Hat tip to “Cheezdoodle” for posting a link to this in the free hoops forum. This preview by “DraftExpress” is, according to another poster, as in-depth as preview come.

Looking beyond the fact that they misspelled Scheyer’s first name as “John” rather than “Jon,” the preview does appear thorough if nothing else.

Now here is the segment that will get the most attention from this preview:

I’ve always believed Duke gets a significant advantage from the stripes, but that it comes from what the Blue Devils are allowed to get away with rather than unfairly tight officiating on offensive end. As everybody knows, Duke is a team that ought to commit a lot of fouls. The Blue Devils are constantly tapping and reaching, disrupting opposing offenses to the point where in 2006 they led the ACC in A/FGM defense and finished second in the ACC in steals. Coach K also leaned heavily on Shelden Williams’ shot altering abilities, allowing his guards to gamble constantly and resulting in plenty of violent collisions around the basket.

The author goes on to contend that the fact that Duke’s opponents shot relatively few free throws, while Duke shot “a ton” is evidence of the fact that the Blue Devils have some sort of advantage with regards to the referees at arms.

He assures his readers that he’s not “trying to drag Coach K and his program through the mud over the officiating issues,” but then concludes that after having reviewed tape of many of last season’s games, “to say that there aren’t times when the Blue Devils get away with murder isn’t a defensible viewpoint.”

Whenever issues like this come up, it is wise to revisit the terrific Al Featherston’s DBR column from a year ago, when he blew any and all Duke conspiracy theories out of the water. And he goes a little beyond reviewing game tapes to support his conclusions–he gets actual evidence, which is how journalists are supposed to do their work.

Over the long course of a season, are the officials biased toward Duke?

A year ago, I did a study for the ACC Sports Journal, trying to track officiating bias in the ACC. I crunched a lot of numbers and talked to a lot of people to see if the widespread perception of pro-Duke officiating bias had any basis in fact.

Let me summarize what those numbers showed. To get a scientific breakdown, I measured free throw differential in all ACC regular season games over a 10-year period (1995-2004). By measuring differential, it eliminated the bias that tempo can inject (teams that play faster commit more fouls, but also are fouled more often). By sticking to conference games, I kept the same officiating pools and eliminated the differences that could crop up because of varying strength of schedules. Since the ACC played a balanced schedule in those years, I got a fair home and home balance.

I don’t have time to update the study for the last year and a half, but here’s what I found for the previous 10 years:

* The home team usually gets the calls: A sample of 20 different teams from five different seasons shows that every single one had a better FT differential at home than on the road. The 20-team average was 80.5 more free throws a season at home than on the road _ an average of almost exactly five free throws a game.

* The best teams get the calls: This shows up two ways. Over the 10 years studied, the relationship between ACC finish and FT differential is nearly a perfect curve (note: in cases where there was a tie in the standings, the FT differential was averaged and used for both positions):

The 10 first place teams averaged a plus 95.5 differential. That means that teams that won or tied for the ACC regular season title averaged shooting 95.5 more free throws per ACC season than their opponents shot against them _ that’s an average of almost six more free throws a game.

Second place: plus 49.9
Third place: plus 23.4
Fourth place: plus 14.2
Fifth place: minus 5.2
Sixth place: minus 34.3
Seventh place: minus 46.6
Eighth place: minus 44.1
Ninth place: minus 56.3
We get similar results when we compare various ACC records with FT differential:

16-0 (one team): plus 126
15-1 (three teams): plus 113.3
14-2 (no teams)
13-3 (eight teams): plus 90.3
12-4 (six teams): plus 64.2
11-5 (six teams): plus 18.7
10-6 (four teams): plus 14.0
9-7 (10 teams): plus 21.7
8-8 (six teams): minus 13.0
7-9 (10 teams): minus 20.9
6-10 (12 teams): minus 32.1
5-11 (nine teams): minus 62.1
4-12 (nine teams): minus 50.2
3-13 (four teams): minus 21.5
2-12 (two teams): minus 80.0
There are a couple of blips that I would attribute to the small size of the sample _ 9-7 teams have a slightly better differential than 10-6 teams and 3-13 teams have almost exactly the same differential as 7-9 teams! Still, the breakdown shows what we would expect _ on the whole, the better teams have a better FT differential.

So how does this apply to Duke and the perception that the Devils benefit from an officiating bias?

