John Higgins is not good at his job.
In fact, John Higgins is terrible at his job.
Sunday night’s regional final in Memphis further proved that Higgins, one of the most recognizable officials in college basketball, should not be allowed to call Kentucky games. He has been on the whistle in eight Kentucky games throughout his career, and Kentucky has been on the losing end of five of them. For a program that has won almost 80 percent of its games, there is something fishy about a 37.5 percent winning percentage under one referee.
Furthermore, John Calipari is 2-4 with the Wildcats when Higgins is on the floor, compared to Cal’s 247-49 record in other games. Those four losses came against UConn in the 2011 Final Four, Wisconsin in the 2015 Final Four, UCLA at Rupp Arena back in December, and in Sunday night’s heartbreaker against the Tar Heels. In the latter, Higgins was trending nationally on Twitter during the first half of the horribly-called game:
— Rex Chapman (@rexchapman) March 27, 2017
Does John Higgins get region MOP?
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 26, 2017
— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) March 26, 2017
That's some great officiating right there…..
— Karl-Anthony Towns (@KarlTowns) March 26, 2017
Let’s take a look at some of the calls Higgins and his two partners in crime, Keith Kimble and Mike Reed, whiffed on in those first 20 minutes:
The De’Aaron Fox no-call
The most obvious of the bad calls of the game, this somehow didn’t send Fox to the foul line right before halftime:
All arm there.
The Bam Adebayo goaltending call
Kentucky was robbed of two points when a clean Bam Adebayo tip-in was waved off for phantom goaltending:
Kentucky could’ve used those two points in the end, huh?
Another two points were waved off on this over-the-back call on Bam:
That’s not an over-the-back foul. That is called hustle and second effort.
There were many more missed and bad calls throughout that first half, almost all leaning in North Carolina’s favor. The Derek Willis loose ball foul is another one that comes to mind, and then there’s this from Mike DeCourcy’s story for The Sporting News:
There were some curiosities, though, particularly with the first-half officiating. On three occasions, official John Higgins observed action and did not blow his whistle to call a foul on Kentucky until the outcome of the play turned in UK’s favor.
All of it led John Calipari to say in his press conference, “You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my whole team. Amazing that we had a chance.”
Cal also said he wishes he had his full roster in the first half against the Tar Heels.
With all that said, Kentucky still pulled ahead to a five-point lead with five minutes to go in the game, so the first half whistle isn’t the reason why the Cats lost. Kentucky lost because it needed more from De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk offensively, and because North Carolina is the best team in the country. Higgins’ whistle didn’t help UK’s chances, but the blame doesn’t fall on the guys in stripes.
Did they suck? Yes. Was it five on six in the first half? Yes. Is that an excuse? No. Blaming officials is never the way to go. But we can be critical of them, which is what I am doing right now.
Going forward, obviously, John Higgins should be kept far, far away from meaningful Kentucky games. I’m sure Calipari will do everything he can to make that happen.
But even if we never see Higgins again, he still played a starring role in three NCAA tournament exits in seasons with the title in reach.
He did this in the 2011 semifinal…
He blew the shot clock call in the 2014 semifinal…
And he kept his streak alive by ruining the first half of Sunday’s game…
No more John Higgins please.