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February 04, 2008

A detailed analysis of every foul in the Penn State game that will make this title seem short

I spent 15 minutes on the phone today arguing with a Michigan State fan who claimed that MSU's loss Saturday at Penn State was clear evidence of a Big Ten conspiracy against the Spartans, or at least of the fact that the refs for this particular game were on the take.

    Combine that with the e-mails and blog comments I've read to that effect, and I decided it was time to take a closer look. While covering the game Saturday night, I did not get the sense that the officiating was grossly one-sided. The numbers, of course, suggest otherwise.
    Many of you have made two points that I definitely can appreciate. First, officials are not held accountable as they should be. I believe they should have to answer questions at times regarding their calls. There's nothing more important than the integrity of the game, and this is the most vulnerable area. The NBA Tim Donaghy scandal and the recent Yahoo! report on Big Ten football ref Stephen Pamon are clear indications of the potential for misconduct.
    Second, I think there's something to the idea that Michigan State has this bruising, physical reputation, earned in the "glory years," perpetuated with story after story after story about the "War Drill" and the football pads at practice. And it might give officials some pre-conceived ideas about how MSU plays (even though several recent MSU teams haven't been all that physical, really). It's like MSU has become Al Anagonye, and refs just expect the Spartans to hack away.
    Tom Izzo didn't say much today about the officiating in the game. He said again that he wasn't happy with it, and that a 51-21 free throw disparity shouldn't happen. He held his tongue a few times and it was obvious that he was pretty ticked at some of the calls.
    Again, the numbers back up the idea that this was a hose job. But I didn't feel that way while watching it live. So I went through the tape, foul by foul on both sides, slow motion in many cases, with no agenda, to figure it out. I designated every call as "good," "iffy" or "bad" -- WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF A GAME THAT WAS CALLED TIGHTER THAN BIG TEN GAMES SHOULD BE. Also, I looked carefully for fouls and violations that weren't called, on both sides. Here you go:

FIRST HALF
1.    17:15 mark. Drew Naymick comes from behind on a pick and roll and bumps Andrew Jones, who was Goran Suton’s guy. Good call. Naymick had his hands up and tried to stay vertical, but he moved into Jones and knocked him over.
2.    17:15. Over the back on Jamelle Cornley, on Suton, on a missed free throw. Iffy call. Touchy. Not a lot of contact. A tone setter for how this game is going to be called.
3.    16:21. Travis Walton throws a bad, telegraphed pass to Drew Neitzel in the corner. Stanley Pringle picks it and it’s a three on one. Walton tries to bat ball from Cornley but gets his arm. Good call.
4.    15:39 Pringle blows by Neitzel on a pick and roll and gets into the lane. Suton leaves Jones inside to step up and contest Pringle. Raymar Morgan is late on the rotation and must push Jones in the back on a layup try. Good call. Set up by aggressive Penn State offense and subpar MSU defense.
5.    14:32. Kalin Lucas is in transition, gets into the lane, shuffles his feet and travels, goes up and draws a foul on Talor Battle on a jumper. Bad call in that Lucas walked. Foul was close, Battle stayed vertical, but Battle’s arm did make contact with Lucas' arm. Overall, that adds up to iffy.
6.    14:18. On a missed Penn State jumper, Jones lands awkwardly, his back on Kalin Lucas’ back, and is called for over the back. Iffy call.
7.    14:08. Marquise Gray is called for a moving pick. Good call, no question about it. He looked like a tight end blocking on Danny Morrissey.
8.    13:18. On a loose ball, Suton picks it up, drives and is hit by Jeff Brooks. Good call.
9.    11:41. Game is tied at 15, MSU has all three freshmen on the floor. Chris Allen loses Pringle, albeit on an uncalled moving pick by Andrew Jones. Suton helps Allen and is able to race back into position for a blockout on Jeff Brooks. But Gray does not block out Jones, who rebounds Pringle’s miss. Then Lucas loses Pringle and joins Allen in an unintentional double team on Battle. Brooks is alone for a corner 3, Suton comes out to help. It misses, but Pringle is alone for the rebound and flips it to Jones, who is fouled by Suton. Good call, set up by poor defense and Penn State hustle.
10.    11:14. Neitzel has his jumper slightly blocked. Morgan is going for the airball, but Brooks holds him and is whistled. Good call.
11.     10:53. Morgan gets an offensive board, goes up strong and Brooks slaps him going for the block. Shooting foul, good call.
12.    10:26. Naymick slides out to hedge on a pick and roll with Battle. Naymick is called for his second foul. Iffy call. There was contact, but as Greg Kelser pointed out, Battle sort of made it happen, then lost the ball for an instant. This was probably an example of the refs being overzealous. And it cost Naymick the rest of the first half.
13.    9:55. Tie game, Penn State in transition, Pringle blows past Neitzel but Suton helps and he misses a tough runner off the glass. Summers does not block out Cornley, who taps it to David Jackson. He goes up and is fouled by Summers. There wasn’t much contact, but Summers got his off hand and the ball was stripped. The aggressor usually gets this call. As tightly as this was called, there’s no question it's a good call that is the result of Penn State taking it to MSU’s defense.
14.    9:19. Jackson drives Gray baseline and turns. Neitzel comes to help and is called for a grab. This was close. But with a slow-mo glance, it’s clear that, although Neitzel got mostly ball, his right hand gets a chunk of Jackson’s left arm. Good call.
15.    7:25. Pick and roll, Mike Walker and Brandon Hassell, against Morgan and Suton. Hassell gets into the lane, great pass from Walker, Gray steps up to help and jumps into Hassell. Good call.
16.    6:32. Pick and pop, Pringle blows by Lucas, Ibok has to bump him. Good call.
17.    4:04. Neitzel gets a steal, leads Walton on a bomb, he’s hit by Pringle at the rim. Good call. At this point, MSU appears in control, 36-30.
18.    2:56. Off a badly missed 3 try by Chris Allen, Penn State runs it down MSU’s throat. Three on two with Pringle leading the way. He gets it to Battle, Neitzel must foul him at the rim. Good call. And that's it for the first half, 11 fouls on MSU, seven on Penn State.

