Tom Sorensen

NCAA title game moved in fits and starts because of referees, but I have the answer

Gonzaga’s Zach Collins (32), who could be in the NBA as soon as next season, fouled out of Monday’s NCAA championship game against North Carolina. But what if he didn’t have to?
Gonzaga’s Zach Collins (32), who could be in the NBA as soon as next season, fouled out of Monday’s NCAA championship game against North Carolina. But what if he didn’t have to? AP

As the game approached the point at which one team would claim it, Gonzaga’s two big men, Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, sat next to each other on the bench. Foul trouble also sent North Carolina’s big men, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, to the bench.

Officials called 44 fouls in Monday’s national championship, 22 on each team. They called 27 fouls in the second half. If you were a big man, and you were in your team’s rotation, you were in foul trouble.

Karnowski, 7-1, Meeks, 6-10, and Hicks, 6-9, finished with four fouls each. Collins, who is 7-0, fouled out with five.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but I tire of coaches and fans who blame refs for the outcome of every game their team loses. Why didn’t I get the promotion? It was the fault of the refs. Why did she leave me? Refs. Why is traffic so bad on I-485? Refs.

Officials didn’t determine the winner Monday. But they did determine that little contact would be allowed inside. We were denied an opportunity to watch North Carolina’s big men compete against Gonzaga’s. Big men had to play small.

Officials robbed the game of rhythm. Rather than flowing and moving and becoming a beautiful thing the way, say, North Carolina vs. Kentucky was, the game proceeded in starts and stops. Officials appeared determined to prove that their whistles worked.

Fans want to see a team’s best players in the game. Gonzaga’s Collins, however, fouled out with more than five minutes remaining. This is a player we’ll see in the NBA, perhaps next season.

Refs are going to impose order. It’s what they’re supposed to do. Yet there is a way to avoid some of what happened Monday, and that’s to give players another foul. They get five. How about they don’t foul out until they get six?

It works for the NBA, and it would work for college basketball. It would have worked Monday. Collins would have stayed in the game, and Meeks could play his big man game without being constrained by the possibility of a fifth foul.

The sixth foul would be a gift for starters and stars. Since we like to watch them, it would be a gift for fans, too.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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