Q&A: All-In; NCAA Tournament Upset Picks; All-Time March Performances


A week from today, we will all be waist-deep in NCAA Tournament action. It’s the best time of year to be a basketball fan, and the Madness of March is already afoot with conference tournaments ongoing.

The Open Man Q&A is rife with hardwood topics, so I won’t bore you any further with introductions. Just know that you can contribute by sending your questions on Twitter @kensing45 or @the_open_man. You can also email kyle@theopenman.com.

When projecting a potential Cinderella, evaluating historical precedent is vital. No. 12 seeds typically have historically had the greatest success advancing beyond the opening weekend, though No. 13s have had their share of good fortune in the modern (expansion to 64 teams, implementation of a shot clock and 3-point basket) era.

Referring to Bracketology, I narrowed my choices down to 12s and 13s. Joe Lunardi’s projections offered up some intriguing possibilities that meet other criteria. A team like Vermont has Big Dance experience, last year giving Purdue a handful in the First Round, and the Catamounts boast the kind of dynamic play-maker in Trae Bell-Haynes who can catch fire.

Ditto Zach Lofton at New Mexico State. The explosive guard is a terrific outside shooter who can also attack the basket — and with the athletic Jemerrio Jones patrolling the paint, the Aggies can cause problems both inside and out.

I prefer a team like New Mexico State with two equally adept scorers more than I do a squad like South Dakota State, which puts a considerable amount of its offensive responsibility on the shoulders of Mike Daum. Now, that said, Mike Daum’s capable of putting together the kind of singularly dominant performance Wally Szczerbiak used to power Miami (OH) to the 1999 Sweet 16.

But, the question asked for one potential Cinderella, and it’s none of the above, BRO.

Watch out for Ohio Valley Conference champion Murray State. The Racers pack a punch with an excellent Big 3: Jonathan Stark, the quintessential hot-handed guard capable of igniting a team to a few Tournament victories; Terrell Miller Jr., an absolute beast on the interior; and Ja Morant, who can score as capably as he distributes the ball. Opponents will be hard-pressed to match that balance.

I addressed this subject earlier in the week, though took a neutral approach presenting both the positives and negatives. My heart breaks for teams that win their regular season championship, only to be unceremoniously bounced from the NCAA Tournament in a game that exists largely for some TV exposure. Oakland missing the Tournament last season because of 9-win Youngstown State, and Northern Kentucky experiencing the same against Cleveland State seems to fly in the face of the automatic bid’s purpose.

The Tournament also suffers when it misses a team like Monmouth in 2016 — though I blame the selection committee more for its refusal to grant the Hawks an at-large bid.

However, if you abandon part A, then part B is irrelevant. What’s the purpose of a conference tournament if not to determine the automatic bid? It still works for power conferences, almost like a Bracket Buster in that it’s a ready-made opportunity for a bubble team to earn its way into the field. But do the power conferences really need another advantage?

Ultimately, though, I fall on the side of keeping the conference tournament as an automatic qualifier. My motivation’s selfish: Champ Week is one of the best times of year as a basketball fan. Conference tournaments also function as a snapshot of the NCAA Tournament. I appreciate that the NIT auto-invites regular-season champions, so there’s some safety net.

On the topic of power conferences already being granted advantages, I feel like the Quadrant System is another device that will only benefit programs in the marquee conferences. I certainly appreciate the effort made to provide quantifiable evidence to the process, but it could land Arizona State (8-11 in Pac-12 play during a down year) and Oklahoma (18-13 on a brutal skid) in the field. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I’m still in wait-and-see mode, but I will revisit this in next week’s Q&A, once the field is set.

Elijah Allen, 1998

No. 15 seed Fairleigh Dickinson fell short of joining the exclusive 15-over-2 Club, but not for lack of trying from Elijah Allen. He hung 43 points on UConn and shot a blistering 86 percent from behind the 3-point line.

Steph Curry, 2008

With all due respect to Kemba Walker in 2011, Steph Curry’s performance in the 2008 was the closest I have ever seen one player come to carrying his team to the Final Four. His 128-point run in the ’08 Tournament foreshadowed the revolutionary style Curry brought to the NBA.

Wally Szczerbiak, 1999

Speaking of one player willing his team to Tournament victory, Wally Szczerbiak scored 43 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots in a First Round win over Washington in 1999; Miami scored 59 total. Yes, Wally put up 43 of his team’s 59 points. 

He followed that up with 24 points in a second-round win over Utah, and 23 in a Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky. #FunFact: Utah and Kentucky both played in the previous season’s National Championship Game.

Arizona’s win over Kansas in 1997. Although the Wildcats needed to win three more games to claim a national championship — including two more over No. 1 seeds, and two in overtime — the Southeast Regional defeat of top-ranked Kansas in the Sweet 16 made a title feel like an inevitability.

