Dreams and nightmares for 64 teams
What's the best that could happen for your NCAA tournament basketball team over the next 19 days?
What's the worst?Read the wildest dream and darkest nightmare scenarios for all 64 remaining teams and find out.
Best Case: John Wall cannot be kept out of the lane without barbed wire and machetes. DeMarcus Cousins continues to go Moses Malone on everyone, grabbing offensive rebounds as if he has six hands. The Wildcats make just enough outside shots to keep defenses honest. And Patrick Patterson, good soldier in bad times and good teammate in a supporting-actor role this season, makes the game-winning hoop against Kansas in the national title game. With his 10th team seeded third or better and his fourth No. 1 seed, John Calipari finally gets his title. Kentucky fans weep in the streets after an interminable 12 years without hardware. Patterson returns for a fourth year, Eric Bledsoe returns for a second and Ashley Judd buys 2010-11 season tickets. And Rick Pitino is ejected as Louisville gets blitzed in the first round.
Worst Case: Playing West Virginia -- their first truly big-time opponent of the season -- the untested Wildcats cannot handle the heat. Wall shoots bricks -- and has plenty of company. Cousins and Bledsoe get technicals for throwing elbows. Calipari throws fits and forgets to use late timeouts. Players storm off the bench when they get yelled at. The Mountaineers extend Kentucky's longest streak without a Final Four to 12 years. Big Blue Nation suffers a communal nervous breakdown. Fans bury their heads in snow banks outside the Carrier Dome. Wall, Cousins, Patterson and Bledsoe all go pro. Pitino upsets Duke on the way to a stunning Final Four. Calipari leaves for the Nets, narrowly escaping the mob that comes to burn down his house.
|East Tennessee State (16)
Best Case: Through the same extraordinary teamwork, effort, commitment and belief that carried them to a surprise Atlantic Sun title, the Buccaneers perpetrate a miracle. They actually force Kentucky coach John Calipari to his feet to call a timeout with his team trailing 6-2. Team managers sneak a snapshot of the scoreboard. It's all downhill from there, but at least there is that One Shining Moment.
Worst Case: Calipari stays in his chair, never calls time, never sweats. The Wildcats throw a lob dunk to Patrick Patterson off the opening tip, John Wall goes And1 Mixtape on the Bucs and DeMarcus Cousins has a double-double in the first eight minutes. The Cats demolish ETSU from the start and win by 50.
Best Case: The malaise melts away, and the Longhorns rediscover the team that once was 17-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. They are a cohesive working unit again -- big, athletic, blessed with shooters and bangers and drivers and defenders. Rick Barnes pushes all the right buttons. J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton adhere to the offensive game plan. Damion James raises his game to lottery level. Avery Bradley makes big shots, and Dexter Pittman makes big blocks, standing tall against DeMarcus Cousins. There is even a Gary Johnson sighting. The Horns upset Kentucky and make it to the regional final before losing to West Virginia. Meanwhile, Texas A&M loses its opener to Utah State.
Worst Case: Dead team walking has no chance of rediscovering its early-season excellence. Texas mails in one more disjointed performance, losing to fellow underachiever Wake Forest in the first round, as Hamilton and Brown combine to go 3-for-26 from the field. Barnes' one Final Four trip, now seven years old, looks more and more like a radar blip than a program indicator. Everyone goes pro, and Texas A&M makes the Final Four.
|Wake Forest (9)
Best Case: Given a No. 9 seed they did not deserve, the Demon Deacons shake off a miserable finish and show up ready to play like the team that beat Gonzaga, Richmond, Xavier and Maryland. Ishmael Smith flies around like a dervish. Al-Farouq Aminu rediscovers his game. L.D. Williams plays great defense. Dino Gaudio actually gets on players when they deserve it. Wake beats Texas and scares Kentucky before losing in the last minute. Aminu returns for his junior year.
Worst Case: Gaudio is 0-4 at Wake as a postseason coach, had the higher seed in every one of those games and lost them all by double digits. In other words, he makes Rick Barnes look like John Wooden -- and the (very) poor man's "Wizard" coaches circles around Gaudio in the first round. Gaudio's staggering team, losers of five of its past six, mails in another no-show after being embarrassed by Miami in the ACC tournament and Cleveland State in last year's NCAAs. Aminu takes his recent listlessness to a new level, actually napping on the bench -- but shows alacrity after the season in quickly turning pro.
Best Case: Saddled with an undeserved No. 5 seed, the 29-win Owls play like the 2/3-seed they should have been. Fran Dunphy shows why he should get more love for his sideline work. The balanced team plays unrelenting defense, and runs poised offense to beat Cornell and Wisconsin. Then, orchestrating a tempo that has helped hold 11 straight opponents to fewer than 60 points in regulation, Temple stuns top-seed Kentucky in the Sweet 16. (Ancient fans celebrate payback for the last-second loss to the Wildcats in the 1958 Final Four.) By the time the Owls arrive where John Chaney could never take them -- the Final Four -- Dunphy's pushbroom mustache has become a national fad.
Worst Case: The Owls draw another underseeded team in cagey Cornell. Lavoy Allen gets in foul trouble, and Temple cannot handle Big Red big man Jeff Foote and is eliminated in its first game. Dunphy, whose NCAA tourney record drops to 1-12, gets grief about his outdated pushbroom mustache.
Best Case: Seasoned by two years of NCAA appearances and stung by their disrespectful No. 12 seed, the Big Red come out firing against Temple. Cornell gooses the tempo to its liking, Ryan Wittman sinks jumpers and Jeff Foote controls the middle. The school captures its first NCAA tournament victory -- and the first for the Ivy League since Princeton in 1998. Then Cornell takes down Wisconsin in the second round, and America falls in love with the Ivy League -- making its first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1979. Egghead students leave the library in Ithaca for the short commute to Syracuse, where they see the Big Red push the Big Blue of Kentucky for 38 minutes before faltering.
Worst Case: The team that's played just five opponents in Ken Pomeroy's top 100 -- none since Jan. 6 -- isn't ready for Temple, which has played 16 such teams. The Owls get Foote into foul trouble and blanket Wittman on the perimeter. Cornell does what Ivy teams do: exit early. Egghead students retreat to the library until next winter.
Best Case: With Bo Ryan smirking on the sidelines, the resolute Badgers anesthetize Wofford and Temple to reach the Sweet Sixteen. This classic Ryan team -- a bunch of juniors and seniors running around setting screens and boxing out and never committing turnovers -- wins two games in methodical fashion. The world is torn between hating the pace and loving the fundamentals. Kentucky coach John Calipari cannot convince his future NBA stars that they should take a bunch of schmoes from curling country seriously, and Wisconsin pushes the Wildcats until John Wall makes a game-winning jumper. Everyone vows not to underestimate Ryan's teams again -- until everyone forgets again next October and picks the Badgers sixth in the Big Ten. Marquette loses by 30 to Washington in the first round.
Worst Case: Cornell wipes the permasmirk right off Ryan's face in the second round, beating the Badgers at their own game. Screens and box-outs and clean ballhandling go only so far for a team that struggles to score, so the same group that put 20 on the board in the first half against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament goes for a whopping 16 against the Big Red. Eyes bleeding, fans everywhere swear off watching the Badgers for the next 10 years. Insisting that he is the guardian of purist basketball, Ryan goes back to River Falls and Oshkosh to recruit more screeners. Meanwhile, Marquette makes the regional final.
