March Madness Mailbag!

Getty Images Trey Burke and Shawn Michaels

What better way to celebrate the upcoming Final Four than to bust out another mailbag? I again got a ton of great e-mails, and after sifting through all the ones that were some variation of “I’m a Kansas/Ohio State fan, and I need you to help talk me off the ledge,” I was left with these. Let’s talk a little college basketball, shall we?

While watching The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels cut a promo to hype the Brock/HHH match, I couldn’t help but wonder about his self-proclaimed nickname of “Mr. WrestleMania.” Even in professional wrestling, you would think one would have to have an outstanding record to warrant such a lofty nickname. But his record is 6-11, and this includes his matches while he served as the captain of the Rockers.

Is he only Mr. WrestleMania because he has competed at 17 of them? Surely it isn’t because of his win-loss record.

— Tim

OK, fine. I’ll take one WrestleMania question.

You’re not entirely wrong, Tim, but you’re certainly not right. If you look at things from a kayfabe perspective, Michaels is definitely pretty mediocre at Mania. As much as I loved the Rockers, I don’t consider HBK’s Mania career to have started until the WrestleMania X ladder match with Razor Ramon. That’s still my favorite Mania match of all time and was undoubtedly the first step toward HBK becoming Mr. WrestleMania. But even if you only count Mania matches from then on, he’s still just 4-8. That might be a good enough record in the Big Dance to get the head coaching job at UCLA, but it doesn’t seem like it should be good enough to earn the name “Mr. WrestleMania.” That’s why you’re not entirely wrong.

Here’s why you’re certainly not right, though: If you think back on each WrestleMania Michaels was in, if his match wasn’t your favorite, it was probably in the top three, at least. Nobody comes close to having a résumé of memorable Mania matches like HBK does. There’s the ladder match, the 60-minute Iron Man match with Bret Hart at WrestleMania XII, his return to WrestleMania against Chris Jericho at WM XIX, the triple-threat match with Chris Benoit and HHH at WrestleMania XX, the match that ended Ric Flair’s career (but not really) at WrestleMania XXIV, HBK–Taker I at WM XXV, and HBK–Taker II at WM XXVI. And that doesn’t even include his match with Kurt Angle at WrestleMania XXI, or when he jumped off a 15-foot ladder in the match with Vince McMahon at WrestleMania XXII. So, yeah, he might not have a great record, but Mr. WrestleMania most certainly deserves his nickname.

All right, now let’s get back to basketball.

What’s a bigger lock to occur this upcoming weekend (without talking actual betting odds): Louisville winning the national title or Undertaker beating CM Punk?

— Ben

My Final Four mailbag is turning into a WrestleMania mailbag, and I don’t mind nearly as much as I should. Anyway, the answer is Undertaker beating CM Punk, and it’s not even close. If Louisville were in the Final Four with three NAIA women’s teams, I’d still say Taker beating Punk would be the bigger lock.

Now can we please get to basketball questions?

Maybe I’m out of line, but isn’t everyone overreacting to the Kevin Ware injury just because it was so gruesome? Talk us down for pretending this is so much more massive than a major ACL tear.

— Tim

Yes and no. I think our collective reaction when it happened was entirely justified. We’ve all seen the Joe Theismann and Willis McGahee injuries, but what stuck out about Ware’s injury was … well … his bone. Anybody who grew up in the glory days of has seen some pretty messed-up stuff, but I’d guess most people can count on one hand the number of times they’ve seen a human bone protruding out of a living person. Hell, I spend most of my life on the Internet and have seen all sorts of things that have given me countless nightmares, and I still freaked out when I realized Ware’s bone was sticking out of his leg. You could go your whole life and never see anything like that again. That’s why we all lost our minds.

Somehow, modern medicine has advanced to the point that some orthopedic surgeons are saying that Ware could be back to playing basketball in six months. Because I dropped out of medical school before I got accepted, I’m not really sure how this is possible. But it is, and that brings us to your point — people are definitely overreacting to the magnitude of the injury. If Louisville loses to Wichita State and Ware’s rehab goes well, he could conceivably only miss one game. In that regard, it is kind of strange that so many people (myself included) reacted to his injury as if he had died. In our defense, though, we saw something that we’d never really seen before and just assumed that the prognosis would be unprecedented. And, it should be said, more sympathy is given to college athletes when they suffer serious injuries because they don’t have millions of dollars to dry their tears, and they only get four or five years to play.

So, yes, in the grand scheme of things, an ACL tear would be much worse than what happened to Ware.

Is there any scenario where you see Wichita State going to the final? They seem like the perfect opponent for Louisville, in the sense that the Cards will punish every single turnover with ruthless efficiency.

