Smile Politely

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Well, maybe Indiana is good after all. But I’m still not convinced.

For the second consecutive game, Illinois’ opponent out-rebounded the Illini 38-to-26. That’s where comparisons end.

The Hoosiers also out-assisted the Illini 16-to-6, but any statistical analysis of this game overlooks the incaculable, qualitative impact of officiating: Friday’s Abomination on Adams, in the Madhouse on Madison, would have looked better for Illinois if Mike Sanzere had been awake to see it.

I never complain about officiating. I think complaints about officiating are crap. They’re all Boy Who Cried Wolf. Blinded by homerism, 99.5% of complainants ruin critical analysis of officiating for those of us who reserve our criticism for apt situations. I think the “Mike Sanzere has it in for Bruce Weber/Illinois” meme is crap.

Friday, Mike Sanzere was crap.

From the get-go, Indiana’s pugilistic Hoosiers bumped and badgered their Illini counterparts. The Illini, being tough (and together, of course) did not necessarily notice the violence and confusion.

In postgame interviews, I learned that some Illini (those covered by badasses) felt Indiana was unusually rough, even by B1G standards. Illini defended by wimps & pussies sensed no unusually stringent/violent defensive response.

But the violence noticed them. It altered their ability to execute.

Cody Zeller hand-checked, body-checked, and leg-checked Nnanna Egwu in the first minute. Nnanna pounded right back. To be frank, he pushed off.

And then he dropped the ball. Turnover #1.

A minute later, Zeller was credited with a block and Victor Oladipo with a steal as the Hoosiers pressured Sam McLaurin under his own basket. Turnover #2.

Contrast Thursday’s game. Bo Boroski warned Egwu and Trevor Mbakwe about jostling each other, twice, before hoisting the opening tip. That seemed more in keeping with the Rules of Basketball.

I don’t mean that referees should whistle every skin-to-skin contact. Let ’em play if there’s no advantage earned, says I. Call a foul when contact changes opportunities.

Seemingly satisfied with lettin’ ’em play, Sanzere must have aspirated his whistle on the subsequent possession, because it went off. 

I’m not sure what was happening when the whistle sounded. The teams were at the far end of the court. From my seat behind the bench, I couldn’t see over the (suddenly jumping, irate) Illini coaches and Gatorade cooler.

I suspect Sanzere also didn’t know what was happening. Perhaps he thought, “Crap, I must now make a ruling.” I assume he ruled “moving pick” because Illinois was on offense when the whistle sounded. After the whistle, the Illini were playing D, and Sam had been credited with a personal foul.

Here’s where I begin, proverbially, to throw shit and break stuff.

As the Illini coaches jumped up and down and grabbed their bald heads in disbelief*, Sanzere became a performer. He backpedaled diagonally across the court, slowly staring down John Groce the entire way.

It was too melodramatic.

Whether Sanzere knows about The Camera, it’s around. If he doesn’t know about The Camera, he’s on the wrong stage.

I think it’s great if a guy wants to strut his stuff on a stage. I like Ted Valentine and Ed Hightower. Neither of them hates performing for a television audience. But they pay attention to the game while they strut. Their peacocking is an earned peacocking. 

Consistency is the hallmark of good officiating. For the duration of the half, Sanzere seemingly ignored all forms of pushing off. Advantage: Hoosiers.

In the second half, Will Sheehey held Sam McLaurin with both hands, and eventually pulled him to the floor while Sanzere dozed in the corner. Another Illini “turnover.”

It’s especially damning to officiate so badly in a conference tournament, because there are so many other officials around. Gene Steratore was in the house (with his gorgeous wife). It’s too bad he wasn’t working the game. Jim Schipper was sitting at the media table when we all arrived. He’s friendly and competent, zero Napoleon Complex. Steve McJunkins would have been good, too. He’s a referee who works his way quietly through a game, exerting himself where necessary, and otherwise leaving showtime for the players.


John Groce did not cry, complain, or pine in his postgame remarks. Far from it. He exuded enthusiasm. He championed his team’s accomplishments. He proclaimed WE ARE IN THE TOURNAMENT AND DESERVEDLY SO! in everything except words.


Just after all that, Jamall Walker stopped me in the United Center’s ring tunnel to ask, genuinely interested, about this staff’s job over the last year, with specific emphasis on individual and team development.

Until Groce opens his practices to observation, it’ll be impossible to answer precisely. But it’s interesting that this coaching staff seeks opinions, analysis, judgment.

Walker also said the staff’s scouting assignments for the NCAA Tournament will be dictated by the opponents they draw. For example, if it’s a Princeton-style team, the scout will go to Dustin Ford “because Dustin has experience with scouting the Princeton offense.”


Cliff Paul Jr. fouled out and Joe LaTulip earned a technical foul in Money Bags’ disreputable ousting from the ARC intramural tourney Thursday night.

“They’re not calling shit!” yelled LaTulip, about the ARC’s tandem of referees, to his teammates.

Someday, Joe may learn that nineteenth-century views on opprobrium have an impact on social relations and advancement. Frankly, I’m ashamed of him.

Despite their humiliation, Joe and Cliff Jr. dared show their faces at United Center Friday morning. They were joined in the friends-of-team seats by Rayvonte Rice who, through another set of stupid & archaic rules, is not allowed to travel with his fellow student-athletes.

Two sections over, Cliff Sr. and Lynda Paul napped for two-minute intervals at every opportunity. Cliff Sr. worked a nine-hour shift before driving to Chicago then watching a basketball game then driving to Cleveland then watching a basketball game then driving back to Chicago to watch a basketball game.

The Pauls didn’t have time to nap in a real bed. Cliff drove a hundred miles before waking Lynda and crashing in the back seat for three hours.

They didn’t drive back to Cleveland, despite Darius Paul’s match-up with John Groce’s ex-team. “Too much,” mumbled Cliff as he passed out on Lynda’s shoulder.

*This comment obviously does not apply to Paris Parham. For one thing, he has a full head of hair. For another thing, he never loses his cool.

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