When I broke down the numbers by team, I found that over the 10 years of the study, Duke had the second-best FT differential (a cumulative plus 473), behind UNC (plus 542). Over the last five years of the study, Duke has the best FT differential (plus 333), ahead of Wake Forest (plus 176) and UNC (plus 168).

But Duke also has the best ACC record over both spans. Was Duke really getting the benefit of the whistles or were the FT numbers what you’d expect for such a successful team?

When I compared Duke’s yearly FT numbers and its yearly finish and measured that against the ACC average, a surprising pattern became clear.

Duke finished first in the ACC six times in the 10 years of the study. As I noted, the ACC average for first-place teams was a plus 95.5 FT differential. Duke was better than that twice _ in 1999 and 2000. Duke was below the average four times. The Devils also finished second twice _ both times with FT differentials below the ACC average for second-place finishers. And in its fourth-place finish in 1996, Duke was at minus 36 _ well below the ACC average.

That’s seven times in 10 years that Duke’s FT differential was LESS than expected.

If you compare FT differential with ACC records, Duke shows up above the ACC average just once in its top seven seasons _ in 2000 (although there’s no comparison for Duke’s 16-0 mark in 1999).

The study did show that there may be something to Gary Williams’ constant griping. Maryland finished below the expected FT differential six times in the 10 years, including 1999, when a 13-3 team was at minus 39, and in 2000 when an 11-5 team was at minus 50. Those are the two most out-of-whack FT differential numbers in the study.

So who was getting the calls, if not Duke or Maryland?

Wake Forest is one team that has accumulated better FT numbers than its record would predict, especially in the last two years of the study. And while not covered in the study, the Deacons finished last year with the best FT differential in ACC play (plus 107), just ahead of UNC (plus 100) and well ahead of Duke (plus 73).

But the one team that had the most consistently impressive numbers in the study was North Carolina, which surpassed its expected FT differential in the seven straight seasons. Here’s one interesting tidbit to chew on: over the last five seasons of the study, UNC and N.C. State had exactly the same 40-40 ACC record. UNC’s FT differential over that span was plus 168 … N.C. State’s was minus 75.

Maybe the era of “Carolina refs” is not dead.

The feedback I got from the people I talked during my research was interesting. I talked to four former ACC officials, who all agreed that while there was no bias toward Duke, the atmosphere in Cameron and Krzyzewski’s sideline demeanor could provide the Devils with an advantage.

“There is a perception out there that the floor is uneven at Cameron,” one former ACC official said. “There is probably a group who feel that [former ACC director of officials Fred Barakat] is so powerful because he makes the schedules and because they know that Fred Barakat and Mike Krzyzewski are very close. The strong ones stand up to it, but the younger refs … it’s got to affect them.”

But when asked if there was a pro-Duke officiating bias, another former ACC official said: “It’s always bias in the eyes of the beholder. It depends on who you root for.”

That doesn’t stop the conspiracy theories. For instance, I asked one very well-known official if there was bias in the ACC officiating: “I can’t answer that,” he said. “I would question why one ref has so many Duke games. Whether there is any validity to it or not, perception is reality. Other coaches are going to have their suspicions.”

This official pointed out that one official worked 11 Duke games in the 2003-04 season.

“I won’t tell you his name,” the official said. “But check it out. That will open your eyes.”

Well, it did check out. Karl Hess worked 11 Duke games during the 2003-04 season.

The only trouble, it’s hard to see where Hess’ heavy Blue Devil workload fits into the Duke conspiracy theory. Three of his Duke games were non-conference games that weren’t competitive. In the eight ACC games he worked _ six regular season and two in the ACC Tournament _ Duke was 5-3. In the 11 ACC games he didn’t work that year, Duke was 10-1. Hess called technicals on Krzyzewski in both Duke’s loss to Georgia Tech in Durham and 10 days later, when the Devils beat Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

Hess also worked the ACC title game when four Duke players fouled out and the Terps out-shot the Devils 44-31 from the free throw line.

Is that supposed to be evidence of a pro-Duke conspiracy?

That’s the trouble with a lot of conspiracy claims _ they don’t stand up to scrutiny. Reggie Cofer worked the second-most Duke games in 2003-04 (eight), but the same referee who suggested that Hess’ heavy workload indicated something also said, “Reggie is one of the refs who isn’t influenced by Krzyzewski’s act.”

So who is pulling the strings of this conspiracy?