Video not quite on demand

Monday night at the game between USI and Bellarmine in Louisville, Ky., the officials twice had to look at video to make a call. Both times involved Screaming Eagles shots as time ran out. The first was a shot by Lawrence Thomas Gavin Schumann as time ran out on the shot clock in the first half with around three minutes left in the second half and would have given USI a 57-54 lead, a shot that appeared to hit the rim (the requirement for a shot to be official and beat the shot clock) and was rebounded and put in by teammate Aaron Nelson. The second involved a Lawrence Thomas shot, although the refs were trying to determine if Schumann had tipped the ball into the basket in time to beat the final buzzer in overtime and give USI the victory.

Since this is a Division II regular-season game, there is (most of the time) no live television. However, there is live Internet streaming, and that’s what the officials had to look at to make their final calls. So there we had two officials leaning over the scorer’s table along the sideline, trying to make out what had happened on a tiny laptop computer screen. Keep in mind that streaming video, despite all the advances that have been made involving the Internet, is still pretty primitive. The images often freeze and often are blurry and indistinct. I’m not sure if those problems cropped up Monday night, but somebody did have to figure out how to replay the play so the refs could look at what happened. Still, it wasn’t terribly professional looking. Then again, at least there was something to look at.

USI lost the first review. Just before the official ruled against his team, USI coach Rodney Watson turned to his assistants and said, “Twenty dollars says the call goes against us.” I’m not sure if he collected on that bet, but there it is. On the second call, the refs didn’t spend as much time looking at the video before ruling that the tip-in had occurred before time ran out.

Video equipment is pretty cheap nowadays, relatively speaking. But I would think that somehow online video could be improved so that it looks as vivid and as distinct as anything you see on your monster screen HD TV. Why can’t that be done?

Bellarmine, USI’s stumbling block

Both times that I’ve had the USI beat here at the C&P, the Screaming Eagles have faced an opponent who, year in and year out, bedeviled them. They’d lose to this team almost all the time.

In my first incarnation as the paper’s USI beat writer, in the late 1990s, Kentucky Wesleyan was that school. USI might beat the Panthers once in a while during the regular season, but never could win a game against them in the postseason, either in the GLVC Tournament or in the NCAA Regional. It didn’t help that several of those games took place at the Sportscenter in Owensboro, where the local fans were loud, obnoxious (to USI followers, anyway) and always stationed directly behind the USI bench where they could bait coach Bruce Pearl and drive the USI players to utter distraction. It worked almost every time. What made it worse for USI was that the Eagles — because of the money-saving mindset of NCAA Division II sports — would play KWC twice during the regular season, then face them in the GLVC tournament and sometimes yet again in the NCAA Tournament. For example, USI went 0-4 against Wesleyan in 1998-99 and 0-3 in 2000-01. Maybe worse was when the Eagles won both regular-season games in 1999-2000, then lost twice in the postseason. I’m supposed to be unbiased and objective, but it really got to be a torment to watch this team find another way to lose again to KWC.

Now the Eagles appear to have the same problem with Bellarmine. The Knights are 6-3 against USI since I returned to the USI beat for the 2010-11 season. The worst years (so far) for the Eagles were 0-3 against Bellarmine that first season and 1-2 last season. That’s when USI beat the Knights by 13 points at the PAC, then lost badly to them the next two times they played, culminating in the 78-55 destruction in the semifinal round of the NCAA Midwest Regional at Drury University.

It hasn’t yet reached Kentucky Wesleyan proportions, but the danger for USI is there. I’m not sure what the problem for the Eagles is. Perhaps it’s Bellarmine’s multi-passing motion offense (sometimes the ball never touches the floor on a dribble) that frequently slices and dices coach Rodney Watson’s defensive schemes. The only time USI managed to dominate Bellarmine was in last season’s 61-49 beating of the Knights at the PAC. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bellarmine coach Scotty Davenport  vowed (loudly) never to let that happen again.

The first meeting of this season takes place Monday night in Louisville, Ky. USI is coming off an especially gritty victory over Indianapolis, which beat Bellarmine on its home court two nights prior. Despite past performance, I’m not yet willing to predict USI is going to experience more trouble or somehow turn the series around. What I will leave you with is a quote from Watson right after he heard Indianapolis had defeated Bellarmine: “I want to thank (Indy coach) Stan (Gouard) for making Bellarmine really angry.”