Best Case: Noah (Dahlman) wanders to the (3-point) arc and hits a 21-foot jumper to force overtime against heavily favored Wisconsin. It is the first career 3-pointer for the Terriers' leading scorer, who usually scores his points two by two (16.8 per game). But Wofford loses in OT, preventing Dahlman from joining big brother Isaiah (a Michigan State sub) in the second round. Nevertheless, the Terriers enjoy their first NCAA tourney experience.
Worst Case: Noah gets flooded by Wisconsin defenders, and his teammates cannot pick up the slack. Suffering from NCAA stage fright, the Terriers open the contest without scoring for six minutes and are held to 39 for the game. By midnight Friday, nobody remembers Wofford was even in the tournament.
Best Case: The lilliputian Golden Eagles take America's coolest uniforms to the Elite Eight. Marquette fans shave their heads to be like coach Buzz Williams. Lazar Hayward tells the world, "Hi, I'm criminally underrated," averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds over three games as "Cardiac 'Quette" beats Washington, New Mexico and West Virginia by a combined five points -- running its season record to 11-8 in games decided by five points or fewer. Nervous system taxed all season, many Eagles fans finally snap when Maurice Acker, David Cubillan and Hayward take turns winning games on last-second shots. Babies are born prematurely, blood-pressure medicine sales rise and drinking spikes. (Which is saying something at Marquette.) The big shot goes the other way in the regional final against Kentucky, when John Wall sinks one at the buzzer, but the Eagles make it two rounds farther than Wisconsin.
Worst Case: Williams, excitable to the point of instability on the sidelines, does a headfirst Pete Rose slide and worm dance at midcourt after Hayward hits the go-ahead basket in the final seconds against Washington in the first round. Only problem: Time remains on the clock, and Williams is T'd up. The Huskies make the free throws and win the game, and Williams goes off on radio analyst Jim McIlvaine postgame. (Which he did after a Marquette win earlier this season, although he later apologized.) Wisconsin advances to the Sweet Sixteen.
Best Case: Quincy Pondexter shows Lazar Hayward who's really criminally underrated, dropping 30 on Marquette in the opening round. The Huskies continue to defend the honor of the trod-upon Pacific-10 by whipping New Mexico and outrunning West Virginia to reach the school's first regional final since 1953. They lose there to Kentucky, but nobody cares. Seattle basketball fans stop sulking about the loss of the Sonics to jump on the Washington bandwagon.
Worst Case: Although blessed with an undeserved travel advantage playing in San Jose, the Huskies remind everyone why the Pac-10 stunk by being blown out in the first round by Marquette. The foul-prone team puts the Golden Eagles on the line all day, bricks 3-pointers and doesn't play enough defense. The result intensifies suspicion that coach Lorenzo Romar isn't built for March. And Jake Locker gets injured in a campus weightlifting accident.
|New Mexico (3)
Best Case: America gets a brisk introduction to Darington Hobson, quite possibly the best anonymous player in the tournament. His Evan Turner-Lite season stats (16.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists per game) only increase as the Lobos click off victories over Montana and Marquette. Then Roman Martinez shoots it like his coach (Steve Alford) did in 1987 to carry New Mexico past West Virginia and into the school's first regional final. Alford blows a kiss Indiana's way and asks how the Hoosiers are getting along without him. The Lobos lose in the regional final to Kentucky but acquit themselves well. Alford is offered a 100-year contract extension and a personal stylist willing to help explore the possibility of parting his hair anywhere but dead center for the past 30 years.
Worst Case: Hobson is outshined by Montana revelation Anthony Johnson, and a Lobos team that didn't dominate many opponents in the latter stages of the season is ousted in a shocking first-round upset. Having given up 72 or more points in all four defeats this season, they do it once more against the Grizzlies. Alford gets the itch to return to the Midwest. Hobson goes pro after one year in a New Mexico uniform. New Mexico State advances farther. And don't even ask about Mike Locksley and the football program.
Best Case: Anthony Johnson, the best individual story in the entire tournament, picks up where he left off in the miraculous Big Sky Conference tournament title game -- scoring every basket. He scored the Grizzlies' final 21 points in the comeback upset of Weber State, and he scores their first 21 against New Mexico. After Johnson threatens during one TV timeout to sue his teammates for lack of support, they step up the rest of the way and the Griz upend the Lobos 72-70. With the help of bracket chaos, Montana then beats Washington to reach the second Sweet Sixteen in school history. Everything after that would be gravy -- and, well, there's nothing after that. But what a ride, huh? Coach and Griz whiz Wayne Tinkle gains nationwide fame -- in part for his surname, which works its way into a "Late Show with David Letterman" monologue.
Worst Case: Johnson's day in the sun is done. New Mexico double-teams him from the minute he walks into the arena, and he can't manage even half the 42 he scored on Weber. The team that lost to Idaho State, Montana State (twice) and Eastern Washington is no match for the Mountain West champions and gets run out of the gym. The result puts a wrinkle in Tinkle's forehead.
Best Case: Oliver Purnell gets off the NCAA schneid after five career losses at three schools, thanks to Trevor Booker terrorizing undermanned Missouri in the paint. Not done there, Clemson's pressure defense gets to West Virginia's suspect ball handlers. The Tigers are embraced by orange-loving fans in Syracuse, where they beat New Mexico in the Sweet Sixteen on a Tanner Smith 3. They're finally broomed out by Kentucky in the regional final, but not before showing the football team what it's like to actually overachieve.
Worst Case: Purnell stays on the schneid as his team blows a 15-point second-half lead to Missouri. In a collapse unsuitable for the eyes of children, Clemson misses eight of 11 free throws and turns the ball over four times in the final four minutes. Purnell himself covers his face with his orange suit coat near the end. Clemson football fans say, yes, this does look familiar. Meanwhile, South Carolina coach Darrin Horn gets another five-star commitment.
Best Case: After doing everything but putting signs around campus looking for his missing shooting stroke, guard Kim English gets it back at just the right time. After going 19-for-67 over the past month, English finds his range and shoots Mizzou past bumbling Clemson in the first round. Then Zaire "Big Shot" Taylor makes another one at the buzzer, this time to stun West Virginia. The Tigers press third-round opponent New Mexico into distress and advance to the Elite Eight for the second straight year before losing to Kentucky. The school breaks the bank to keep Mike Anderson, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in. After Kansas gets upset in the Sweet Sixteen, a wild street party ensues in Columbia.
Worst Case: The fading team that takes difficult shots -- and misses them -- does more of the same against Clemson and ends the season with four losses in its last five games. English's shooting form never returns. The press doesn't produce enough turnovers and easy baskets. Anderson is offered big bucks at Auburn and jumps at it, a year after turning down Georgia. Then the Missouri Misery Index spikes when the Jayhawks win it all again.
|West Virginia (2)
Best Case: Dressed like he's playing in a Monday night bowling league, Bob Huggins drops the tough-guy exterior and bawls after snipping the last strands of Lucas Oil Stadium net on the night of April 5. Eighteen years after his last visit and 51 years after the Mountaineers were last in the Final Four, West Virginia wins it all for the first time. Da'Sean Butler is the most outstanding player after beating Kansas with a double-pump jumper while being knocked to the floor at the final horn. Coal mines shut down for a day, and the hardscrabble hills echo with celebratory yodeling. And Devin Ebanks says he's coming back for his junior year.
