Halfway through his postgame tirade about the lopsided officiating in his team’s loss at Kansas, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins fielded an intriguing question.
Was it merely an aberration that Kansas shot 35 free throws on Saturday night compared to two for West Virginia? Or did the free throw disparity reflect that the Jayhawks often get too many calls at home because Big 12 referees are afraid to draw the wrath of the crowd at Allen Fieldhouse?
“I don’t think that has anything to do with it,” Huggins told reporters in Lawrence.
“If it does, then we need to find other guys to come in here. If they’re intimidated by the building, they probably shouldn’t come in here.”
Whether Kansas receives an especially favorable whistle at home has long been a subject of fervent debate in Big 12 circles. Opponents have complained about not getting calls at Allen Fieldhouse since before the Jayhawks’ streak of 13 consecutive Big 12 titles even began.
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber has been especially vocal since a game last season at Kansas when Svi Mykhailiuk got away with a blatant travel before his layup to beat the Wildcats at the buzzer. When Kansas State lost another tight game at Allen Fieldhouse last month, Weber again blamed the referees, telling reporters, “I’m really disappointed in some of the calls. But we were all here last year, and same thing.”
Former longtime Texas coach Rick Barnes echoed Weber’s comments after his Tennessee team lost at Missouri earlier this season. Asked if he had ever seen a team finish a half with only two fouls before, he quipped, “Every time we went to Kansas, yeah, that happened.”
To assess whether the perception that Kansas receives preferential treatment from Big 12 refs is reality or merely sour grapes, Yahoo Sports examined the free throw disparity in Jayhawks’ games throughout their league title streak. What that revealed is that Kansas draws fouls better than most teams everywhere it plays but the Jayhawks do have a modest advantage at home.
Kansas has attempted 532 more free throws than its opponents in Big 12 games at Allen Fieldhouse since the start of the 2004-05 season, the equivalent of 4.55 extra foul shots per game during that span. College basketball statistics guru Ken Pomeroy told Yahoo Sports that home teams across the sport have shot an average of 2.35 more free throws per game than road teams in conference play since he began compiling the statistic in 2002.
Of course, Kansas is also well above the national average at drawing fouls in conference road games. Pomeroy said the Jayhawks have shot only 0.28 less free throws per game than their opponents since 2002 while on the road in Big 12 play.
“They are good at drawing fouls everywhere, but they do have an advantage at home,” Pomeroy said. “I have a model that measures a team’s home court advantage and it says that KU has had the 38th best home foul advantage in recent seasons. So they do get a favorable whistle, but not necessarily the best in the country.”
Kansas’ free throw disparity at home has been unusually large the past two seasons when the Jayhawks have abandoned their traditional bruising two big man lineup in favor of a four-guard look. A Kansas team that aggressively attacked the basket off the dribble last season shot 11.6 more free throws per game at Allen Fieldhouse than visiting Big 12 opponents. The Jayhawks are more 3-point-oriented so far this season, but they still have attempted 9.6 more foul shots per game at Allen Fieldhouse than visiting Big 12 opponents.
Those numbers are strikingly different from Kansas’ free throw disparity away from home the past two seasons. The Jayhawks shot less than one more free throw per game than their opponents on the road in Big 12 play last season. This season, they’re shooting nearly two free throws per game fewer than their opponents on the road in Big 12 play.
Former college basketball coach Fran Fraschilla has called Big 12 games as an ESPN analyst for many years. Fraschilla said the favorable calls Kansas receives at home are no different than those Kentucky, Duke, Arizona or other elite teams get in their buildings.
“When you play in a tough environment on the road against a team that is very good and has great fan support, it’s human nature on the part of some officials to get caught up in the atmosphere of the game,” Fraschilla said. “It’s no different at Kansas than it is at other places. There’s a small segment of officials who don’t want to be booed.”
The referees who drew Huggins ire on Saturday night were a pair of veterans with experience calling Final Four games. John Higgins and Jamie Luckie gave Huggins back-to-back technicals for arguing a no-call in the final seconds of a game the Mountaineers squandered despite leading by as many as 12 midway through the second half.
The sequence that made Huggins irate occurred with less than 20 seconds remaining and West Virginia trailing by four. Daxter Miles attacked the rim and appeared to draw contact from Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, but none of the referees blew their whistle. Azubuike was credited with a clean block and Malik Newman finished the play with a game-clinching layup.
When Huggins arrived at his postgame news conference, he was still fuming about the blown call and the foul disparity. He wondered aloud why Higgins and Luckie didn’t have to field questions from reporters the way he and his players do.
“Officials want to be part of the game, but they don’t want to be part of the game that has to answer,” Huggins said. “Why aren’t they in here answering your questions?”
In the Big 12’s most notoriously officiated building, it only seems fair.
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