that was consistent. Iâ€™m cool with it.â€
The Spartans will change. It is inevitable, but make no mistake of what the underlying real issue is here. Izzo angst is not that fouls are called; it is the lack of consistency that has made the change similar to a football place kicker having to deal with moving goal posts. That isnâ€™t on Izzo that is on the NCAA.