Worst Case: With the Mountaineers locked in a close second-round game against Clemson, a controversial call goes against them late. Always restrained, West Virginia fans respond by throwing coins, whiskey flasks and small auto parts at the officials. Huggins rages like King Lear on the sideline. After five separate technical fouls, the Mountaineers lose by two. Huggins' number of NCAA losses as the higher seed climbs to 12. The Mountaineers' mascot is arrested in Buffalo for buying live rounds of ammunition for her rifle and going to the officials' hotel.
|Morgan State (15)
Best Case: Morgan State jumps out to the best start in its long and glorious NCAA tourney history -- which dates back to, um, last year. As a No. 15 seed in 2009, the Bears led No. 2 Oklahoma by a score of 3-2 for 53 seconds. With Reggie Holmes making shots this year, they lead West Virginia for most of the first eight minutes -- long enough to get that mildly anxious, come-on-already cheer going from the Mountaineers' fans. Consider it a victory, Todd Bozeman. It will be the only one available this Dance.
Worst Case: The Bears don't lead for a second against West Virginia. In fact, a team that shoots just 43 percent from the field doesn't score for the first four minutes. By then, the jig is up and the Dance is done. A few days later, Bozeman flees for another job.
Best Case: The best case is the most likely case -- Jayhawks storm through the bracket to the title, riding the big-game savvy of Sherron Collins, interior dominance of Cole Aldrich and the Morris twins, the athleticism of Tyshawn Taylor and Xavier Henry, and some timely shots from Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed. Jayhawks take special joy in a turn-the-tables Sweet 16 elimination of Michigan State; a payback regional final win over Tennessee or Oklahoma State; a fourth victory over Kansas State in the Final Four; and, what the heck, how about a heartbreaking 3 in the final seconds against Kentucky and John Calipari (who has unused timeouts on the scoreboard)? Added bonuses: All potential early-entry pros come back, and Missouri gets waxed in the first round.
Worst Case: Before the team leaves for Oklahoma City, Taylor punches another football player and gets suspended. Once there, comp ticket listee Samantha Ryan conducts a "film session" in team hotel. And facing UNLV in the second round, Collins shoots 3-for-15. Aldrich fouls out. Morris twins disappear. Henry shies from contact. Former Kansas State player and coach Lon Kruger exacts stunning revenge for the 1988 Elite Eight defeat he took from the Jayhawks. Meanwhile, K-State and Missouri both reach the Final Four.
Best Case: Hotel accommodations are great. Oklahoma City fans are receptive during the Wednesday open workout. The weather is warm. The Mountain Hawks get a good barbecue meal that night. All the comp sweatsuits fit. The pregame layup line is a thing of beauty. The national anthem has never sounded better.
Worst Case: Lehigh has to follow through and actually play the game against No. 1 Kansas.
Best Case: Twenty years after their only national title, the Runnin' Rebels rekindle the Tarkanian glory days -- without players hanging out in a hot tub with Richard "The Fixer" Perry. They breeze past Northern Iowa, and Kruger concocts a masterful game plan to shock Kansas on a Tre'Von Willis 3-pointer at the buzzer. UNLV rides the momentum one more round, past Michigan State, before losing in the regional final to Ohio State.
Worst Case: Team that was 22-2 when scoring 70 or more points and just 3-6 when scoring fewer gets gummed up by methodical Northern Iowa in the first round, struggles to score 55 and is eliminated. Kruger gets antsy for a sixth college head-coaching gig and gets out of town. Bill Bayno says he's available for a comeback.
|Northern Iowa (9)
Best Case: Team that held three Missouri Valley tourney opponents without a field goal for stretches of 21, 10 and seven minutes does it again -- this time against the No. 1 team in the land, Kansas. Panthers ride defense and slow-down tempo to ridiculous upset of the Jayhawks, forcing the world to learn the pronunciations of surnames Farokhmanesh, Ahelegbe and Eglseder. Then UNI's fourth member of the All-Name Team, 255-pound widebody Lucas O'Rear, uses his ample O'Rear to get room inside for the winning tip-in against Michigan State in the Sweet 16. Panthers tap out in the regional final but not before thoroughly embarrassing Iowa and Iowa State, which can't even get to the NIT.
Worst Case: Panthers get pulled into a faster pace than they like by UNLV in the first game, fall behind by 15 at halftime and -- like a Wishbone offense forced to pass -- cannot make up enough ground in the second half. In other words, pretty much the same as the first round last year against Purdue. After the season, a school from a bigger conference waves money at Ben Jacobson and he bolts.
|Michigan State (5)
Best Case: Tom Izzo does what he does best, weaving March magic and making everyone forget the Spartans' uneven regular season. Chris Allen emerges from the Izzo kennel to hit key shots against New Mexico State and Maryland. In a Sweet 16 rematch from 2009, Kalin Lucas reprises his Kansas killer role and does in the Jayhawks with a late jumper. Izzo does the rest in the regional final, coming up with a way to stop Evan Turner and Michigan State reverses a February home loss to Ohio State to reach yet another Final Four. Even a Final Four loss to Syracuse is palatable at that point.
Worst Case: The unsteady team that last beat a good opponent at full strength in January is exposed by New Mexico State in the first round. Allen remains suspended, Delvon Roe remains gimpy on one knee, Durrell Summers remains sketchy defensively and the Spartans fail to rebound and guard like an Izzo tournament team. And the Final Four isn't scheduled to return to Detroit anytime soon.
|New Mexico State (12)
Best Case: NCAA tourney rookie head coach Marvin Menzies taps into his Rick Pitino bloodlines and becomes a great March coach. Menzies gets his up-tempo team playing even faster and looser, and the Aggies continue their WAC tournament roll to shock Michigan State in the first round. Then, after Houston does the same to Maryland, NMSU wins a bracket-collapse game in Round 2 to reach its first Sweet 16 since 1992*. (*Since vacated.) And the Aggies didn't need Herb Pope to do it. Meanwhile, New Mexico is upset in the first round.
Worst Case: Aggies sure wish they had Pope while being walloped on the glass by Michigan State in the first round. Menzies coaches against Izzo about as effectively as mentor Pitino did in last year's tournament. Aggies are sent home to watch New Mexico charge to the Final Four.
Best Case: After romping past Houston and Michigan State, the Terrapins face Kansas in the Sweet 16. Jayhawks make the grievous error of guarding Greivis Vasquez as if he's just another player -- simply put, they don't have sufficient fear of the lead Turtle. Vasquez goes for 25 points and 10 assists to take out the No. 1 team. Then Gary Williams hunkers down in a Beltway Battle regional final against Georgetown and outcoaches John Thompson III to reach another Final Four, where the Terps lose a national final bloodbath with Kentucky. The eight years of fan complaints since Maryland's last trip to the Final Four vanish. Williams almost smiles while cutting down the regional nets. Off in Jacksonville, Duke has lost in the second round.
Worst Case: Sucked into a scoring duel with Houston gunner Aubrey Coleman, the excitable Vasquez goes crazy and shoots 6-for-32 from the field. Williams loses his mind and spends the entire game ripping everyone who comes through his field of vision -- all while sweating through his suit. He tells three players to transfer at halftime. Grumbling about Williams returns after upset loss to the Cougars. Duke wins it all.