Celebrating one of USI’s great teams

USI will honor the 1993-94 men’s basketball team, which reached the NCAA Division II national championship game, at its men’s game against the University of Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon. The ’93-94 squad, coached by Bruce Pearl, averaged 101.7 points per game and had 18 games in which it scored over 100 points. Members of that team included Chris Bowles, Jeff Doyle, Todd Jones, Neil Coyle, Craig Martin, Chad Gilbert and Stan Gouard, who’s now the UIndy men’s basketball coach.

The immediate future, updated

In a post last week I all but predicted that if USI outrebounded Drury like they did everybody else, the Eagles would win, probably with ease. Well, the Eagles did outrebound Drury 42-32 on Saturday but lost anyway. I figured USI’s height and length would cause the Panthers fits on the perimeter and destroy them inside, but that obviously wasn’t the case.

I also think another factor I didn’t think about at the time came into play: Drury’s motion offense. USI has had lots of trouble stopping that offense under coach Rodney Watson. Only two teams in the GLVC employ it: Drury and Bellarmine, which almost always beats the Eagles, often quite easily. The multiple passes out of the motion and, of course, all the movement seem to screw up the Eagles’ defensive schemes big time. USI’s players, no matter how quick, can’t seem to switch who they’re guarding fast enough to seal off open spots on the floor. Thus, the offense creates driving lanes, open shots under the basket, open shots in the lane, open shots beyond the 3-point arc — open shots everywhere. The only time USI seemed to control Drury even a little bit on Saturday was when the Eagles went to a zone. Maybe that’s the answer.

Can’t shoot, can’t win

The key stat in USI’s loss to Drury on Saturday had to be the 3-point shooting. USI was 0-for-11 while the Panthers were 7-for-13. That’s a 21-point differential in a game that ended with Drury winning 64-56. If the Eagles had managed to sink just three 3-pointers, they might have won (nobody can assume that would have made the difference, but it would most definitely have changed the character of the game, probably in USI’s favor).

On the other hand, there were stats that were utterly and completely in the Eagles’ favor. In points in the paint, USI outscored Drury 40-18. In second-chance points, USI outscored the Panthers 22-6. Those not only are significant differences, they usually are a reflection of why the winning team won. Recall USI coach Rodney Watson’s dictum (I’m paraphrasing, but this is essentially what he has said): layups and free throws win games, not 3-pointers.

But in this case, no. USI was 12-for-19 at the foul line while Drury was 9-for-12 — not much of  a difference. And USI’s making more free throws wouldn’t have secured the win either, not even if the Eagles had gone 19-for-19 (well, probably not, anyway; see above). Really, I can’t see any other reason why USI lost this game but 3-point shooting. Sure, the Eagles got burned early when Drury hit many of its shots and USI didn’t, going 8-for-35 from the field in the first half. But the Eagles rallied in the second half and got within two points — even without sinking a single trey. If they had hit a couple of those, the entire nature of the game may have changed, most likely in USI’s favor.

No wonder USI point guard Lawrence Thomas’ response to the team’s going 0-for-11 from beyond the arc (he went 0-for-5) was, “It’s unacceptable.”

The immediate future

Two home games, Thursday night against Missouri S&T and Saturday afternoon against last season’s NCAA D-II national champ Drury.

S&T is just 5-6 and 0-3 in the GLVC. But recall two years ago when it came into the PAC and beat USI — no, it SHOCKED USI — winning 62-55 (then S&T returned to obscurity, finishing the season 7-20, including 6-12 in the conference). Maybe USI coach Rodney Watson should re-run the video of that game. Anybody who doesn’t believe that teams can look past an opponent to the next game, this is exhibit A because USI went on to beat Drury at home one day later, 76-64.

And Drury this season? The Panthers are 11-0, 3-0 in the GLVC. But I’m wondering how they’ll handle this USI team, with its long arms and quickness and deep bench. And don’t forget the immoveable post, Aaron Nelson. Drury’s top three scorers are Cameron Adams (18.7 points per game), Kameron Bundy (16.7) and Ian Carter (10.7).

