Michigan basketball head coach Juwan Howard slapped Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft upside the head during an altercation after Sunday’s game.
In what should have been a great day for Wisconsin basketball, routing Michigan 77-63, Howard was allegedly upset because he thought Wisconsin Head Coach Greg Gard broke an unwritten rule of basketball unnecessarily. After Gard appears to grab Howard’s arm, more players, coaches and staff get involved up until the moment Howard hits Krabbenhoft.
The squabble that ensued resulted in the suspension of Howard, who will not be allowed to coach the reminder of the team’s regular-season games and will receive a $40,000 fine. Wolverine players Terrance Williams II and Moussa Diabate were also suspended for one game due to their roles in the altercation.
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Greg Gard received a $10,000 fine for violation of the Big Ten’s “conference’s sportsmanship policy.” Wisconsin junior guard Jahcobi Neath is suspended for one game.
“Big Ten Conference coaches and student-athletes are expected to display the highest level of sportsmanship conduct,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren in a statement. “Our expectation is that the incident yesterday will provide our coaches and student-athletes with the opportunity to reflect, learn and move forward in a manner that demonstrates decorum and leadership on and off of the court.”
Situations like this require some knowledge of the unwritten rules to fully understand what happened, so let’s get into it.
General courtesy in modern basketball suggests that when a team knows they are going to win a game, and they have possession of the ball, they should let the clock run out. You shouldn’t “show up” your opponents by scoring more points unnecessarily. Almost every team in the NCAA and NBA will put in their subs to prevent injury to star players, and let teammates who barely get playing time the chance to put up a shot or two up, if necessary. Similarly, the opposing defense should let you run out the clock without much competition, since the rest of the game doesn’t matter.
So with 15 seconds left in the game and the Badgers up 14 points, Wisconsin’s bench players should have easily been able to cross half court and run out the clock. But here lies the start of the issue — even though the game was plenty out of reach for Michigan, Howard elected to keep two of his starters in, two rotation players, and one true “bench” player.
They were playing press defense in an attempt to take the ball and score more garbage time points. During an inbound play, Michigan was able to knock a ball out-of-bounds, only leaving Wisconsin with four seconds to cross half court. Not wanting to put his bench players in an even worse position, Gard called a timeout to reset the amount of time his team has to cross half court.
Sure, it definitely wasn’t a necessary move on Gard’s part, but it was equivalent to the petty press style of basketball that Howard’s team was playing with no time on the shot clock. Howard seemingly did not think that the two actions were equal.
Howard attempted to walk past Gard without shaking his hand after the game and told him “I’ll remember that s***.” Gard puts his hand on Howard’s elbow in an attempt to talk to him. Howard immediately gets defensive and grabs a fistful of Gard’s shirt while repeating “Don’t f***ing touch me.”
After the game in Gard’s press conference, he tried to explain why he first touched Howard: “I said ‘hold on, let me explain to you why I took the timeout.’ Maybe he doesn’t know the rule.” I don’t think Gard thought that Howard didn’t know the rule, as both are extremely smart basketball minds who coach at one of the highest levels in the world. In reality, Gard probably felt disrespected that Howard didn’t shake his hand and wanted to talk it out. But I don’t think Gard was trying to instigate a physical altercation. Tangent aside, let’s get back to what happened.
At the point where Howard grabs Gard, many other players and coaches start to notice. Plenty of them try to step in to either break up the fight or defend their respective head coaches. One of those people was Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft, who looked to be in a verbal altercation with Howard but was separated by various Michigan and Wisconsin staffers. All of the sudden Howard takes a swing at Krabbenhoft and hits him upside the head. Immediately players for Wisconsin and Michigan start swinging at each other to defend their coaches. These players include Jahcobi Neath, Terrence Williams II, and Moussa Diabate. Eventually the two sides get separated and everyone heads back to their respective locker rooms.
This is not the first time Howard has displayed issues regarding his behavior in heated matches. In March 2021, Howard received two technical fouls and was ejected from a game against Maryland. He clashed with Terps head coach Mark Turgeon, in which Howard told him “I’m gonna f***ing kill you.”
Howard, Gard, and Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh all spoke at the post game press conferences. “[I’ve] been in contact with the league… I expect the league is going to act swiftly and aggressively,” McIntosh said.
“At that point [the point where Gard grabbed his elbow] it was time to protect myself,” Howard said. “It wasn’t [about him pressing with 15 seconds left], it was just [the] five pressure defense.”
In my opinion, the funniest part of this entire altercation was the fact that both head coaches seem to think that the fan bases are not smart enough to discern what actually caused the fight. For Gard to claim that Howard might not have known that timeout rule, or for Howard to claim that he wasn’t pressing at the end of the game, is just sad. I think it would have been a better look for both programs, coaches, and the Big Ten as a whole if they just both took responsibility and moved on. But that isn’t the world we live in today. So beyond the sanction measures already in place, what is going to happen moving forward?
Many people are calling for Howard to be fired. The University of Michigan preaches the idea of being a “Michigan Man,” especially among their coaches. That idea corresponds with being classy and respectful. Howard in recent years has not shown the ability to do that. If you mix in the cultural values that Michigan wants to instill in their programs, alongside the super disappointing season from Howard’s team, it’s not unreasonable to think that Howard might get fired.
More realistically, I think Howard’s main punishment will remain his suspension for the remainder of the season. When Michigan enters the NIT or the March Madness Tournament, he will be allowed to coach again. As these incidents do happen in heated environments, you don’t want to overreact as a school and immediately fire him. But Michigan’s athletic director Warde Manuel must ask himself what type of role model he wants guiding the university’s student athletes and what would be best for the program in the long run.
Personally, I was shocked anyone on Wisconsin got reprimanded for this altercation. The only person who I suspected could be suspended was Jahcobi Neath, and since he was, the Big Ten had to also suspend Terrence Williams II and Moussa Diabate, which is a much more impactful loss for the Wolverines than the Badgers.
What else is in store for the Badgers and the Wolverines in the aftermath of the conference’s decision isn’t clear, but one thing remains certain — the bar for sportsmanship remains high in the Big Ten.
“Many members of the bench area for both teams, including assistant coaches, did not represent the level of sportsmanship that is expected from the Big Ten Conference and its member institutions,” the Big Ten said in a statement.