I guess I have to start getting used to this.

Tuesday brought another ugly-ass road game for KU, this time in their visit to Oklahoma. The Jayhawks pissed away a 12-point lead in the second half, gave up a 20–2 run, saw their best player get injured early and go 34 minutes without scoring a point, made countless unforced errors while trying to come back, but, thanks to Christian Braun’s biggest shot of the year, escaped with a win.

There is some hope that the occasional game in Allen Fieldhouse will produce aesthetically pleasing basketball, like the second half of Saturday’s beatdown of West Virginia. But every single road game is going to be an absolute slog.

Some of that is defense, and commentators around the country are raving about what a tough, defensive league the Big 12 is.

That’s true, there are a lot of good defenses in the conference. That doesn’t fully explain why games in the Big 12 are so ugly.

The biggest factor is that referees have largely stopped calling fouls. It’s not like Big 12 teams are hiding in zones or playing passive man-to-man D. No, they are in each other’s jerseys most of the time. And grabbing. And holding. And riding guys out of position. There is no cutter that doesn’t get bumped. There is no guard trying to turn a corner that doesn’t have a hand on his hip. And refs just stand there and watch it.

Well, until the get a chance to call a charge. Which they jump all over.

Looking back through some Big 12 box scores – extremely small sample size warning – there is the occasional game with both teams over 20 fouls. But in almost every game I reviewed at least one, and often both teams, max out between 12 and 14 fouls for the game. Saturday Kansas State and Texas Tech played an intense, physical game. There were 22 total fouls called in the game.

Twenty two! In a game where every attempt to get close to the rim was like trench warfare.[1]

I don’t know if referees are overwhelmed by the physical aspects of the game – call it the Bob Huggins factor – and don’t want to blow the whistle on every play. No one wants that. But a few early calls can force teams to adjust and make the rest of the game less of a wrestling match and more of a basketball game. The lack of calls makes good defensive teams get hyper aggressive, knowing they won’t be penalized for it. It doesn’t punish weaker defensive teams (like KU) for relying on grabbing and pulling when their overall effort is poor.

Good defense involves moving your feet, beating your man to the spot, and being tougher than your opponent. When you grab and hold, that’s not good D. That’s lazy.

Until the refs remember they were supposed to clean up the game and allow more player movement four years ago, we’re going to be stuck with these ugly-ass games.

  1. I must admit I only saw the first half.  ↩