Best Case: The ultimate underdog coach does it again. Tom Penders, owner of 10 NCAA tournament wins as a double-digit seed, scores his first Big Dance victory since he was at Texas in 1997 by stunning Maryland behind 40 points from Coleman. Delighted by their first NCAA win since the Phi Slama Jama days, Houston fans jump back on the bandwagon after staying away from home games in droves. Cash-strapped athletic department gratefully terminates plans to fire Penders. The Penders perm comes back into vogue.
Worst Case: This isn't Conference USA anymore. Disinterested defensive team that gave up 112 points to Nevada, 99 to Louisiana Tech and 94 to SMU really gets lit up by high-octane Maryland. Terrapins run a layup drill on the Cougars, putting 120 on the board. Fickle fans jump back off the bandwagon and Houston brass reconsiders getting rid of Penders, whose perm is mocked by young viewers.
Best Case: If you can beat Kansas and Kentucky, you surely can beat San Diego State, Georgetown and Ohio State, right? So Big Game Bruce Pearl's Volunteers do, reaching their first regional final in school history behind next-level performances from Scotty Hopson and Wayne Chism, and an unprecedented burst of heady play from J.P. Prince. But even a Tennessee team on the roll of a lifetime cannot beat Kansas twice, losing in the Elite Eight. Meanwhile, Kentucky and Vanderbilt lose early and Lane Kiffin wrecks another comp car in L.A.
Worst Case: Tennessee leaves its big-game mojo behind in Thompson-Boling Arena. Unimpressed by first-round opponent San Diego State because the Aztecs are never on TV, the Volunteers fail to prepare adequately. Shocked to be facing a quality team and playing like the poise-less bunch that was crushed by Kentucky in the SEC tournament, Tennessee buries itself under a pile of bad shots and is dismissed. Melvin Goins decides to go out with another groin shot to an opponent, and Prince commits seven turnovers. Kentucky wins it all, Vandy makes the Sweet 16 -- and Lane Kiffin is still the jilter, not the jiltee.
|San Diego State (11)
Best Case: Sly old Steve Fisher, the apple-cheeked coach who once had the best team Ed Martin could buy at Michigan, gets his first victory in the tournament since his Ann Arbor days with an upset of Tennessee. America gets a good look at freshman forward Kawhi Leonard, who racked up 16 points and 21 rebounds in the Mountain West tourney final -- his 16th double-double of the season. Aztec fans, wholly surprised to learn their school has a basketball team, come in from the beach long enough to watch SDSU lose valiantly in the second round to Georgetown.
Worst Case: Stuck 3,100 miles from home in markedly less beautiful Providence, R.I., Aztecs fall into a funk and console themselves by bingeing at ubiquitous Dunkin' Donuts outlets. Glazed fingers can't dribble, and Tennessee repeatedly turns over SDSU. Vols dust off zone they used against Kentucky last month to frustrate a team that shoots just 32 percent from 3-point range. Leonard is neutralized on the glass by Chism and Brian Williams. Aztecs fans stay at the beach and never realize they have a basketball program.
Best Case: Greg Monroe continues to play with the emotion, versatility and dominance he displayed in Madison Square Garden last week. Austin Freeman continues to hit big shots. Chris Wright plays like a heady, tough elite guard. And a team whose play has fluctuated between brilliant and bewildering evens out at a high level for a run all the way to the NCAA title game. After a close loss to Kentucky, Monroe shocks everyone by saying he's coming back next season to finish the job.
Worst Case: Playing with customary inconsistency, Hoyas fall behind Tennessee by 22 at halftime in the second round. Then they shoot 80 percent from the floor in the second half and storm back to tie. Wright loses track of the score and purposefully fouls Prince in the final 30 seconds -- and this time he cannot convert a driving shot to make up for it. Georgetown is bounced in the Round of 32. Monroe turns pro before exiting the postgame shower. Freeman and Wright follow suit.
Best Case: Armon Bassett continues the crazy roll he was on in the Mid-American Conference tournament, where he averaged 41 minutes and 29 points in four Bobcats victories. The Indiana transfer hits shot after shot to keep Ohio in the game with Georgetown, including one before the buzzer for the team's sixth overtime game of the season. That's about when reality arrives and ends the Bobcats' Cinderella audition, but the Athenians had their thrill.
Worst Case: After shooting 59 free throws in the MAC tourney, Bassett shoots only five against a Georgetown team that is averse to fouling. Formerly competitive league produces another outclassed champion that loses in the first round for the seventh straight season. Ohio team that went 7-9 in the MAC and lost its only game against a Big East opponent (Pitt) by 25 is no match for the Hoyas.
|Oklahoma State (7)
Best Case: Blessed with the opportunity to pillage shaky guards, the Cowboys' pressure defense turns over Georgia Tech repeatedly in a Round 1 waltz. Then superb guard James Anderson takes over, outscoring Evan Turner in a marquee second-round matchup of future lottery picks. In the Sweet 16, Keiton Page pulls a Steph Curry and bombs Georgetown out of the tournament. Matt Pilgrim is good for one flat-out silly dunk in each game. Cowboys' roll finally ends in a regional-final rematch with Kansas when the tables are turned on the upset last month in Stillwater. T. Boone Pickens personally pulls out his checkbook to lock up hot coach Travis Ford for the foreseeable future.
Worst Case: Tech's guards hold up under pressure and get the ball to Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal, who foul out Oklahoma State's undersized post players. Anderson shoots like the guy who has made only 11 of 39 3-point shots this month. Ford loses it and gets ejected, then leaves for another job -- and Bill Self still isn't interested in coming back to his alma mater. Every other Big 12 school advances to the second round, leaving the Cowboys with feelings of inadequacy. Anderson goes pro.
|Georgia Tech (10)
Best Case: Perimeter length frustrates Oklahoma State sharpshooter Anderson. Interior size overwhelms the Cowboys. Paul Hewitt does solid bench work. And the Yellow Jackets continue their good vibe from the ACC tournament, riding it all the way through Ohio State and Georgetown to a regional final date with Kansas. The 2004 flashback can't quite continue that far, but the ride was fun. Hewitt and the fans decide they love each other after all. Favors and Lawal decide they love Hewitt enough to play one more year of college. And Mark Fox leaves Georgia for Oregon.
Worst Case: Guards dribble balls off their feet and knees, and Tech commits six turnovers on inbound passes as Oklahoma State blitzes it into the offseason. Favors gets six shots, Lawal five. Favors puts his name in the draft faster than you can say "Thaddeus Young." Hewitt's golden contract makes him unfireable, but he's also unhappy enough to jump to St. John's. Tech fans aren't sure how to act, and wind up stewing over the fact that Hewitt left before they could kick him out. Meanwhile, Mark Fox says he's not leaving Georgia.
|Ohio State (2)
Best Case: Evan Turner continues the Dwyane Wade thing he has going on, bringing the Buckeyes back to Indianapolis three weeks after they won the Big Ten title there. Turner drops 30 points on Oklahoma State in the second round, a game-winning shot on Georgetown in the third and a triple-double on Kansas in the fourth. In the Final Four he gets help from David Lighty and Jon Diebler as the Buckeyes reach the title game before maxing out and losing to Kentucky. Turner defies all logic and comes back for his senior season, saying he wants to team with superstar recruit Jared Sullinger to win it all.
