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March 25, 2013

NCAA MEN'S BB TOURNEY: Coaches gripe about flagrant fouls

NEW YORK — With just over a minute left in a six-point game, Creighton's Doug McDermott was swarmed by a pair of Cincinnati defenders. Trying to escape the trap, McDermott turned and swung his elbow upward, catching the Bearcats' Shaquille Thomas in the face.

The officials called McDermott for a foul, then, in what has become a common practice during the NCAA tournament, headed over to the TV monitors to see if the elbow warranted at flagrant foul.

In their opinion, it did. McDermott received a Flagrant 1, which meant two free throws for Cincinnati and the ball.

In the opinion of McDermott's coach, who also happens to be his father, the upgraded penalty was uncalled for, even if Thomas did miss the free throws and Creighton won the game.

"That call could have changed the outcome of the game,'' Greg McDermott said. "That would have been unfortunate because there certainly wasn't any intent with what Doug was doing. He was just trying to clear himself because there was a lot of contact in that double team.''

The NCAA's flagrant use of flagrant fouls has become a point of contention during first weekend of the tournament.

Some of the calls have frustrated coaches and they've certainly bogged down the pace of games as officials watch the replays over and over.

Tournament officials, though, have been pleased with the officials' conscientiousness as they try to take out some of the rough play that has pervaded the sport in recent years.

"The game is physical and the rules we have in place to protect player's safety,'' said Mike Bobinski, the NCAA tournament's selection committee chairman. "I think they've been called very consistently the first day and a half. The key is consistency and I think we've rightfully erred on the side of safety, and I like the fact that we're protecting players, particularly airborne players.''

The NCAA changed its rules in 2011 to add flagrant fouls to the men's and women's game, using Flagrant 1 to take the place of an intentional foul and Flagrant 2 replacing the previous flagrant foul call.

The official descriptions, according to the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel:

"An example of a Flagrant 1 foul would be when a player swings an elbow and makes illegal, non-excessive contact with an opponent above the shoulders. The team whose player was struck would receive two free throws and possession of the ball. Previously, this type of foul was called an intentional foul. The committee wanted to move away from the word `intentional,' because a player's intent was never the point to the rule.

"An example of a Flagrant 2 foul would be when a player swings an elbow excessively and makes contact with an opponent above the shoulders. In this case, the player who threw the elbow would be ejected from the game, and the other team would receive two free throws and the ball.''

This season, the NCAA put an added emphasis on calling flagrant fouls. What fans are seeing has been happening to some degree already.

Box scores from the NCAA tournament don't include flagrant fouls, but there sure seems to be an uptick in calls - or at least in looking at flagrants.

Most of the criticism of the rule has come from calls on offensive players.

In a second-round game between Pittsburgh and Wichita State on Thursday, Pitt's Lamar Patterson was hit with a flagrant foul after he cleared out with his elbow on a drive to the basket and caught the Shockers' Ron Baker in the face.

Marquette's Trent Lockett was assessed a Flagrant 1 against Butler on Saturday when he raised his elbow and whacked Butler's Alex Barlow on the chin.

McDermott's flagrant foul also was called while he had the ball.

"The Flagrant 1 on Doug McDermott is more evidence that this rule needs to be changed,'' ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said on Twitter. "Ridiculous.''

Not every flagrant foul has been vehemently opposed.

Cal's Justin Cobbs was hit for a Flagrant 1 on a hard foul against UNLV's Bryce Dejean-Jones in their second-round game and Wichita State's Ehimen Orukpe was hit with another for elbowing Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk on Saturday. Syracuse's Brandon Triche also was called for a flagrant foul for swinging his elbows and catching Montana's Jordan Gregory on the nose in a second-round game.

What bothers coaches, in particular, is the inconsistency in the calls, especially on the offensive end.

"I don't like the rule, but the coaches voted it in, so I guess I'm guilty of having it in place,'' Greg McDermott said.

And it will be there until the NCAA tournament is over, so he, and the rest of us, better get used to it.


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