The season is over. Those words came crashing down on us like a ton of bricks on Thursday afternoon. Most of us saw it coming, but those words are supposed to be held until confetti starts falling at the Final Four. At least then, we get to say goodbye and crown a champion at the same time.
But this year there will be no champion. Only a lot of what-ifs.
I feel badly for all of the schools, but a few really stand out. San Diego State and Dayton were having their best seasons in decades and both were not only Final Four contenders but real challengers for the national title. Big Ten schools Rutgers and Penn State both looked to make a little noise in the dance. And hats off to the surprise of the Big East, Creighton, along with kudos to remarkable late-season runs by Texas and UCLA.
Let’s play “what if?” so we can get a small taste of what could have been. What if my bracket was the final produced by the committee? Because I can’t let go of this sport I love so much, let’s look at the bracket region by region. I will take a stab at who might have come out of each site and on to the Final Four.
LAST FOUR IN: Xavier, Texas Tech, Texas, NC State
FIRST FOUR OUT: Mississippi State, Richmond, Wichita State, Stanford
NEXT FOUR OUT: Rhode Island, UConn, Memphis, St. Louis
CONFERENCES WITH MULTIPLE BIDS
BIG TEN: 10
BIG EAST: 7
BIG 12: 6
MOUNTAIN WEST: 2
I’m going to assume that these theoretical games are played on the scheduled dates and at the sites as I have them. Kansas easily cruises through to the round of 16, although the game with Rutgers in the second round is closer than many thought. No. 5 seed Butler joins them after another Kamar Baldwin buzzer-beater. The Bulldogs’ path is made easier by a Wisconsin loss to Liberty.
On the other side of the bracket, Duke rolls through surprisingly easily and they are joined by Michigan, who beat Creighton for the second time this year. The Blue Devils and Jayhawks advance with Kansas easily defeating Duke to go to the Final Four.
This region featured a play-in game, and I should mention that Xavier – who played Texas in this region – was the last team in. Even though they lost to lowly DePaul on Wednesday night, neither Mississippi State nor Richmond had enough on their resumes to take the last spot. Dayton moves to the round of 16, defeating Saint Mary’s in the second round.
It’s all chalk as these teams move to Madison Square Garden, where Michigan State takes down Florida State to set up a showdown with Dayton. In a classic, Obi Toppin is too much for the Spartans as the Flyers move on to Atlanta.
A major upset in the second round as No. 8 Arizona takes down Baylor. The upsets continue in this region as East Tennessee State defeats Auburn and Louisville to reach the Sweet Sixteen. The other side of the bracket is all chalk. In a classic battle, Kentucky edges Villanova in overtime. The ‘Cats then go on to easily dispatch ETSU and move to Atlanta.
This highly-competitive region sees several upsets and near-upsets. Providence takes Gonzaga down to the wire in Spokane and Maryland wins an overtime game against 11-seed NC State. Oregon then upsets Gonzaga and San Diego State knocks off Maryland. The Aztecs take the region in another close game over the Ducks.
That leaves Kansas, Dayton, Kentucky and San Diego State. I could see anyone winning this mythical Final Four with Kansas being the favorite and Kentucky having the longest odds. Sure, the easy pick would be Kansas, but I have really liked both Dayton and San Diego State all season long. I would go with a surprise and pick San Diego State.
But the question is, who would you take? Hit me up on twitter @tkbrackets and I will announce the results next week.
That’s it for another year (I guess I can get the sticks out a little early this spring). Thanks so much to everyone who followed my work on Stadium all season long. This is truly my passion and I hope that shows in my work.
I can’t go without thanking Mark Schoeck at Stadium who is really the star of this production, formatting these into the sharpest-looking bracket in the business.
Again, I love doing this and thanks so much for engaging. Hope to see you next year when we can get through the whole season and crown a champ. Have a great summer and stay safe!