The Open Man Q&A: Hoop Talk and Future 30-for-30 Ideas

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The early portion of December marks a transitional period in the sports calendar. College football’s regular season, save the Army-Navy Game, reached its conclusion, and there’s a brief lull before the deluge of bowl games. The end of the NFL season brings with it interesting playoff jockeying, but some lower quality football with mathematically eliminated clubs tanking.

We are now unofficially into true Basketball Season. Some college conferences have shockingly already tipped league play, and with a month’s worth of regular-season games complete, we have some sense of how March could shape up. It’s no secret for regular visitors to The Open Man that I am an advocate for the NBA season to tip off on Christmas, as it already feels like the unofficial beginning of the pro season.

With basketball earnestly at the forefront of the sports stage, this week’s Q&A gets heavy into hoops. Let’s get started.

Though to me, it still feels early into the college basketball season, teams have been playing for about a month. That’s one-quarter of the regular season already in the books. While conference play is certainly vital for a team’s NCAA Tournament prospects, sporting a sub-.500 record at this juncture suggests a team would have to win its automatic bid to have a shot at the Big Dance.

There are a small handful of teams with sub.-500 records at present I can envision regrouping to make the Field of 68.

Wisconsin played an absolutely brutal schedule, hence the 4-6 record. Their losses are to UCLA, Baylor, Xavier, Virginia, Temple and a blowout conference loss to Ohio State. That’s the worst one both aesthetically, and in terms of KenPom metrics; the Buckeyes are No. 58 in the nation.

When your worst loss is to No. 58, you’re not in bad shape. In fact, the Badgers sit at No. 47 in KenPom rankings. So long as they get it together in Big Ten play and reach 20 wins, they should be fine. Ethan Happ needs a more consistent secondary scorer to emerge alongside him; Khalil Iverson is my candidate to add a spark.

As far as at-large contenders, the Badgers are pretty much the only team sitting below .500 I see having a realistic shot; maybe Vanderbilt, but the Commodores will struggle in a top-to-bottom tough SEC. A handful of low-major programs will win their conferences’ auto-bids despite current sub-.500 marks, though. It’s actually a guarantee in the SWAC, where every team is below .500.

The conference’s best squad — Texas Southern — is winless. Despite this, the lumps the Tigers take now will benefit them come conference play.

This is a complicated question, because some of the rivalries I associate with Big East programs always spanned conferences. I consider Temple to be Villanova’s chief basketball rival. Cincinnati was a Big East member briefly, and its primary rival, Xavier, occupies the Big East now. These are still fantastic basketball rivalries.

In terms of in-conference rivalries, however, the short answer is yes.

I associated two series in particular with the Big East during my formative years following the game: Syracuse-Georgetown, and Syracuse-UConn. The Orange leaving for the ACC, and UConn subsequently parting for the American Athletic Conference, took some of the luster after those rivalries, but conference realignment coincided with downturns for these programs.

For Syracuse and UConn to play in a week with a relatively empty sports stage and it barely register speaks to the sad state of Connecticut basketball. Syracuse isn’t the power it had been throughout the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, either, barely making the NCAA Tournament in 2016 (though going on a Final Four run) and missing the field last year.

Ask which wrestlers had the best theme songs, and the answers often repeat: Shawn Michaels, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, more recently Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode and A.J. Styles. However, there are a number of wrestling themes I love that don’t get enough love. It could be because he was my A-1 favorite wrestler and the performer I most credit for getting me into wrestling, but I always enjoyed Bret Hart’s theme.

I also have to give it up for D’Lo Brown — and it wasn’t just his theme that was underrated. D’Lo was a tremendous talent who I feel could have been a solid upper-card mainstay in the vein of Christian or Rey Misterio.

Having never seen LiAngelo Ball in meaningful competition, it’s unfair for me to judge without noting my projection is shaped by the evaluations I have read. That stated, it seems to be the universal belief that he’s simply not an NBA talent.

Lonzo Ball came to UCLA and instantly took the reins, and he elevated the play of those around him. LaMelo Ball gained notoriety for his 3-point shooting. LiAngelo really never cultivated any clear reputation at either Chino Hills, nor on the AAU circuit.

He could spend a year training exclusively, or playing overseas, but it seems unlikely he’d be drafted, given the turmoil that has reportedly surfaced with LaVar Ball and Lonzo’s Lakers.

Fittingly, Steve added the caveat no Ball family. I am good with that.

30 for 30 has become so entrenched in sports culture, social media buzzes about ongoing situations based on their worthiness for one of these ESPN-produced documentaries. It’s almost reached the point of becoming cliche.

However, the current situation that engendered immediate calls for a 30 for 30, and that I think everyone can agree is tailor-made for it, is the FBI probe into college basketball recruiting improprieties. To that same end, and going back into basketball’s past, we are overdo for an in-depth examination of the point-shaving scandals of the 20th Century; namely Long Island in the 1950s, and Boston College in the 1970s. The latter has ties to Goodfellas.

A less obvious 30 for 30 option is the Rise and Fall of Texas Football. This one might be difficult to pull off, given ESPN’s partnership with the University of Texas in the Longhorn Network. Surely, UT brass would anticipate, if not outright demand, input in its creation.

An unfettered crew could produce a really fascinating look into how one of the blue bloods of college football hit such a steep decline without any kind of major scandal explaining it.

Wrestling is so perfect for a filmmaker, in part because the product is already a theatrical performance of sorts. However, I can understand 30 for 30 not wanting to get into too many wrestling-centric topics, as it’s a niche audience. Ric Flair was perfect because his popularity transcended the genre.

That said, Antonio Inoki would be perfect for 30 for 30. There’s a more mainstream appeal in that he came stateside for an exhibition match with Muhammad Ali, and was a prominent figure in the rise of MMA in Japan.

Easy: 1982’s The Thing.

John Carpenter ranks among my favorite filmmakers, and The Thing might be my favorite of his work. It’s a legitimately unsettling and terrifying horror film with excellent performances, and the special effects of the alien hold up 35 years later. What’s more, this is Kurt Russell at his best.

Mike Leach’s flirtations with Tennessee — to a point that it seemed he already had the job — should have direct and profound impact on Washington State’s search for an athletic director. While there was chatter about Leach following Bill Moos to Nebraska, there is nothing to suggest that was anything more than pontificators making easy connections. The Tennessee rumblings were far more concrete. 

Washington State football already has the lingering discussion around Alex Grinch, who I credit for Mike Leach even still being at Washington State to this point. Had the Cougars defense not turned around so dramatically in 2015, Grinch’s first year, it’s likely Washington State finished under .500 for the fourth straight year and Leach is shown the door. 

Grinch’s success has made him a popular name on lists of rising head coaching candidates. Now you add the possibility of Leach looking elsewhere, and it puts the next athletic director in a tenuous spot. Washington State needs an AD who will either commit to keeping the positive trajectory of the program under Leach in tact — or one who has a clear-cut plan for replacing Leach. 

John Currie may be maligned among the zealous Tennessee fan base, but he thrived at Kansas State. Manhattan and Pullman might be two of the more comparable Power Five locations. Given his apparent connection to Leach, Currie could be a sensible replacement for Moos. 

Otherwise, Leach’s flirtations outside the Palouse make it clear that football is the new AD’s top priority — even more so than for your typical hire.