So, what do we think so far of the whistles in the new conference? I’ve settled in now and come to realize the officials, who I thought were inconsistent and sometimes uneven early on, are actually acceptable. Odd adjective, I know, but it’s either that or unacceptable and I don’t think it’s been the latter.
What I do find is that officials will let a plenty slide under the basket and even let some things go at the rim. Move away from the basket and things change.
Screens and picks happen in many different manners and it seems the offensive players can do more than the defensive players. Out on the perimeter, it’s much more strict, likely because the Big 12 would like to enable and even enhance its identity, which is its guards and off-the-bounce tactics.
And how does this work for WVU? Depends on who you ask.
It was always my observation that nobody was held more than WVU in the Big East. I mean, 10-yard penalty stuff. That was how teams, whether in a zone or playing man, combated the motion offense and the constant cuts. And it was frequently successful.
It hasn’t been the case this season. WVU gets a lot of those calls for what, honestly, are fouls. I know Bob Huggins says his team is not yet suited for the Big 12, and on some level that makes sense for this conversation because of the constitution of his roster and because his bigs haven’t been very big. Those guys throughout the league, we believe, don’t get all the calls, or even a lot of them.
So Huggins goes to the guard lineup and one reason it’s supposed to work is because they’ve gotten to the line and because defenses more familiar with the Big 12 are more familiar with how to defend without fouling in the Big 12.
In fact, no one in the conference gets a greater percentage of their points (23.2) at the free throw line. That’s No. 35 nationally. WVU has also attempted the most free throws and made the second most in the Big 12 — Nos. 82 and 75 nationally. That’s a nice crutch for a team like WVU that has such trouble shooting and scoring.
The Mountaineers are 5-2 when they attempt at least 25 free throws, which is slightly better than the average ever game. Believe it or not, they don’t foul much, either. They’re No. 9 in the Big 12 in opposition free throw attempts, makes and point percentage.
This is mentioned today because there was a bit of a discrepancy Bob Huggins mentioned after Monday night’s loss to Kansas. The Jayhawks were 18-for-34 to WVU’s 12-for-15 and Huggins made a point to make a point.
“Did I think they would shoot 34 free throws and we shoot 15? No,” said Huggins following the game. “We have, up until about a week ago, made more free throws than our opponents have taken. We were No. 1 in the power six conferences.”
Translated, Huggins was trying to say that there was something different about the way this game was being officiated than other games.
Which takes us where we are trying to go.
Without making any kind of accusation, the question must be asked if the top teams in sports don’t subconsciously get breaks from officials.
We are not talking about officials fixing games or doing anything intentional to rig the finish. In truth, there we only wish our politicians were as honest as are our sports officials.
But these men are human, too, and as a fan sees things the way he wants to see things, so, too, could an official, and if you are working for a conference who benefits from having the nation’s No. 1 team or as many Top 10 teams as it can have — be it for NCAA Tournament appearances and seeding or for getting into a national football playoff — could you not be subconsciously influenced in what you see?
Interesting, except that the same WVU team that has played three games below .500 in conference play has slipped elsewhere, too, including ones that concern this free throw discussion. The Mountaineers are fifth in Big 12 games in free throws attempted and made. The point percentage is down four points and ranks seventh.
WVU still doesn’t foul much and ranks seventh in the three free-throw categories. Yet Kansas, in play in the Big 12 it has won eight straight years, ranks No. 1 in the three categories and No. 2 in the opposition categories.