That Kansas team was absolutely stacked, with Paul Pierce on the wing and the tandem of Raef Lafrentz and Scot Pollard down low. Michael Dickerson, the underrated star of Arizona’s national championship team, had the chops to match up with Pierce, but neutralizing the tandem post presence with the undersized frontcourt of A.J. Bramlett and Bennett Davison seemed a shaky prospect.

And yet, somehow, Arizona did it. In fact, this game provided an interest blueprint for the shift to a more perimeter-oriented game basketball experienced in the subsequent decade. Mike Bibby set the tone, picking up the Wildcats’ tempo and forcing Kansas to play a less physical brand of basketball.

I remember so many little details about this game, right down to it marking the first time Bibby wore the black-and-blue Nike Foamposites (pictured above). 

Jason Terry jumping into the air, tomahawking the game ball and leading a group of players to stand on the scorer’s table after the final horn is one of those images symbolic of the Tournament’s essence for me.

I’ll also tie this memory into a recent Twitter conversation: The NCAA’s decision to play all Tournament games on floors with the same look hurts the brand. The aqua-blue coloration of the BJCCC court only enhances my memory of this game — much in the same way the orange-white-blue theme of Boise State’s court cemented Tyus Edney’s coast-to-coast layup in my mind’s eye, or the purple of the former America West Arena gave a regal backdrop to Gonzaga’s first Cinderella run in 1999.

Ditch the sterile, corporate hardwood.

In a job where you either 1. have not yet accrued sick days or 2. lack the cachet to use any this early, you have to ask yourself a few key questions:

1. Is working remotely an option?

If you answered Yes, congratulations: You can spend two work days posted up on the couch with NCAA Tournament action on the TV and the laptop in reach. It’s not ideal — you’re still working and have obligations beyond watching basketball — but you lose no standing within your company, and don’t burn a sick day.

If you answered No, proceed to No. 2.

2. Do you envision a future with your employer, either long-term or short?

If you answered No, the NCAA Tournament isn’t just the most exciting sporting event of the year; it’s also the catalyst to motivate you out of a dead-end job. You can credit basketball for sending you on a new career path!

If you answered Yes, best to grit your teeth and sneak moments during the workday to check your phone for scores. However, if you did answer No, you are not entirely in the clear. Proceed to No. 3.

3. How desperately are you in need of the check, in case using a sick day costs you your job?

Taking a day off to watch the NCAA Tournament when you’re relatively new to a company is a risk. If you proceed, you must do so with the understanding it can get you a pink slip.

We’ve all worked jobs we hated for various reasons, but we keep them because, well, it’s a job. Good luck explaining to student loan collectors you don’t have their money because your cubicle-jockeying was crushing your soul.

I do believe that the independently financed All-In wrestling show will meet its goal of selling 10,000 — with the operative word being “selling.” There won’t be a need to paper the event with free giveaways, as the buzz Cody and the Young Bucks have built prior to having a city, venue or card announced is palpable.

Add the chosen location of Chicago, announced this week, and it’s perfect. Chicago has a rabid wrestling fan base, it’s a destination city for out-of-towners visitors and a holiday weekend welcomes such travelers.

All-In also falls at a point in the calendar in between the conclusion of the G1 Climax, and before the beginning of September’s Destruction, so I suspect New Japan Pro Wrestling talent outside of the gaijin circle may lend their names to the show.

Demand for these type of supershows is very real. Less than 10 months after running two outstanding shows in Long Beach, NJPW returns later this month at a much larger venue, and 6,000 tickets were sold out in less than an hour.

A multi-promotional supercard in the vein of the original Starrcade, or the Mid-South/Jim Crockett Promotions joint venture The Crockett Cup, might be able to fill a modestly sized stadium, or perhaps run a three-night event a la PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles in an arena.

NJPW would certainly help with that draw, but with Don Callis now heading up Impact and working with NJPW opens the door for Impact talent — and connection to its partners, like Mexico’s AAA and The Crash, and Japan’s Pro Wrestling NOAH.

Add talent from England’s RevPro, which works with NJPW, and almost the entirely wrestling globe (yes, GLOBE, Flip Gordon) is represented. It could function like a wrestling Olympics.

Bigger isn’t always necessarily better. I do appreciate the fact more fans will be able to see PWG live, but part of the promotion’s soul stems from its longtime home in Reseda. Should the Southern California promotion run one or two shows a year at a larger venue, in order to sell more tickets, great. But the American Legion in the Valley is so central to its identity, I’d hate to see PWG lose that.

There isn’t much I would need to alter for my ideal play-by-play team, as CBS and the Turner networks employ some of my very favorites: Ian Eagle, Kevin Harlan, and the Final Four team of Grant Hill, Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery is excellent. Raftery is a national treasure, and Nantz has become synonymous with the championship.

However, Nantz has held that distinction for almost three decades, so I say it’s time to freshen things up. I love Ian Eagle, so I’m adding him alongside Bill Raftery. I am keeping Grant Hill, but he splits semifinal Final Four duties with Chris Webber. I enjoy Webber’s enthusiasm on broadcasts, and I believe he and Raftery would feed off each other.