Duke Basketball: Referees didn’t know how to officiate Zion Williamson

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after being called for a foul in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after being called for a foul in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The season is officially over and after 33 games on the floor for the Duke Basketball team, the referees still didn’t know how to officiate Zion Williamson.

To those who are not Duke fans and are reading this post, it’s going to sound like an article from a Duke site complaining about the referees and there are a reason why the Blue Devils lost in the Elite 8.

That is not what this article is about because the reason Duke lost was its inability to hit free throws, 3-pointers, and the constant turnovers on Sunday, however,  there are some strong anti-Duke fans who you will never be able have an intellectual conversation about basketball with because they hate Duke so much.

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Despite all that, this article needs to be written because it has been true all season and now that the season is over it’s time to formally address it.

Referees throughout college basketball had no idea how to officiate Zion Williamson because he is so big and strong and can absorb the contact while in the air instead of immediately falling to the ground.

Listed at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, there was no comparison for Zion Williamson in college basketball this season, and for the most part, in the history of college basketball.

Williamson was so unique in his size and skillset and the officials never adjusted to him and recognized his strength while he was in and around the paint.

The only possible comparison for Williamson in terms of being officiated is LeBron James, because the two are so physically dominant and gifted in their respective sports, they get fouled on almost every single play.

There are just so many plays to choose from this season, but we will pick some of the obvious ones, starting with Sunday against Michigan State.

Xavier Tillman is clearly grabbing the back of the jersey of Williamson, (you can see the separation of the No. 1 from his back) late in the second half. This play was one of the 17 turnovers Duke had on the day.

Without the hold from Tillman, Williamson catches the ball and lays the ball in the basket, maybe all in one motion, but if not, he definitely comes down and goes back up for a dunk, which would have given Duke a 61-60 lead.

Williamson doesn’t go down on the play, although he almost does after Tillman climbs on his back after the hold, because he is so strong and doesn’t fall down on the slightest bit on contact.

Next we will move to the ACC Tournament when Duke played North Carolina.

Zion Williamson driving to the basket gets met with good defense from Nassir Little, but on the rebound attempt, Williamson is clearly hit across the arm from Luke Maye, but Zion is still able to absorb the contact and finish at the rim, which ended up being the game winning basket.

If Maye it another player and that play fell to the floor, a foul almost certainly would have been called, but with Zion, no chance before a hit on the arm will not cause a 285 pound man to fall, but in the rules of basketball, it’ still a foul.

Another example we will stay in the same game, but go to a point earlier in the second half.

Duke led 57-56 with just under 11 minutes to go. Tre Jones split defenders and found Williamson on the baseline.

Zion took one dribble and went up for a reverse dunk and made it.

On his way up for the dunk, Williamson was smacked on the arm by Garrison Brooks, it knocked Williamson off balance as he fell to the floor after the dunk, but there was no call.

To watch the play, skip to the 0:26 mark in the video below.

The last example that we will use, in the so many that are possible is in Duke’s first matchup against Florida State in Tallahassee.

This might have been the most egregious no-call of the season on Williamson.

Duke led by 38-33 with just under a minute and half left in the first half. Williamson attempted to drive to the basket, but was met by resistance by two Seminole defenders, with some help from the hands of Trent Forrest.

Forrest went for the steal on Zion, but missed the ball and got Williamson square in the eye.

Not only did Zion Williamson turn the ball over, he went down in a heap of pain and there was still no foul called.

If that wasn’t enough, Williamson obviously had to exit the game at the time of the injury and he missed the entire second half.

To see that non-call, skip to the 1:42 point in the below video.

There are just some examples of the many non-calls on Zion Williamson this season. And again, these non-calls were not the reason that Duke was eliminated in the Elite 8 against Michigan State, but it shows the inability of referees in college basketball to adapt to the players and truly watch for and call fouls instead recognizing a flop and whistling a bail-out, bogus foul.