SECOND HALF
19.    18:59. Jones is called for bumping Naymick in the post. Iffy call. And a tone setter for a half that would see 34 fouls called.
20.    17:45. Jones quickly gets his third, on a moving pick on Walton. Iffy. This is like holding in football. Picks like that were set all night. This one forced a key player to sit for Penn State.
21.    17:07. The first outright bad foul call of the night. Neitzel misses a three, Jones pushes Naymick, Naymick goes up for the board in front of Jones, and somehow Naymick is called for the foul. Can’t figure that one out. And it’s Naymick’s third.
22.    17:02. Jackson gets it deep on Morgan, turns, shoots and Morgan rakes his arm. Good call.
23.    16:27. Lucas curls into the lane, Jackson must grab him. Good call.
24.    15:43. Lucas drives, Battle makes slight contact, called for a hold. Iffy call.
25.    14:57. Hassell moving screen on Neitzel. Close, but a good call.
26.    14:07. Morgan called for grabbing Jackson. His third. Close, but a good call, he got some shirt as Jackson was trying to separate.
27.    13:40. Battle misses a three, Pringle zips past Neitzel and grabs the long rebound, gets it inside to Cornley. He goes up strong. Suton comes from behind and gets a lot of ball, but he gets the hand as well. Good call.
28.    13:37. Cornley misses the second free throw. Suton lets the rebound pop out of his hands to Hassell. He has it point blank, and Suton bodies him. Good call.
29.    13:12. Brooks tries to post up Lucas and is called for hooking him in trying to gain position. Iffy call, bordering on bad. We'll go with iffy. Four fouls on Brooks.
30.    12:21. Suton hustles for an offensive board, flips it to Lucas, who drives and scores, plus the foul on Hassell, who grabs his arm. Good call.
31.    11:13. Cornley drives Suton into the lane, slams into him, rises and Suton gets his arm on the jumper. Suton fouled him, but Cornley probably should have been called for a charge. Overall, we'll call it iffy.
32.    11:00. Summers posts up, scores plus the foul on Jones. Good call. Fourth on Jones.
33.    10:05. On a missed 3 by Morrissey, Suton lets Jones get inside him, then Suton grabs his arm on the rebound. Good call. Suton’s fourth.
34.    7:25. Naymick gets it alone inside, Morrissey comes over for a clean block, but his other arm was climbing up Naymick’s body to get there. Good call.
35.    6:30. MSU in transition, Morgan is grabbed on the baseline by Hassell. Good call.
36.    5:51. Battle is called for hitting Neitzel on a jump shot at the top of the key. Bad call, no question about it. Battle’s finger might have scraped his hip. Ed DeChellis is beside himself in anger.
37.    5:27. Gray hedges on a pick and roll and bumps Battle. Good call. He was fine until he tried to move with him and keep walling him, which will be whistled every time. Battle’s foul shots give Penn State a 67-66 lead.
38.    4:09. Naymick picks up his fourth foul, with MSU up a basket. Morgan misses a corner 3 pointer. Jackson gets to the ball and Naymick slips and falls forward. He knocks Jackson out of bounds. It's unfortunate for MSU and Izzo is upset, but you have to call it. Good call. Jackson comes down to the other end and ties it with two free throws.
39.    3:56. Score tied. Morgan misses a tough jumper against a double team. Gray barrels into Hassell for an over the back. Good call. Easy call. Gray fouls out and knows he's guilty. Hassell misses both free throws. But...
40.    3:56. On the second miss, Cornley burrows past Naymick. Walton is called for bumping Cornley. Iffy call. In real time, it looks like an obvious foul. In slow-mo, you can see that Cornley does a great acting job, without much of a push. He hits one of two at 3:56 for the permanent lead.
41.    3:41. Jackson is called for a block on Morgan, on one of those 50/50 charge-block calls. Iffy for sure. So iffy, Greg Kelser thought it was a charge and called it a “break for Michigan State.”
42.    3:40. So what happens? Perhaps the key segment of the game. Morgan misses both, blowing a chance to regain the lead. And on the long rebound, he grabs Mike Walker and pulls him to the ground. Good call, no doubt about it. So Walker walks to the other end and hits a pair for a 72-69 lead.
43.    3:20. On the next possession, Neitzel misses a tough 3-pointer. Pringle gets the long rebound and races downcourt. He heads into the lane and Walton strips him cleanly. He's called for a foul. Bad call. Pringle hits both free throws for a 74-69 lead, rather than MSU going the other way with it. MSU has a gripe with this one.
44.   1:58. First, a rare minute-plus with no foul calls. Lucas hits a jumper to cut the lead to three, and Battle is called for a carry, with some Lucas contact. Then MSU comes down and Neitzel gets a perfect look at a 15-footer to cut it to a point, but it goes halfway down and pops out. Suton perhaps fouls Jackson going for the rebound. He gets the ball and the refs give him a timeout. At this point, DeChellis is fully enraged. After a timeout, Morgan misses a tough fadeaway on Cornley. Then Jackson goes right at Morgan on the baseline, driving with aggression. Morgan fouls out. It’s close, but I’ve got to say, good call. Jackson gets his shoulder inside Morgan on the baseline and elevates. You have to call that contact. Morgan should have let him go once he was beat, and Izzo told him so. Jackson drills both for a 76-71 lead.
45.    1:42. On the next possession, Lucas blows by Battle, delivers a great pass to Suton, who hits the layup, plus the foul on Cornley. Good call. MSU still in it, 76-74.
46.    1:16. The next time down, Jackson drives into the lane on Suton, going horizontally. Lucas makes a freshman play, slapping at the ball, getting a big chunk of Jackson’s hand and giving Penn State free points. Good call. MSU didn't like this call, but watch the replay. Lots of hand. No reason to slap at it there. Jackson hits both free throws for a 78-74 lead.
47.    55.4 seconds. On MSU’s next possession, Walton makes a costly decision. He drives in on Cornley, has nowhere to go and puts up a wild shot that actually hits the bottom of the rim. Cornley gets it, Suton grabs him from behind. Good call. Bad decision to just hack him. MSU still could have played defense at that point. Suton fouls out. MSU is now in must-foul mode. Cornley hits one for a five-point lead.
48.    42.3 seconds. But on the next possession, Allen has an open path through the lane, gets to the basket, goes lefty and shoots a little too hard, with Cornley in the area but not fouling. Walton fouls Battle on purpose. Battle hits one for a six-point lead.
49.    38.7 seconds. Lucas drives the next time down, and Battle is called for a push. This one was iffy, bordering on bad. Yes, one of the worst calls in the waning moments was actually against Penn State. Lucas hits both to cut the lead to four.
50.    37 seconds. Lucas hit both to cut the lead to four. Then comes a huge call, not a foul call. An inbounds pass to Pringle is low, and he and Lucas both go after it. It squirts out of bounds. It looks 50/50 off their hands but may have gone off Pringle’s lower body. Izzo is incensed. MSU must foul Pringle. He hits both.
51.    26.5 seconds. Then Neitzel misses a leaner in the lane, and Walton knocks the ball out. Lucas fouls Pringle on purpose.
52.    13 seconds. Lucas misses a 3, Cornley rebound, Walton fouls him on purpose. 13 seconds left.
So fouls 47, 48, 50, 51 and 52, all on MSU, are intentional fouls with the Spartans down multiple possessions and stopping the clock.