— Bo

Of course I could see Wichita State beating Louisville. They’ve thrived off the underdog role all season, between having to deal with the Creighton and Doug McDermott hype in their own conference and also being in Kansas’s and Kansas State’s shadows. Even though they probably had an easier path to Atlanta than any of the other three, the Shockers still beat some pretty good teams, convincingly, to get here. What Gregg Marshall said to his team in the Ohio State pregame speech is still true with regard to the game against Louisville — Wichita State doesn’t have to play perfect, or even great, for that matter. They’re talented enough to beat Louisville by only playing “really good.”

Here’s my hang-up with the Shockers, though: What Ohio State did to claw back into the game is what Louisville is going to do for 40 minutes. The only difference is that Louisville is built to play like that, and they’ve played that way for years. If a team like Ohio State, which rarely presses, can cut a 20-point Shocker lead down to three in just nine minutes, there’s no telling what kind of damage Louisville’s press is going to do. Even if Wichita State handles the Cardinals’ pressure twice as well as they handled Ohio State’s, they might still lose by 100. That’s how bad they looked during that stretch against the Buckeyes, and that’s how good Louisville’s defense has been in the last few weeks.

You’re in a room with Deshaun Thomas. What do you say to make him come back one more year?

— Griff

“If you go to the NBA, you’ll have to pass more.”

Mitch McGary has been the talk of the tourney, but every time I watch him he reminds me more and more of Lennie from Of Mice and Men. Now there’s talk of him being a first-round pick in this year’s draft. Do you think this is the most ridiculous overreaction in basketball history? All he does is pick people and clean up the garbage. Since when does this warrant first round? Is this year’s draft really this weak?

— Matt

My power rankings of the biggest overreactions to come from the 2013 NCAA tournament:

1. Greg Anthony’s laughter when Alec Baldwin compares Charles Barkley’s underwear to a quilt
2. Andy Enfield being hired by USC because of only two games
3. Mitch McGary’s draft stock skyrocketing because of his ability to set screens, get rebounds, dunk off pick-and-rolls and drop off passes, and score a ton of points as Michigan’s fifth offensive option
4. The guy who got the Florida Gulf Coast tattoo
5. The hysteria after Aaron Craft drew a charge against Iowa State with 1:41 left
6. Kansas fans acting like the world is going to end after the Michigan loss, even though they won a national title five years ago, and their biggest rival has never even made the Final Four
7. America’s response to Kevin Ware’s injury

If you could be a benchwarmer on any of the Final Four teams, who would you pick and why?

— Jeff

Earlier this year, I wrote that Syracuse would be my top choice in the country to join as a walk-on, so of course I’m going to pick them. Everything I wrote then about why the Orange would be my pick — 2-3 zone, national title contender, Jim Boeheim — is still true, so instead of regurgitating the same reasons, I’ll outline why the other three definitely wouldn’t be my pick.

Louisville: The Cardinals are the favorite to win it all, so you’d think it would be ideal to be a benchwarmer for them. But there are two glaring problems with Louisville: (1) You’d have to play against their press every day in practice, and (2) if you were a Louisville benchwarmer, you would’ve had such a good view of the Kevin Ware injury that this would’ve been your reaction.

Wichita State: The one positive about Wichita State is that it’s made only two Final Fours, so being a member of a Shocker Final Four team would be a pretty big deal in Wichita circles. That said, winning the national title is the ultimate goal, and the Shockers have the worst chance of the four remaining teams. Plus, Gregg Marshall strikes me as a no-nonsense kind of guy, which is probably the biggest turnoff, seeing as how “nonsense” and “benchwarmer” are synonymous.

Michigan: It’s Michigan.

Will Syracuse be able to swarm Michigan around the perimeter the way they did against Indiana and basically keep them from even being able to get shots up from outside? And if Michigan does have a tough time getting open looks from outside, will Trey Burke be disciplined enough to try to break down the zone with penetration and ball movement, or just try to rely on his 25-30 footers?

— Jeremiah

This is the million-dollar question. Michigan has better tools for attacking Syracuse’s zone than Indiana did, which is another way of saying that Michigan doesn’t start two 6-footers, and they’ll actually have some sort of zone offense in place heading into the game. But like you pointed out, Burke had a tendency to be undisciplined this year and force things. The good news for Michigan is that Burke has been incredible in the tournament and seems to have gotten back to facilitating the offense instead of just chucking up ill-advised shots, so I’m guessing he’ll be able to handle the zone. As great as Syracuse’s defense has been, and even though it’s unlike anything Michigan’s guys will have ever faced, to beat the Cuse zone you have to do the same thing you do against any zone — get the ball in the high post and short corners, penetrate, have great ball movement, and pass-fake to shift the defense. With the personnel Michigan has, the Wolverines should be able to do these things just fine …

… with “should” being the operative word here. The X’s and O’s John Beilein puts on paper won’t account for the length and athleticism of the Orange defenders. That’s why this matchup is so intriguing and why it’s impossible to know what’s going to happen Saturday night. So, basically, this was my long-winded way of answering your question with “I don’t know.”

