Three thoughts on San Diego State’s 58-57 loss to Boise State on Tuesday night:
The umpire who whistled SDSU’s Nathan Mensah for a foul with 1.7 seconds left and gave Boise State’s Abu Kigab what would be the game-winning free throws was not originally supposed to work the game.
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Randy McCall was.
But McCall has been involved in a pair of late-game incidents this season at Boise State, two no-calls that ultimately led to overtime losses. One was a trip over Marcus Shaver with 15 seconds left against Saint Louis on November 30, the other a collision against Kigab with 1.6 seconds left in regulation of a tie against Colorado State on November 13. February.
The Western Officiating Consortium assigns umpires for Mountain West, Pac-12 and four other leagues, and it apparently seemed like sending McCall back to Boise so soon wasn’t a good idea for everyone involved — in case fans of the Broncos would come after him, or he subconsciously wanted to make amends.
Gregory Nixon, according to conference sources, was the late replacement and — just his luck — was pushed into a position to make a potentially season-changing call in the dying seconds of a one-point game. (Crewmate Eric Curry, who also worked SDSU losses at Colorado State and BYU, was under the basket and also whistled.)
Did he understand correctly?
The answer from several basketball players, including some officials, is yes and no.
Yes, because once Kigab fell after hitting his knees with Mensah, they were going to call something and assume the contact caused the fall. No, because a replay angle suggests Kigab slipped with his free hand, grabbed Mensah’s arm and first knocked him off balance – something Nixon might not have seen from being shielded by Trey Pulliam and the Kigab Corps.
Another way to put it: In the world of college basketball, where the use of video replay is limited, it’s probably a whistle. In the NBA, where judgment appeals can be reviewed through a central replay center in New Jersey, it could be overturned.
Either way, it wasn’t as egregious as Paul Szelc’s swallowed whistle on Feb. 4 at Colorado State that would have put Matt Bradley on the line with a second left. But both incidents raise questions about whether the NCAA should allow video reviews on all calls, especially late in close games.
Even SDSU coach Brian Dutcher, who may have taken advantage of it twice this season, isn’t sure.
“I just think people get frustrated with so much criticism over the course of a game anyway,” Dutcher said Wednesday, after spending a night sleeping (or not sleeping) on it. “Maybe it would be helpful if you received a protest and it was a critical call. It could help everyone and make life easier for the referees.
“But they always go to the table to watch something. I don’t think people are looking for more reviews.
2. Let Them Go
As Bradley braced for two free throws with 7.7 seconds left, both coaching teams laid down their strategies for the final moments.
Dutcher didn’t have a time out, but his players were in front of the bench and told to foul if Bradley did the two to put the Aztecs up three. When Bradley missed the first, they waved him off.
Boise State had two timeouts remaining … and did not call any.
It’s a damned situation if you do, damned if you don’t for the coaches. Don’t call time out and miss, and you get criticized for not diagramming a play for a late-second shot. Call timeout and miss, and you’re criticized for letting the opponent substitute for specialists and define their defense.
The rule of thumb for most, but not all, coaches is to call a timeout with a young team and let a veteran team go, hoping they’ll find something in the chaos of a run on everything. field.
“Against them,” Broncos coach Leon Rice said of SDSU and their No. 1-ranked defense, “the last thing you want to do is take a timeout and let them prepare. ‘they’re going to double team (Marcus) Shaver and not let him touch, they’re not going to let Kigab get caught and we would have been reduced to a 3-point fade from (6-foot-10, 240-pound Mladen Armus) for win it. I mean, their defense is too good.
“I liked the scattered floor.”
It worked, with Kigab weaving down as the Aztecs retreated after Bradley’s second missed free throw, eventually prompting a foul call when he fell into the lane.
Not only does Rice have a veteran team, he has a veteran team that has won many close games. The Broncos are 7-1 in conference games decided by six runs or fewer, and the only loss involved McCall’s questionable non-call late in regulation. Shaver hit four back 3s in the final minute to tie or win games, including one at SDSU last month. Kigab, a 6-7 senior, was also clutched.
“I watch it when they go up,” Rice said of Kigab, “and he’s hard when he starts going down. He didn’t settle. He started going down and stumbled.
3. Metric madness
The loss dropped the Aztecs (17-7, 9-4) to fourth place in Mountain West. This is not a good place for two reasons.
That puts them in the 4-5 quarter-final of the Mountain West tournament, which right now would mean moving UNLV up to their home building. And that puts them behind Boise State, Wyoming and Colorado State in the standings for a conference that may not bring four teams to the NCAA Tournament, given its 1-7 first-round record over the past five events (and 0-4 in the bottom two by 13.5 points on average).
Here’s the tricky part for the selection committee, though: what are you doing with SDSU?
Metrics have become an increasingly vital part of team selection, and the fourth-place team currently has the best overall metrics in Mountain West. SDSU is 23rd in Kenpom (first), 25th in T rank of Bart Torvik (first), 28th in ESPN’s BPI (first of 25 places), 29th in Sagarin (first), 30th in NCAA NET (second) and 29th in the KPI (the third).
It’s NCAA tournament material almost automatically every year. In Kenpom’s two decades, no team that finished 23rd has been left out of the big dance. The year SDSU turned 23, 2014, he was a 4 seed and he moved up to the Sweet 16.
Wyoming, which started the day tied with Boise State in the loss column, is ranked as low as 49th at Kenpom, 66th at Torvik, 77th at Sagarin and 104th at BPI — traditionally no NCAA material.
The Aztecs had been in their 40s at Kenpom two weeks ago but picked up five straight wins that featured their best offensive performances of the season. The biggest leap came after a 61-44 victory at Fresno State that provided a double whammy of metric love – a 17-point win on the road in a game the computer predicted they would lose, and a stellar defensive performance that kept the Bulldogs to their lowest point total in nearly a decade.
They came into Tuesday’s game aged 23… and woke up Wednesday still aged 23. That’s because they needed to lose by three and lose by one while outscoring the 26th-ranked Broncos pretty much everywhere except on the scoreboard. The computer sees no dodgy arbitrage, but it senses something has happened given SDSU’s dominance in other statistical categories.
The key now is to maintain this position. Play Wyoming close on the road Monday, no matter the outcome, and they shouldn’t move much. A bigger risk is Friday against San Jose State, a game the Aztecs are expected to win by 21 points according to Kenpom. Win half and you will probably lose.
Are metrics important?
We are about to find out.