Worst Case: Turner can't carry a team on his previously injured back forever, especially one with no depth. Playing a short bench finally catches up with Ohio State, which gets into foul trouble against Oklahoma State and fails to adequately defend the 3-point line in a second-round upset. Turner turns pro. Oh, and Terrelle Pryor's knee-surgery recovery is slower than expected.
|UC Santa Barbara (15)
Best Case: Ohio State star Turner is accidentally tripped by Brutus Buckeye during pregame warm-ups and sprains an ankle. Without America's best player, the Buckeyes dither before pulling out a late victory. Highlight for the Gauchos is taking a lead into the locker room at halftime. Unfortunately, game officials insist they come back out for the second half.
Worst Case: A team with an 0-2 record against the field of 65 is especially ill-equipped to deal with the talents of Turner, who laughs his way to 20 points at halftime and puts several Gauchos on "SportsCenter" for all the wrong reasons. Gauchos lost by 27 to NIT-bound Arizona State; Ohio State's lead is that big with 10 minutes to play.
Best Case: The Blue Devils are back, ending a six-year absence from the Final Four and a nine-year drought without a national title. Aided by a gift-wrapped draw from the Iron Duke Club -- excuse me, the NCAA selection committee -- they breeze through the South Regional. Somehow, 100 percent of the block/charge calls go Duke's way across the span of six games. But mostly, the Devils get inspired play from Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer while winning two games against Texas schools in Houston. Duke then double-Plumlees DeMarcus Cousins in the Final Four, Mike Krzyzewski devises a defense to contain the point guard who spurned him (John Wall) and Kentucky implodes against the more experienced team. That gets Duke its date with Kansas in a rematch of the 1991 title game, and the Blue Devils again take down the Jayhawks to win their fourth title. In gratitude for K being K, the coach is handed a scepter in the postgame celebration and given the right to assign all ACC game officials for the rest of his career. North Carolina wins the NIT, which Duke fans find cute.
Worst Case: Rick Pitino guards the inbound pass this time. Rakeem Buckles deflects an intended three-quarter court pass to Singler for the potential winning shot at the buzzer. Louisville stuns Duke 103-102 in overtime on an Edgar Sosa banker. Krzyzewski says he loves his kids but adds that he didn't love the officiating, which whistled only 19 fouls on the Cardinals when Coach K clearly saw them commit 24. Singler and Smith both turn pro, and Carolina still has won two national titles since Duke's last one.
|Arkansas-Pine Bluff (16)
Best Case: The Golden Lions, flushed with the thrill of opening-round-game victory, swagger into Jacksonville full of confidence that they can play with almighty Duke. When you open the season with 14 straight road games, what's to be scared of? And they do play with Duke, clear up to halftime. With the game tied at 32 at intermission, coach George Ivory considers sending the team to the bus and not coming back. Cooler heads prevail, and Pine Bluff hangs tough for another 10 minutes before relenting.
Worst Case: Those 14 straight road games? None was against a team like the Blue Devils. And if you can lose by 19 points to Denver, you can lose by twice that to Duke. Final score: Duke 86, Pine Bluff 48.
Best Case: Playing with fury for a scorned league, the Golden Bears come out flying. Jerome Randle is bombing from deep, Patrick Christopher is operating smoothly from the wings and Cal beats Louisville. Next, Duke transfer Jamal Boykin goes off on his old team for 20 points and 15 rebounds in leading a Cal upset of the Blue Devils. Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott rushes the floor and jumps on the Golden Bears' dogpile at midcourt. Cal doesn't stop until Baylor beats it in the regional final, its best showing in 50 years. And last anyone checked, Stanford still stunk.
Worst Case: Fury for a scorned league is nice, but what if the league deserved to be scorned? Beaten up inside by Louisville, Cal is quickly dismissed in the first round while Washington also is eliminated in its first game. The Pac-10 commissioner begs UCLA to get good again in a hurry. The Golden Bears complete a season of across-the-board underachievement in football and men's basketball.
Best Case: Suddenly cobbling together the consistency they have lacked all season, the Cardinals go on a tear. They blast a Pac-10 opponent in the NCAAs for the third time in the past four years, and Louisville is off to the revenge races. Rick Pitino wins his 18-years-in-the-making rematch with Mike Krzyzewski and Duke. Edgar Sosa finishes the job against Texas A&M this time in the regional semis, after blowing up late against the Aggies in the NCAAs his freshman year. Then Louisville avenges a January loss to Villanova in the regional final. That sets up Bluegrass Armageddon against Kentucky in the national semifinals, three months after the Wildcats beat the Cards in a nasty game in Rupp Arena. This time, DeMarcus Cousins gets ejected for the flagrant elbow, and Pitino goes to 3-0 against John Calipari in the Big Dance. Nobody even cares when Kansas drills the Cards in the title game, because red-and-black Christmas came two days earlier.
Worst Case: Mid-March is no time to be searching for a consistency that doesn't exist. Sosa is spindled by Cal's Jerome Randle, Samardo Samuels turns the ball over six times against double-teams in the post and Louisville goes 5-for-25 from 3-point range. The Cards lose by 20. Samuels unwisely turns pro, and fellow big man Terrence Jennings transfers. Pitino bails out for St. John's, leaving the program coach shopping on the eve of moving into its new arena. And, of course, Kentucky wins it all.
|Texas A&M (5)
Best Case: A sneaky good team that has flown under the radar in the Kansas-dominated Big 12 steps forward now. All nine of the Aggies' losses have come against NCAA tournament teams, but they won't lose another one until the Final Four. The Aggies get a breezy draw to the Sweet Sixteen, beating No. 12 and No. 13 seeds. Then, playing in nearby Houston, they give the Yell Leaders plenty to yell about by bouncing Duke and winning the rubber match with Baylor to reach the school's first Final Four. As an added bonus, Texas loses in the first round. Coach Mark Turgeon, rumored to be interested in Oregon, signs a new, long-term deal to stay in College Station. Just don't ask about football.
Worst Case: A bad-luck draw against massively underseeded Utah State bites the Aggies harder than Reveille. Texas A&M misses key free throws late and gives up the winning 3 at the buzzer, scuttling hopes of playing in front of a partisan crowd in the home state. Texas makes a run. And Turgeon's interest in Oregon turns out to be legitimate when he flees for Eugene.
|Utah State (12)
Best Case: Everyone needs to know a guy named Stew -- and everyone will after Stew Morrill leads the underrated Aggies to the Sweet Sixteen via victories over Texas A&M and Siena. While the nation is awakened to the offensive prowess of Morrill's team, BYU is being upset in the first round and Utah is watching from the sidelines. For once, the Aggies own the Beehive State. A loss to Duke in the Sweet Sixteen dampens very few spirits.
Worst Case: Stew can get teams to the Dance -- it's the winning that remains the hard part. Morrill is 1-7 in the NCAAs and drops to 1-8 when a fully focused Texas A&M refuses to take Utah State lightly. The Aggies remain in the shadows when BYU's Jimmer Fredette becomes the poster boy of the first weekend by scoring 70 points and leading the Cougars to the Sweet Sixteen.
Best Case: Totally chapped at being written off and underseeded after the Robbie Hummel injury, the Boilermakers bring a controlled rage to the court to take on Siena. With E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson reminding everyone that this never was a one-man team, Purdue spans Siena and beats down Texas A&M two days later to make a Sweet Sixteen most people had given up on seeing. The Boilers lose there to Duke, but it almost feels as good as a Final Four after the trauma of the past few weeks. Then all three juniors announce they're returning for their senior seasons to make one more run at a title.