I’m starting to think that I’m the only serious college basketball fan who doesn’t like “One Shining Moment.” I watch it every year, and since my opinion has been met with increasing amounts of backlash as the years pass, I’ve started actively trying to enjoy it. Needless to say, this hasn’t happened yet. I’ve been a huge fan of college basketball my entire life, and the NCAA tournament is the high point of my sports year. Should I keep trying to enjoy “One Shining Moment,” or should I just give up and continue to secretly hope that CBS chooses something a little more modern?

— Matt

Let me ask you a question, Matt: Just who the hell do you think you are? I mean, seriously — you come into my mailbag and dump all over “One Shining Moment”? I’m just going to assume you’re talking about the Jennifer Hudson version, in which case all is forgiven. In the unlikely event that you’re talking about the Luther Vandross version, may God have mercy on your soul.

On a scale from 1 to Captain Renault, how shocked are you at the officiating shenanigans in the Pac-12 tourney? If I told you that a conference was paying refs to target coaches or teams, your first thought would be the Pac-12, right?

— Zac

Of course it would. I couldn’t help but notice how bad the officiating was in Pac-12 games I watched this year, and this is coming from a guy who watches at least 20 games reffed by Ted Valentine every season. Truth be told, I’m actually relieved that the Pac-12 refs were allegedly on the take. At least now they have an excuse for being so terrible.

In all seriousness, officiating across the board is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in college basketball and, as a reader named Bob pointed out in an e-mail, the only logical solution is to pay the officials more (and not under the table). Coaches, athletic directors, NCAA officials, school presidents, and others are all making Monopoly money. If the NCAA is going to continue screwing over the athletes, why not at least give officials a bigger piece of the pie? Why not make it a full-time, year-round job for these guys? When the season is over, instead of going back to running law firms, being Boy Scout troop leaders, or whatever the hell these guys do in the offseason, why aren’t they going to seminars to learn the rules of the game better? The players and coaches hone their craft year-round, so why don’t the refs?

The simple answer is because they don’t get paid enough to do so. This is why college basketball referees need to make a lucrative salary. As of now, it’s far too much work for not nearly enough money (I know because I seriously looked into doing it a few years ago). If officials were better compensated, the job would be more competitive, and the good refs would rise to the top while the bad refs would go away for good. Instead, we’re stuck with the same old crop of awful officials year after year.

If the NCAA just threw a little more money to the refs, the quality of play would vastly improve, and everybody from fans to coaches to players would be happier. Well, almost everybody. The extra money would be skimmed off the top, meaning the NCAA bigwigs would be out a few more dollars. And we all know that we can’t let that happen.

My 15-year-old son yells out “whack” when he thinks a 3 is good. I need something cool to yell, as well. I think “splash” is too old-fashioned. So what are the top 5 newest and coolest things to yell when you think a 3 is good?
— Kevin

I can’t speak for all the cool kids, Kevin, but here’s what my top five looks like:

5. “Sonic boom!”
4. “I drive a Dodge Stratus!”
3. “Hadouken!”
2. “I’ll take the physical challenge!”
1. As the ball is flying through the air, make the same sound that’s made when Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff, punctuated by the boom when the ball goes in/he hits the ground.

I would’ve included “In your face, Charlie Murphy,” but I think we’re still a few years away from Chappelle’s Show quotes being cool again.

What’s the biggest urban legend you’ve ever heard in basketball? Growing up as a Pacers fan, there were nonstop rumors among my group of friends that Dale Davis had to tape his you know what to his leg before games to prevent a wardrobe malfunction.

— JT

You can’t talk about basketball urban legends without bringing up Raymond Lewis. If you’ve never heard of him, here’s a video and here’s an old Sports Illustrated article to get you started. Now prepare to spend the rest of your day being completely fascinated by his legend.

(I made this the last question in the mailbag on purpose. You’re welcome.)

Filed Under: Louisville, March Madness, Mark Titus, Ohio State, Syracuse

Mark Titus is the founder and author of the blog Club Trillion. His book, Don’t Put Me In, Coach, chronicles his career as a walk-on benchwarmer for the Ohio State basketball team and is on sale now.

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