Now, here are the missed calls I detected:
FIRST HALF
18:38. Pringle misses a 3, Jones blatantly pushes Suton in the back, gets the rebound and scores the game’s first points.
16:00. Cornley kicks a Suton pass meant for Naymick, no call, steal for Penn State.
14:32. Gray fouls Jeff Brooks on a foul line jumper. He falls right into his body on the release, no call. And the way this game was being called, that was a surprise.
11:57. Moving pick by Andrew Jones on Chris Allen, quite blatant.
10:09. Suton and Morgan battle for a defensive rebound, Suton gets it but walks in the process. No call. Amazing to think there are actually travels not called on MSU.
5:44. Jones tries to tackle Morgan on a Penn State miss. No call, somehow. Morgan still got the board, so it didn’t matter, but it still should have been whistled. Izzo went off on Sid Rodeheffer on this one.
3:50. Ibok rams into Hassell and knocks him out of bounds, no call. Hassell got rid of the ball, so no harm, but still, a foul.
2:45. Lucas walks again before dribbling and missing a short jumper. Then he tries to take a charge from Pringle. Lots of contact, close, probably a block on Lucas. Somehow, no whistle. Penn State beats MSU down the floor again and Battle hits a wide-open 3. Both calls should have gone against MSU –- and the Spartans would have been better off had the whistle blown.
4.6 seconds. Cornley hits Morgan on a long jump shot, no call. He definitely jumped into him and hit his left arm and torso. The ball went into a mass of players, in which there was a lot of contact from both sides, but no calls. Halftime.