The key to this game may be rebounding, and if that ends up being the case, USI should have an overwhelming edge. So far, Drury is averaging just 36.7 rebounds per game while giving up an average of 31.4. Compare that to the Eagles’ rebound differential: 18.7 (46.1 rebounds compared to a measly 27.4 by opponents). Adams leads Drury at 5.2 boards per game. Next is Carter at 4.8. Compare that to USI’s Nelson (13.5), Taylor Wischmeier (7.4), Manny Ogunfolu (5.5) and Orlando Rutledge (4.7). The clincher for the Eagles: the height and, subsequently, the length difference. Adams is 6-foot-5, Carter 6-6 (Bundy, by the way, is 6-2). Nelson (6-8), Wischmeier (6-8), Ogunfolu (6-7) and Rutledge (6-6) have them beat by a mile. And don’t forget the athleticism of Gavin Schumann and Alex Marzette.

If Drury only manages to get off one shot each time down the floor, the game may not even be close.

Regarding those refs, cont.

Just thought I’d post some quotes from Kentucky Wesleyan coach Happy Osborne regarding the officiating in Saturday’s USI-KWC men’s basketball game. Recall that Osborne was whistled for back-to-back technical fouls with 1:53 left in the game and USI leading by seven points. These quotes come courtesy of Owensboro Messenger Inquirer reporter Cole Claybourn, who talked to Osborne after the game (I was tied up with my USI angle, of course, and Osborne was long gone by the time I got through with Rodney Watson, Aaron Nelson, Manny Ogunfolu and Ben Jones):

“I felt like all night long they (USI) touched us and we weren’t getting calls. I thought Lonnie (Hayes) was driving to the hole and they’re (the officials) calling fouls 38 feet from the goal. Call fouls going to the rim.”

On the two technicals: “Did I mean for that to happen? No. But I said the same words to them that I’d said all night long. But there it is. I didn’t think it was deserving of a technical. They called one. I got my money’s worth. I’ve got no regrets.”

“Did I wish I’d gotten the technical? No. I wish I’d gotten the call.”

Now for some reaction to the three technical fouls from USI players (the other technical was whistled on a KWC assistant coach after Osborne was T’d up twice and ejected from the game):

Ben Jones: “I have never seen anything like that in my life. I have never seen a player have a chance to hit eight straight free throws (which was the situation Orlando Rutledge found himself in).”

Manny Ogunfolu: “It was weird.”


Rodney Watson’s mistake

Maybe not a mistake exactly, but a confused moment. I’ve been covering basketball for more than 30 years and I’m not clear on the rules either sometimes. So I can totally understand what Watson went through on Saturday late in the game against Kentucky Wesleyan, especially in the midst of three technical fouls being called on the KWC bench.

Anyway, Watson admitted he wasn’t clear on how the various free throws were to be shot. The play that set off KWC coach Happy Osborne was a foul on KWC player Donovan Johnson, who was guarding Rutledge near the KWC sideline on the press. Rutledge then went to the free-throw line to shoot the double bonus. Or that’s what Watson thought was about to happen. “I thought he’d shoot the foul first,” said the coach. But Rutledge shot the six technical foul shots first. It was an unnecessarily pressurized situation for a player who was in his first game of the season after sitting out the first semester on academic suspension. Watson said he wouldn’t have had him shoot. “Manny (Ogunfolu) had made four in a row (actually eight in a row), so I would have put him at the line,” said Watson. But when Watson discovered that Rutledge was shooting the technicals first, it was too late. “He (Rutledge) is a really good shooter who shot over 70 percent from the line for us last year, but it was his first game back,” said Watson. “I should have done a better job of knowing the situation.”

An ironic side note: Watson did get his chance to send Ogunfolu to the foul line to shoot a pair of technical foul free throws at the very end of the game, when KWC’s Lonnie Hayes was whistled for a tech. Ogunfolu then proceeded to miss them both — his only missed free throws in the game.

Regarding those refs who worked the USI-Ky. Wesleyan game

In the end, they had little bearing on USI’s beating Kentucky Wesleyan on Saturday at the PAC. Despite the three technical fouls those officials whistled on the Kentucky Wesleyan bench with 1:53 left in the game (two on head coach Happy Osborne, which got him automatically ejected and earned him an automatic one-game suspension for the next KWC game), USI didn’t take advantage, not when Orlando Rutledge missed six of the eight free throws he was awarded (although Rodney Watson admitted he made a mistake in that situation — more on that in the next post). Those free throws only pushed USI’s lead from seven to nine points, and KWC quickly cut that margin to six points over the next 33 seconds. But the Panthers couldn’t cut the gap further as USI scored 10 of the game’s final 14 points.