Worst Case: The Boilermakers can be chapped and feel disrespected all they want, but they're still not the same team without Hummel -- and everyone who watched them score 11 points in the first half against Minnesota last week knows it. Trailing late against Siena in the first round, Hummel can't resist trying to help from the sidelines and pokes the ball away from Saints point guard Ronald Moore with his crutch. Technical foul adds insult to injury to elimination.
Best Case: Perennially dangerous lower seed strikes again. The Saints have won games each of the past two NCAA tourneys, and they add two more this time to make their first Sweet Sixteen run. Edwin Ubiles and Clarence Jackson shoot them past powerless Purdue and then fellow Cinderella Utah State in a 12-13 second-rounder. Fran McCaffery declines higher-profile jobs in the New York area to stay in Loudonville, opting to make up the salary difference by teaching clinics to Big East coaches on how not to hack your way through a basketball game. (Siena commits the fewest fouls in the nation.)
Worst Case: Guard Ronald Moore slips out of character and violates a Siena covenant, fouling Purdue's E'Twaun Moore on a 3-pointer with the Saints up two and one second on the clock. Purdue's Moore drains all three free throws to eliminate the Saints, who never were as good this season as they were the previous two. McCaffery realizes non-fouling clinics won't pay for a summer home in Hilton Head and takes the St. John's job.
|Notre Dame (6)
Best Case: Having magically transformed themselves after the Luke Harangody injury from run-and-gun to crawl-and-maul, the Fighting Irish learn to love slow-down ball and ride it to the regional final. Notre Dame has played seven straight games of 63 or fewer possessions, after playing just six of its first 27 games that slowly. Now, gifted with an absurd No. 6 seed when a No. 10 was more in order, Notre Dame takes advantage with a first-round win over Old Dominion 48-44. Then, resisting the natural urge to run with Baylor, the Irish frustrate the Bears 52-51. Finally, the Irish luck into Richmond in the Sweet Sixteen and win 57-54. Good fortune runs out against Duke, but by then, everyone feels good about pulling this season out of the fire.
Worst Case: Notre Dame's flukish high seed also is good luck for No. 11 Old Dominion, which draws a team it's very capable of beating. Coach Mike Brey goes overboard on slow-down conversion, channeling Dick Bennett and demanding five chest passes on every possession before anyone looks at the rim. Harangody looks at Brey like he's lost it and starts jacking jumpers. The Monarchs win with ease.
|Old Dominion (11)
Best Case: Plunked down in the softest region, the Monarchs see opportunity unfold in front of them. Playing defense and crashing the offensive glass, they slug past overseeded Notre Dame. Then they upset Baylor in the second round and knock off Virginia neighbor Richmond in a bracket-busted Sweet Sixteen game. The run ends in the regional final, where recently black-haired coach Blaine Taylor publicly thanks his hair stylist for getting the gray out.
Worst Case: Taylor's gray hair threatens to make a comeback as he watches the Monarchs thud free throw after free throw off the rim to blow a close game against Notre Dame. Dominion gets a little older while waiting for the school's first NCAA victory since 1995.
Best Case: The remarkable rebirth of a program climaxes in Houston when Baylor, seven years removed from the worst scandal in college basketball history, reaches its first Final Four in 60 years. Scarred by one teammate murdering another and tainted by a corrupt cover-up of NCAA violations, the Bears were as far down as you can get in 2003. Now, paced by shooting guard LaceDarius Dunn and the jauntily named point guard Tweety Carter, Baylor has marched past Sam Houston State, Notre Dame, Villanova and Duke -- Duke! -- to scale previously inconceivable heights. Coach Scott Drew, who spent most of his formative years in Indiana and is a graduate of Butler, returns home for the Final Four with screenwriters trailing after him, shouting proposal offers at his back. Dad Homer, who knows a thing or two about March miracles, gives as many interviews as Archie Manning during Super Bowl week.
Worst Case: The Baptist school is completely out of whack in New Orleans, and the anxiety transfers from fans to team. Nobody on the Baylor team has ever won an NCAA tournament game, and it shows. Against a hot-shooting Sam Houston State squad, the Bears start stressing and play out of character. Suddenly a tight game becomes desperate and comes down to the final possession. Down two, Scott Drew draws up the Bryce Drew Special for the game-winning shot -- but doesn't have Bryce to shoot it. Dunn misses, and the bandwagon team of the week breaks down and slinks home early.
|Sam Houston State (14)
Best Case: There's plenty to love about this team, starting with the fact that it spells Bearkats with a "k." (It certainly beats the school's original nickname, which was the Normals. I am not lying.) The Bearkats shoot a whole lot of 3s, and they katch fire against heavily hyped Baylor in the first round, upsetting the Big 12 big boys to krash the round of 32. They lose in the next round to Notre Dame, but that's enough of a run to kreate great karma on kampus for the rest of the semester.
Worst Case: Baylor is better. Baylor is focused. Baylor dominates from the opening tip. And the Bearkats have to leave New Orleans to return to Huntsville, Texas.
Best Case: Coach Chris Mooney keeps alive the giant-killer legacy of Dick Tarrant and John Beilein, and arachnophobia is in full effect in the Big Dance. The Spiders ride their underrated backcourt of Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez to three victories and a berth in the regional final, where they finally are beaten by Duke. Mooney turns down bigger jobs, and Richmond threatens to become the Xavier of Virginia.
Worst Case: With players listening to media speculation about Richmond being a sleeper team in this Dance, dangerous Saint Mary's sneaks up on the Spiders and squashes them with a sneaker. Mooney flees for more money somewhere else. Richmond slips back closer to becoming the La Salle of Virginia.
|Saint Mary's (10)
Best Case: Omar Mania sweeps through the Big Dance as Omar Samhan 20-and-10s the Gaels to the regional final. Possessing neither an imposing physique nor a quality beard, Samhan makes up for it with phenomenal hands and deceptive strength. He and Randy Bennett's Aussie Posse carry Saint Mary's farther than it has ever gone -- and farther than Gonazaga, too.
Worst Case: A bad matchup with Richmond and its stud guards means the onerous commute from Moraga, Calif., to Providence, R.I., was worth exactly 40 minutes of game time. It's lights out early for the Gaels, who still haven't won an NCAA game since 1959. Bennett is wooed for bigger jobs and leaves. Gonzaga plays longer, yet again.
Best Case: Scottie Reynolds reprises his coast-to-coast maneuver of last year, this time doing it to Duke in the regional final as the Wildcats pull a delirious double: back-to-back Final Fours and back-to-back years eliminating the Blue Devils. They then upset Kentucky in the semifinals despite a massive height disadvantage. It's ovah for Nova on Monday night against Kansas, but this is a stand-up run on the 25th anniversary of the 1985 national championship.
Worst Case: Increasingly active ref-baiter Jay Wright gets his pretty mug frozen in mid-whine at the officials late against Robert Morris. Sick of hearing it, the officials smack Wright with a game-turning technical foul as the Wildcats are shockingly eliminated to complete a terrible late-season swoon. Slap-happy Nova is whistled for 25 fouls in the game, all of them legit, and afterward, Wright must shake hands with Robert Morris assistant Jimmy Martelli -- the son of Philly archrival coach Phil Martelli of Saint Joseph's. Female viewership of the tournament plummets with pretty boy Jay dispatched.
|Robert Morris (15)
Best Case: The vertically challenged Colonials feel comfortable playing the fellow shorties from Villanova. With Nova playing well below its early-season level, Robert Morris gains confidence as the game progresses and wins it on two Karon Abraham free throws in the final seconds. The nation has 48 more hours to figure out who Robert Morris was and where his namesake university is located.