SECOND HALF
Not much missed here -- not with 34 fouls called.
11:20. Naymick commits what should be his fourth foul, slapping the ball from Battle and getting a lot of arm. No call, and DeChellis was angry.
7:11. Hassell puts what could have been called a moving pick on Neitzel. It helps Walker get free for a 3-pointer to give Penn State a 65-64 lead. And that's the last Penn State basket.

There you have it, in all its gory glory. So here's what we have:
31 fouls on MSU
21 good calls
5 intentional fouls late
3 iffy calls
2 bad calls

21 fouls on Penn State
12 good calls
8 iffy calls
1 bad call

Also, one iffy, potential missed call on a ball that went out of bounds, possibly off a Penn State player.
Also, six Penn State fouls and one violation that weren't called but should have been.
Also, two MSU fouls and two violations that weren't called but should have been.

Now here's what might be the most telling statistic -- the types of fouls called.
Of MSU's 31...
11 were fouls at the rim, stopping Penn State from easy baskets, all good calls.
5 were on purpose at the end.
6 were bumps/holds on the floor, five good calls and one iffy.
4 were over-the-back calls, two good, one iffy, one bad.
3 were whistles on strips, two good calls and one bad call.
1 was a moving pick, and it was a good call.
1 was a foul on a jumper, and it was iffy.

Of Penn State's 21...
7 were fouls at the rim, and all good calls.
6 were bumps/holds on the floor, four good and two iffy.
2 were fouls on jump shots, one iffy and one bad.
2 were over-the-back calls, both iffy.
2 were moving screens, one good and one iffy.
1 was a block on a charge-block, iffy.
1 was an offensive hook, iffy.

    What does it all mean, aside from the fact that I've gone way overboard?
    To me, it should silence anyone who wants to make this loss all about the officiating. Or mostly about the officiating. Or somewhat about the officiating.
    There were a couple key calls that went against MSU late. The Walton strip was clean, no doubt. There were some calls that went against Penn State, too. And the free-throw disparity is easier to understand. Penn State got hit 11 times at the rim. So although MSU had a 46-18 edge in the paint, the Spartans (wisely) didn't give up many layups.
    Plus, 10 of those foul shots were in the final minute, with MSU fouling on purpose. In other words, 32 of Penn State's 51 foul shots were either point-blank shooting fouls or late-game fouls. The other 19 came about because the refs called this game way too tightly than any college basketball game should be called.
    But they did not call it unfairly for Penn State. To me, there might be some reason to gripe about the Iowa game this season, or the game in Ann Arbor in 2006. But this one? Penn State outplayed Michigan State. Period.

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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