What those officials’ efforts did do was apparently all but destroy any civil relationship between Watson and Osborne, at least for the time being. After the game, Owensboro Messenger Inquirer reporter Cole Claybourn did his job — he asked Osborne what happened, then he asked Watson to respond to Osborne’s answers. The short version is that Osborne apparently thought USI pulled a fast one by hiring officials exclusively from the GLVC — implying that they would then favor USI because it’s a GLVC school — instead of hiring a mixed crew from both the GLVC and the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (the league KWC is now in after leaving the GLVC). Watson — who really, really does not like to talk about officiating, even when his team is the victim of terrible calls — did not want to respond to Osborne’s complaints, but when pressed, Watson begged to differ. He pointed out that “the contract stated that both assigners would agree on officials. That’s specifically how it was stated, and that’s what happened.” When Claybourn asked him to be more specific, Watson said, “The contract stated it would be a mutual agreement between both assigners from both leagues.” (I need to add that Watson was clearly irritated at Osborne’s questioning the way USI hired the officials, which is saying something because in my experience Rodney Watson wants to think the best of everyone and is always willing to give the benefit of the doubt). The upshot is that the two leagues looked to see which officials were available for the USI-KWC game and the three that worked the game were the ones who were available.

The best quote out of all of this comes from Claybourn in a tweet after the game ended: “Honestly, the notion a referee crew would favor any team because they’re from the conference they ref regularly is asinine to me.” Here, here!

USI fans should find this controversy to be especially rich. They loathe many of the GLVC officials and often think that said officials deliberately make bad calls against USI, both on the road and at the PAC. Of course, rabid fans will always believe stuff like that. I agree with Claybourn. But it’s easier for me to say that than he. In response to Claybourn’s tweets, one KWC fan tweeted back, “Not the conference affiliation it’s the history. Ever since the Harper probation GLVC refs have been biased against KWC.” He was referring to the GLVC slapping penalties on KWC for various rules violations when Ray Harper was the coach. Claybourn’s tweeted response was perfect: “I just think that’s a paranoid statement. They (Kentucky Wesleyan) lost because they couldn’t hit shots or block anyone out. Never led once.”

That’s why teams lose. Sorry, you diehard fans, but refs don’t lose games — players and coaches do. Yes, some officials’ calls can be truly awful (and I’ve seen plenty of horrendous officiating over the years). But if your team is doing what it’s supposed to do by playing well and blowing out its opponent, the officiating will never have a chance to have a bearing on the outcome.


Bellarmine watch, Jake Thelen edition

If there’s a team in the GLVC that has bedeviled USI in the Rodney Watson era, it’s Bellarmine. The Knights pass the ball so well that Watson’s sophisticated defenses are sometimes reduced to irrelevance. The Knights also usually have a mid-sized player who is almost impossible to guard. This season, that player seems to be 6-foot-6 Jake Thelen. He was named the GLVC Player of the Week this week after missing only three shots in three games last week. The rest of his stat line went like this (quoting directly from the GLVC news release because, frankly, I don’t feel like paraphrasing it, although I did perform some minor editing; besides, the release does a good job describing what he did):

“The Edgewood, Ky., native opened the week with a career high 23 points and pulled down nine rebounds in just 24 minutes as the Knights cruised past West Virginia Tech 86-51.  Thelen was 10 of 11 from the field, missing only a rare 3-point attempt.  On Friday, Thelen’s scoring dipped a little as he made four of five shots and totaled 12 points, but he found teammates for open shots, dishing out five assists on the night.  The 6-6 forward ended the week with a solid effort against Ohio Valley.  After the Knights struggled in the opening minutes, Thelen asserted himself and helped the Knights turn the game into a rout by pouring in 15 points (on 6-of-6 shooting) and hauling in nine boards in the first half.  With just limited action in the second half, he still managed to finish with a double-double, netting 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

“For the week, he was 21 of 24 (.875) from the field, 10 of 15 from the free-throw line (.667), and averaged 17.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in just 24.3 minutes per game.”

And Thelen’s a junior. I figure 6-6 senior Orlando Rutledge — he of the long arms and quick feet — will get the privilege of guarding Thelen come the first meeting between USI and Bellarmine, at Knights Hall on Monday, Jan. 20.