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Tom Izzo: I’m not ‘bitching about officiating … I’m bitching about the rules.’

Nov 24, 2013, 8:46 AM EDT

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — Michigan State, the No. 1 team in the country, knocked off Oklahoma in the title game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center late on Saturday night, picking up an 87-76 win that moved the Spartans to 6-0 on the season.

There were times on Saturday where Tom Izzo’s club was dominant. From about the midway point of the first half to the first media timeout of the second half, the Spartans turned a 22-11 deficit into a 53-35 lead. The Sooners didn’t have a chance, and that was essentially without Adreian Payne doing anything.

But there was a reason that Payne wasn’t doing anything, and, according to Izzo, that reason was the new emphasis on fouls in college basketball. Well after midnight, in the bowels of the Barclays Center, Izzo spent a good 12 minutes venting about the way the game is being called, which is noteworthy given the fact that the Spartans, you know, won!

“Everybody is going to think points are up. They’re up because free shots are free shots!” Izzo said. “What I’m worried about is are we going to teach [players to] just dribble in and get fouled? Is that good basketball? We had a two hour and 32 minute game tonight. Is that going to be good for basketball?”

(MORE: Denzel Valentine, the piece that makes Michigan State’s talent fit together)

Michigan State’s starting point guard, Keith Appling, finished the night with 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting. He took over down the stretch, hitting big shot after big shot as he got into the paint seemingly at will. Here’s the thing: that was by design. “I told Keith at the end, if he takes a jump shot I’ll kill him,” Izzo said. “I just want him to drive in there and get fouled.”

Izzo believes that’s the crux of the issue in college hoops right now. No contact is allowed, which means that defense can’t be played. The best offense, as a result, is to simply isolate your team’s best penetrator, allowing him to drive headlong into the lane and wait for an official to bail you out. That’s not entertaining. That’s not basketball. It’s a free throw contest, one that results-minded coaches are going to be forced to play to.

“What are we going to teach? Are we going to teach the kids to just drive in there?” Izzo said. “I’m going to coach it this week. Just drive in. I’m going to put on football pads again this week. Not to rebound, but offensively. Just go in there, full back dive, three yards and a cloud of dust.”

“It’s going to sound like I’m coming out and bitching about the officiating, but I’m not. I’m bitching about the rules.”

He’s also bitching about the consistency. On Friday night, I was courtside at Madison Square Garden to see No. 18 UConn knock off Indiana. There was plenty of contact with dribblers in that game. There were armbars on drivers, and there was even a bit of handchecking. Much of it went uncalled, and the result was arguably the best game of the season to date.

On Saturday night, fouls were called for looking at a player with the ball. There were 49 fouls and 66 free throws combined. “You think that’s hard on a coach or a writer,” Izzo said, “imagine being a player.”

The result of an inconsistent whistle will be players hesitating to defend. Take Payne as an example. He had his worst game of the season because a pair of early fouls destroyed his rhythm. If he picks up a quick foul in first couple of minutes the next time out, do you think he’s going to play any defense whatsoever if it means he’ll once again be destined for the bench.

“Everybody is going to think, ‘well, only five kids fouled out,'” Izzo said. “It’s not about fouling out. It’s about how you play after getting your second one. You’re going to play tentative. You’re going to play ole.”

“We’re going to be fooled that [we’re] scoring more points. I think before it’s done you’re going to see more teams zoning, and it’ll get slower yet.”

  1. creek0512 - Nov 24, 2013 at 9:55 AM

    IU-UCONN was the best game of the season? What game were you watching? That game was brutal to watch, with neither team playing well. And ask Vonleh what he thought about the refs allowing contact. The only way IU-UCONN was a “good” game is if your only criteria is how close the score is. Other than that it was pretty awful.

    • wgn01 - Nov 24, 2013 at 11:01 AM

      Didn’t see Uconn-IU game , but did see MSU-KEN AND MSU-OK and both games as Izzo implies were totally flavored and IMO spoiled by rule enforcement by refs. Let’s hope they get this figured out, and they leave Bilas (a bright commentor) out of this conversation.

      • buckyowl - Nov 24, 2013 at 11:41 PM

        So are you saying the sport is being ‘spoiled’ by enforcing rules, and that therefore it would be better if they just ignored the rules? Any idea how silly that sounds?