Worst Case: With a 12:30 p.m. ET Thursday tipoff and an early 20-point deficit to the Wildcats, the Colonials are the first team eliminated. They're packed up and gone back to Pittsburgh before most of America even knows they were in the tournament.
Best Case: Arinze Onuaku is the picture of good health and paint strength. Wes Johnson is back to jumping over and driving around everyone. Andy Rautins is making shots (and his hair is perfect). The 2-3 zone is in Shut It Down mode. The ball is passed with verve and aplomb. And Jim Boeheim cracks a perceptible smile as he trims the Final Four nets for the second time in his career on the night of April 5.
Worst Case: Onuaku can't go on his injured leg, forcing a thin team to dust off its backup big men. Guard Scoop Jardine shoots too much (11.3 field goal attempts per loss this season, 5.8 attempts per win). Chris Singleton shuts down Johnson. Boeheim looks like he has just spent two hours sucking on a lemon. Florida State sends Orange on short drive home from Buffalo in the second round.
Best Case: Guard Maurice Joseph channels T.J. Sorrentine and rises up against the Syracuse zone for a dramatic 3-pointer from 25 feet out. It catches nothing but net, sending the Catamounts to a slim halftime lead. Then they lose in the second half. Sorry, but the 2005 flashback isn't quite going to fly in full.
Worst Case: : Without Taylor Coppenrath, Germain Mopa Njila (remember him?) and Tom Brennan, the '05 flashback doesn't even make it to the first TV timeout. Syracuse is making 3s, dunking lobs and making Vermont look like a team that lost by 19 points to New Hampshire. Which it did. Cuse doubles the score on the Mounts.
Best Case: Elias Harris has the best NCAA tourney for a German kid playing college ball in the state of Washington since Detlef Schrempf led the Huskies to the 1984 Sweet 16. With Harris scoring, guards Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray distracting defenders with their hair, and seven-letter leaper Bol Kong playing like King Kong, Zags beat Florida State, shock Syracuse and advance to their first Final Four.
Worst Case: : After beating just one NCAA tourney team since Thanksgiving, Zags are outclassed by Florida State's size and athleticism. Harris is timid in first NCAA game. Bouldin and Gray are all hair, no game. Bol Kong is just another monosyllabic nonfactor. Zags are one and done.
|Florida State (9)
Best Case: With Leonard Hamilton glaring, Solomon Alabi rejecting and Chris Singleton disrupting, defense-obsessed Seminoles stun Syracuse, beat up Butler inside and frustrate K-State to reach the school's first Final Four since 1972. Fans stop obsessing over Jimbo Fisher's first spring practice as head football coach just long enough to applaud. Florida loses by 30 in the first round, and Billy Donovan leaves for Oregon.
Worst Case:: Defense-obsessed Seminoles forget that you need an offensive game plan, too. They score 39 points and lose to Gonzaga in the first round. Alabi and Singleton go pro. Donovan takes Gators on another long run, and Urban Meyer gets another blue-chip football commitment.
Best Case: Inspired by Michigan State's 2009 NCAA tourney mission, Bulldogs kick it up a notch and shoot down UTEP, Vanderbilt, Syracuse and Kansas State en route to a fairy-tale Final Four in their own backyard. Gordon Hayward makes like Evan Turner Lite, doing everything. Brad Stevens signs lifetime contract. Smitten national media descend upon Hinkle Fieldhouse to write "Hoosiers"-themed stories about the Bulldogs. Dennis Hopper sends team a text message before national semifinal against Kansas: "Kick their a--." Gene Hackman shows up in locker room Monday before national title game against Kentucky to say, "I love you guys." Butler wins it all. School is renamed Hickory.
Worst Case:: In competing Hollywood themes, Butler butts up against the "Glory Road" boys from UTEP. Who are good. And underseeded at No. 12. Bulldogs cannot handle Derrick Caracter inside, cannot handle the Miners' athletes on the perimeter and are bounced in the first round. Hayward goes pro, and Stevens follows the line of coaches who have left Butler for bigger jobs. Gene Hackman stays home for the Final Four.
Best Case: Nobody wins 16 straight games without being really good, and the Miners prove it by storming to the Sweet 16. Derrick Caracter continues to play like the reformed problem child he has become, averaging a double-double in the tournament. Randy Culpepper regains his perimeter shooting stroke after making 4 of his last 19 3s. Tony Barbee channels his mentor, John Calipari, and coaches a team resolute in its aversion to defeat. (You could even say the Miners Refuse to Lose.) UTEP maxes out in close loss to Syracuse in regional semis, but Barbee signs new contract, and Caracter comes back for his senior season.
Worst Case: Never known for his sense of timing, Caracter decides to stray off the reservation and revert to pain-in-the-posterior behavior. Culpepper shooting touch remains AWOL. Team that couldn't contain Houston in Conference USA tourney final can't contain the Bulldogs, either. Barbee channels wrong aspect of his mentor and spends entire Butler game shrieking alternately at players and officials. Miners Choose to Lose. Then Barbee leaves for DePaul 30 minutes after the season ends. Caracter, of course, goes pro.
Best Case: Fluid offense carries Commodores past Murray State and Butler. Then Festus Ezeli becomes the most celebrated Festus since "Gunsmoke" when his backdoor layup in the closing seconds upsets Syracuse and sends the Commodores to their first regional final since 1965. Underrated coach Kevin Stallings becomes a hero to follicularly challenged men everywhere. Captivated media wants to write about how smart Vandy players are; Vandy players want to talk about basketball. On the other side of the country, Tennessee is blitzed by San Diego State.
Worst Case:: Flatlining Vandy team that has lost two of its last three games, both against nontourney teams, finds trouble against Murray. Big man A.J. Ogilvy shies away from physical stuff in the paint. Guards cannot produce enough pressure on Racers backcourt. Stallings follows 2008 first-round pratfall as a No. 4 seed (Siena then) with another one now. Players must return to class -- and class is hard. Meanwhile, Tennessee roars off to the Final Four.
|Murray State (13)
Best Case: This is a 30-win team from a perennially successful program -- and nobody's pushover. Balanced Racers deploy their I-Team -- Ivan Aska, Isaiah Canaan and Isacc Miles -- to investigate Vandy defense; they find it lacking. Then the Racers take down UTEP in a classic bracket-collapse game pitting a 12-seed and a 13-seed. Murray ends up in the Sweet 16, forcing America to figure out where it is (far western Kentucky is the correct answer). Murray then scares overconfident Syracuse for a half before submitting. School extends Billy Kennedy's contract.
Worst Case:: How long is Championship Week? Really long, if you win your league title on the first day of it. Rusty and flat after 12 days between games, Murray is dispatched to the same fate as the last 20 Ohio Valley Conference champions -- first-round elimination. Good balance also equals lack of star power, and nobody can take over in tough times against tall Vanderbilt. Billy Kennedy gets the wandering eye for other jobs. And America remains blissfully unaware of where Murray is.
Best Case: Jordan Crawford plays like the guy who dunked on LeBron last summer, rising up and taking down Minnesota -- and this time nobody confiscates the video. Then the Musketeers Revenge Tour starts: They get back at Pitt for 2009 tourney ouster, and Kansas State for 15-point beating in December. Suddenly they've made their second regional final in three years under two different coaches. Like all the Xavier coaches who came before him, first-year boss Chris Mack declares his love for the school. Unlike all the Xavier coaches who came before him, Mack means it and signs a long-term extension. Fans ask Cincinnati backers how the NIT is treating them.
