The 2017 national championship between North Carolina and Gonzaga was supposed to be an up-and-down display of beautiful offensive basketball. Instead, it was arguably the ugliest game of the tournament. Each team committed 22 fouls, each team shot 26 free throws, and they combined to shoot 12-of-46 (26.1 percent) from three-point range.
Many fans felt that the officials called too many fouls and, by doing so, disrupted the flow of the game.
“Yeah, it was odd,” former Tar Heels player and current East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “I thought it was a very physical game first of all. They’re typically very hard to officiate. Both teams had terrific size inside and athleticism, but I saw more fouls and three-point shots in one game than I’ve seen in a long time. It really disrupted a little bit the flow of the game, but sometimes games look like that. You’d like to see a little bit better flow in a national championship game. But overall, I thought (it was) tough to watch, not a lot of great shooting, a lot of stoppage of play. But you got to win them ugly sometimes.”
North Carolina did, 71-65.
As Brian Jones observed, though, officials tend to let players play at this stage of the tournament, especially when there’s no history of bad blood between the two programs.
“They sure do,” Lebo said. “I think the natural reaction of the official is to not call so much, so (it was) a little surprising. Those guys are good officials. They’re the best that we have, to get a chance to referee in those games. But there was a lot of stoppage, a lot of whistles, a lot of foul shots.”
Lebo, 50, played for North Carolina from 1985-89 and has been an assistant or head coach at East Tennessee State, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Tennessee Tech, Chattanooga, Auburn and now East Carolina. While officials are often criticized, Lebo thinks that the vast majority of games he has coached have been officiated well.
“I do,” he said. “I do. I think the officials work awfully hard, even behind the scenes all the things that they have to do and how much they study the game and have to watch it and watch film. They work as hard as the players, as hard as the coaches do. It’s the hardest game to try to officiate. It’s difficult. I try to do it in practice sometimes when I do it with my team, and it’s brutal trying to officiate a game. The game is so physical, you could call something (every play). You really have to have a good feel. I think that’s the most important thing to me as an official. I always have a problem with guys calling things that didn’t happen – and you see that happen all the time. I can understand things that happen that you let go, but I don’t understand calling things that actually didn’t happen when you run the replay. I think as coaches, that’s what we worry about more than anything.”
Lebo added that he has no problem with officials using the monitor to ensure that the right call is made.
“I do like it in the last minute or two of a game,” he said. “I really don’t mind it. The last couple minutes of the game, to get a call right, I think, is really important.”