        Tom Izzo’s opinion on this really means nothing, as he was one of the very foremost coaches who started CBB on its path to unwatchability, one of the first who was big on chucking cutters and clutch & grab defense. Sorry Tom, football pads belong in football, not basketball. The sport is far, far better off for officials enforcing the actual rules again and not letting these games turn into wrestling matches. If want to watch grappling on the court, go down to the local 4th grade school game. Armbarring, chucking cutters, hand-checking-it’s all lazy defense, takes no talent, and there’s no place for it in the sport.

      • hoopslvr - Nov 25, 2013 at 8:36 AM

        No, Mr. (?) buckyowl, not silly at all; only maybe to those who consider things in exclusively binary ways. To me, I’d much prefer the more physical game relative to the current refs’ whistles resulting in a parade to the free throw line, or as Izzo describes what you have now, the fullback dive into the defense. We all have a right to our preferences; let’s see how this evolves and remember it’s a continuum from whatever you visualize as 4th grade b-ball to the current product. Some of the greats of the game played during a physical time (when your cherished rules were not called like right now) from Robertson/Alcindor to Magic/Bird to MJ, etc. No one complained of the lack of b-ball skill then. B-ball rules are not like accounting rules, they have always involved judgment, etc. Ask jabaar about dunking in college!

  2. tgd112gostate - Nov 24, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    When rules change they ALWAYS include unintended.consequences. Its too bad that not a officials understand the intent of the rule change. Jay Bilas clearly has a disdain for physical basketball so, pay no attention to his musings.Go Green!!!

    • tgd112gostate - Nov 24, 2013 at 1:19 PM

      Not *All officials…….

  3. critter69 - Nov 24, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    Maybe we should shorten the game? The first team to score 1, 2 or 3 points wins the game?

    Would that shut Izzo up?

    (It certainly would put an emphasis on the opening tip.)

    • sjd12 - Nov 25, 2013 at 5:02 PM

      Or we could shorten the game up by not calling ridiculous fouls and stopping the game once every thirty seconds.

      Seriously, there are two twenty minute halves. When a forty minute game lasts three hours, something’s wrong.

      Izzo’s upset because the game of basketball is being ruined by unnecessary whistles that prolong the game and water it down. The point of basketball is to score points — that, by definition, means that the point of basketball is to prevent the opposing team from scoring points. Calling fouls on a team any time they do something that resembles preventing the opposing team from scoring is ruining the game, just as it would be ruining the game to call fouls on a team any time they do something that resembles attempting to score.

      Can you imagine a game where committing a crossover is considered an offensive foul? Sounds pretty lame, eh? So why should we be happy that defense is effectively being outlawed in basketball?

      By the way, shortening the game to “first to score 1, 2, or 3 points wins” would, also, be ruining the game of basketball — so, no, if anything, your ridiculous proposition would do the exact opposite of “shutting Izzo up.”

  4. bostonfreeparty - Nov 24, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    I was at MSG for the UConn-IU game. While there was some ugly basketball played, the whole place was loud and rocking all night. Not bad for an early season neutral-site game.

  5. chrisco716 - Nov 25, 2013 at 12:43 AM

    The reason I’ve been watching less and less of CBB the last few years has been because it has become more like football than basketball with all the pushing, jabbing, grabbing, bodying up and arm barring. If I wanted to watch football I’d watch football. Which I’ve been watching a lot more of than CBB recently. It used to be the other way around. And as much as I like Izzo… MSU has been one of the leaders in turning CBB into whatever its been… certainly not basketball… the last couple years. Maybe calling fouls is not the way to get some flow back into the game but it can’t continue the way it’s been the past couple years. Well it can. But I won’t watch. And I suspect there are more than a few others out there that feel the same way.

  6. creek0512 - Nov 25, 2013 at 12:27 PM

    Grabbing and hacking is not defending. Moving your feet to stay in front of a player and rotating to help are how you should defend. Also, a player diving into the lane should not get bailed out by the referees if he instigates contact with a defender who has position and is vertical and not reaching over or hacking.

  7. killbubbakill - Nov 25, 2013 at 9:00 PM

    To talk about basketball and contradict Izzo is pure foolishness. He is one of the greatest coaches of ALL TIME. and if nothing else, he has earned respect. He is not a calipari or an emotional dunce like some of those guys. He is the creator and commander of an institution-one is that very sound and runs well. When he says that this will undermine the game. just shut up and listen. what ever happened to respecting your elders? unless of course the critics of him are some plump dentists sitting on their mom’s couch in her basement barking orders at the world with soup stains on his sportless belly. then that might make sense. GO GREEN !

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