Worst Case:: Facing tenacious Tubby Smith defense, Jordan Crawford plays like the volume shooter who missed 16 shots against Marquette, 14 against Wake Forest, 13 against Baylor and 12 against Florida. Go-go Musketeers get frustrated by Big Ten pace of the Gophers. Mack, coaching in his first NCAA game, gets school by Smith, coaching his 44th. And Crawford goes pro, while Lance Stephenson comes back to Cincinnati.
Best Case: With a succession of off-court problems behind them, the refocused and confident Gophers surprise Xavier and Pittsburgh to reach the Sweet 16. Spurred by the Tubby Smith Death Stare, Minnesota slaps some silly D on both teams. Ralph Sampson III plays like Ralph Sampson II. Mr. Big Shot Blake Hoffarber beats Musketeers with half-court hook, then beats Pitt by heading a rebound into the basket at the buzzer. Temperature creeps above 35 in the Twin Cities, and Smith dispels rumors he's looking at other jobs.
Worst Case:: Gophers get outside the league and realize they miss flaky former player/alleged burglar Royce White and academic casualty Al Nolen. They get run off the floor by high-octane Xavier. Meanwhile, Tubby hightails it to Oregon, and White releases another "YouTube" video announcement of utmost importance, this time proclaiming himself a gubernatorial candidate. Two more feet of snow fall on the Twin Cities.
Best Case: Up one on a Big East rival in the final seconds of the regional final, Pitt flips last year's script. It gets in the way of a driving Scoop Jardine. And stays in the way. And blocks his shot at the buzzer. And advances to its first Final Four since 1941, with a team nobody thought would do much after losing its three star players from '09. Ashton Gibbs continues his breakout season by being named regional Most Outstanding Player. Back home, Pittsburghers take five-minute break from 24/7 Ben Roethlisberger obsession to salute the Panthers. Meanwhile, West Virginia loses to Morgan State.
Worst Case:: Panthers finally realize they've overachieved all season and don't have anything left for this tourney. Gibbs continues his season-long trend of awful shooting games in Pitt losses (he's 29-of-106) by going 2-for-16 in a shocking first-round loss to Oakland. Back home, Pittsburghers take five-minute break from 24/7 Ben Roethlisberger obsession to complain about losing to JaMarcus Russell, thinking the Oakland everyone is talking about is the Raiders. Sixteen days later, West Virginia wins the national title.
Best Case: Dangerous team that has won 26 games (11 in a row) bristles at its No. 14 seed. Quick-tempo Oakland pushes Pitt out of its comfort zone and into a high-scoring game. Center Keith Benson pulls a Kent Benson on the Panthers, putting a double-double on the board to key the upset. Al Davis calls, thanking coach Greg Kampe for his commitment to excellence but also wondering why he didn't throw deep more often. Golden Grizzlies lose in the second round to Xavier but nobody cares.
Worst Case:: Team that lost to Memphis by 31, Michigan State by 31, Kansas by 30, Syracuse by 32 and IUPUI by 24 knows how and when to throw in the towel -- and the "when" part of that equation is early. Pitt races to 20-4 lead, Grizzlies give up the ghost and the tournament moves on with scarcely any evidence that Oakland was in it. After 26 years as coach, Kampe hangs it up.
Best Case: Parents everywhere begin naming their baby boys "Jimmer" after watching guard Jimmer Fredette -- fresh off 75 points in two Mountain West Conference tournament games -- light up the tournament like the second coming of Danny Ainge. Florida, Kansas State and Pittsburgh all play Fredette roulette and lose, with the guard blowing up on them to lead BYU to the regional final. Cougars finally fall there to Syracuse, but it goes down as the best run since 1981, when Ainge did in Notre Dame. And there's no sign of Utah anywhere in the bracket.
Worst Case:: Jimmer simmers down against relentless Florida denial defense, cannot score, and BYU is dispatched to its fourth first-round loss in the last four years. All as the higher-seeded team. Which makes Utah fans very happy. Despite the NCAA record, coach Dave Rose is wooed away because of his 106-30 overall record the past four years.
Best Case: Tim Tebow sends the team inspirational eye black. Joakim Noah cuts off his ponytail and mails it to Billy Donovan for motivation. Suddenly, Dem Gator Boys are back -- shooting, slamming and snarling their way through the tournament like it's 2006 and '07 all over again. Or, well, they're shooting, slamming and snarling their way to the Sweet 16 at least. When you've been gouging your eyeballs out with NITting needles the past two years, a run to the NCAA second weekend will do. Billy Donovan is so pleased to be back whistling and stomping on a Big Dance sideline that he reaffirms his plans to coach the Gators for the conceivable future. Meanwhile, Florida State flops in the first round, and Urban Meyer stays unretired.
Worst Case:: Tebow has other things to worry about, like his throwing motion. Noah keeps his hair, knowing full well this undertalented team bears no resemblance to Dem Gator Boys of years past. There is inconsistent shooting, scant slamming and nothing to snarl about on the way to a first-round defeat against BYU. Even gifted with an inflated No. 10 seed, brought about when Florida AD Jeremy Foley clandestinely agreed with NCAA selection committee chair Dan Guerrero to play an unreturned home football game at UCLA, the Gators are eliminated. In the same region, Florida State makes a run. And Urban starts in with the family talk again.
|Kansas State (2)
Best Case: Lincoln beards for everyone! Jacob Pullen becomes the furry face of March Madness, shooting brilliantly until Kansas State has reached its first Final Four since Tex Winter was the coach in 1964. Fellow guard Denis Clemente takes it from there, channeling Rolando Blackman 1981 by floating a baseline jump shot over Cole Aldrich at the buzzer to beat rival Kansas in the national semifinal. There's no topping that, though, and an emotionally spent K-State is beaten by Kentucky in the title game -- which is OK, winning the state title and avenging three losses to KU this season is prize enough. Pullen then announces that he's returning for his senior season, and eternally irate Miamian Frank Martin sweetly declares himself so in love with Manhattan that he signs a lifetime contract.
Worst Case:: Burdened by the school's highest seeding ever, cold-shooting K-State struggles past North Texas in the first round and is whacked by BYU in Round 2. Frank Martin spontaneously combusts like a Spinal Tap drummer the first time one of his big men misses a defensive assignment against the Cougars, which rather unnerves his players and leaves burn marks in front of the K-State bench. In a clueless search to replace the cooked Martin, the school panics and rehires Jim Wooldridge, operating on the premise that recycling an old coach worked in football. Kansas, of course, goes on to win another national title and lords it over Wildcats fans.
|North Texas (15)
Best Case: Searching for motivation, coach Johnny Jones brings in his old college coach at LSU, Dale Brown, to speak to his team. Brown talks for 48 straight hours, dulling the Mean Green players' nerves to the point that they're perfectly relaxed when they take the floor against Kansas State. Unfortunately, relaxation goes only so far -- 35 minutes, to be precise. K-State's talent takes over in the final five minutes, and the Wildcats pull away for the victory.
Worst Case:: Team that hasn't beaten anyone in Ken Pomeroy's top 120 all season isn't going to start now. Serene Green are walloped from the opening tip and shipped back down I-35 from Oklahoma City to Denton after a lopsided loss. School still looking for its first NCAA tournament victory.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.