Dream and nightmare scenarios
What's the best that could happen for your NCAA tournament basketball team during the next three weeks?
What's the worst?Read the wildest-dream and darkest-nightmare scenarios for all the remaining teams and find out.
|Ohio State (1)
Best Case: Coach Thad Matta becomes the savior of Buckeye Nation, not only winning the school's first basketball title since 1960 but also changing the subject from The Vest's mess. Perfectly constructed offensive team rides the interior strength of Jared Sullinger, the perimeter shooting of Jon Diebler and William Buford, the slashing ability of David Lighty and the setup skills of Aaron Craft to six victories. Buckeyes endure a tougher bracket than a No. 1 overall seed should have to, which makes the going seem relatively easy by the time they get to Houston. Matta beats five straight coaches with Final Four experience to cut down the nets: Jim Larranaga and George Mason in the Buckeyes' second game; John Calipari and Kentucky; Jim Boeheim and Syracuse; Mike Krzyzewski and Duke; and finally Bill Self and Kansas. By the time it's over, Ohio State has refuted the no-great-team angle of the 2010-11 season, going 38-2 and winning the Big Ten regular season, Big Ten tournament and NCAA tournament titles. Sullinger shocks everyone by saying he's coming back for his sophomore season, and Michigan loses in the first round.
Worst Case: Matta's stubbornly short rotation comes back to haunt him when the Buckeyes encounter foul trouble in their second game against George Mason. Specifically, Sullinger doesn't get the All-American whistle he's become accustomed to and has to sit major minutes with foul trouble. With other guys forced into expanded roles, Ohio State's well-honed offense stutters against the Patriots -- whose coach knows a thing or two about taking down the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. With the Buckeyes down two in the final seconds, Sullinger goes to the line to shoot two and makes only one with chants of "free tattoos" ringing in his ears. Ohio State is shocked in the Round of 32, and a crushed fan base no longer has an enjoyable distraction from its cheating football coach and suspended star players. Meanwhile, Michigan makes it to the Sweet 16.
|UT-San Antonio (16)
Best Case: The Roadrunners have some serious survival instincts, having charged from 12 points down in the final five minutes just to win their first Southland Conference tournament game. Taking that to the court in Dayton on Wednesday night, UTSA squeezes out Alabama State in the second half for the first NCAA tourney win in school history. Roadrunners resist the temptation to simply skip the trip to Cleveland to face No. 1 Ohio State. They show up, take a 5-4 lead into the first media timeout and have a team manager snap a quick photo of the scoreboard for posterity. Buckeyes go on to win by 25, but UTSA has its moment.
Worst Case: Roadrunners are road kill in Dayton, beaten by an Alabama State team Jeff Sagarin's computer rates 308th out of 345 -- possibly the lowest-rated NCAA tournament team in the history of the field. Team that lost five straight in late December/early January proves it can lose to the worst of 'em. Denied even the chance of being trampled by Ohio State, UTSA takes its NCAA gifts and slinks back to anonymity.
|Alabama State (16)
Best Case: The 17-17 Hornets may be horrible (308th according to Jeff Sagarin, 295th according to Ken Pomeroy and 263rd according to RPI), but they're hot. They've lost just one of their past 12 games, on the road by a single point, so they bring confidence into their First Four matchup with Texas-San Antonio. Leading scorer Tramayne Moorer missed 19 of Alabama State's first 22 games, but with him in the lineup the record is 13-2. Moorer leads the Hornets past the Roadrunners and into Cleveland against No. 1 Ohio State, where they actually bother the Buckeyes to the point that Thad Matta has to take a timeout after eight minutes with the Hornets up two. Historians quickly note the moment as the high point in Alabama State basketball history. It all goes south from there.
Worst Case: Alabama State has no business in this tournament -- not even against UTSA -- and is quickly dismissed. The Hornets fall behind by a dozen early and lose by 20 in front of a polite but totally bored crowd in Dayton. Bus never shows to take team to airport, so players have to take cabs. NCAA refuses to reimburse the cab fare.
|George Mason (8)
Best Case: The Patriots party like it's 2006, improbably returning to the Final Four. Jim Larranaga gets it done again, this time as a No. 8 seed -- better seeding than the No. 11 of five years ago, but necessitating an earlier matchup with the tourney's overall top seed. A confident Mason team that at one point won 16 in a row this season frustrates Ohio State strongman Jared Sullinger. The Buckeyes miss a lot of shots and get in foul trouble, the Patriots make key 3s and the underdog moves on. In the Sweet 16 they beat West Virginia, then take down Washington in a long-shot regional final. Media scurries to find Jai Lewis and Tony Skinn. After run ends with a loss to Duke in Houston, Larranaga again turns down job offers and stays at Mason.
Worst Case: A miracle like '06 comes along only once a lifetime. Non-miraculous Patriots are ousted in game won by a Villanova team everyone has given up on. Wildcats use their pressure and quickness to get Mason running and knock them out early. We won't hear from the Patriots again for years -- especially after Larranaga opts to retire. Meanwhile, rivals Old Dominion and VCU make runs.
Best Case: Wildcats somehow get it back together after horrific season-ending tailspin, beating George Mason when Isaiah Armwood strikes twice. The only 3-pointer of Armwood's two-year career was to beat Mason in Puerto Rico in 2009. In Cleveland on Friday, Armwood does it again, swishing a 3 that knocks out the Patriots and gives Villanova some desperately needed momentum. That helps the Wildcats keep it close Sunday against No. 1 Ohio State, but Nova is beaten on a late Jon Diebler 3. It's still better than ending the season with a sixth straight loss.
Worst Case: Nova ends the season with a sixth straight loss. A team that hasn't beaten an opponent that's in this field of 68 since Feb. 5 isn't ready to do so now, and George Mason takes it to the error-prone Wildcats. Villanova commits 22 turnovers, goes six minutes without scoring and generally looks like it cannot wait for the clock to expire. Since going to the 2009 Final Four, Jay Wright's postseason record slips to 1-4. He decides it's time for something new and takes his swell wardrobe to a new job.
|West Virginia (5)
Best Case: Mountaineers fans, ignite your couches. Bob Huggins does it again -- to John Calipari, and to an entire region. He and his team (particularly Cat killer Joe Mazzulla) upset Calipari and Kentucky for the second straight year, raising Huggins' personal record to 9-1 against Cal. Then they shock Ohio State in the Sweet 16, push around North Carolina in the regional final and show up in a completely improbable Final Four. Other coaches decide it must be the sweat suit and begin dressing like Huggs on the sideline. West Virginia again loses in the national semifinals, but at least this year nobody blows out a knee in the process. Pitt, meanwhile, loses before its seeding suggests it should yet again.
Worst Case: These aren't the Mountaineers of last year. Lacking scorers and depth, West Virginia can't even capitalize on its rest-and-preparation advantage over Clemson and loses to the Tigers on Thursday. Huggins gets T'd up, leading scorer Casey Mitchell takes (and misses) a lot of bad shots, Mazzulla makes no impact and the Mountaineers don't play transition defense. They're gone in 40 minutes. Pitt goes on to win the national title. Fans burn furniture anyway, in hopes it will make them feel better and because there's nothing else to do in Morgantown on an April Monday night.
Best Case: In an emphatic display that he's the right man for the job, Brad Brownell leads the Tigers to more NCAA wins in one game than Oliver Purnell did in seven seasons on the job. Clemson handles UAB from the opening tip in a First Four game in Dayton, then hurriedly packs up shop for a Thursday early afternoon tipoff against West Virginia in Tampa. Tigers prove that rest and preparation are overrated by upsetting the Mountaineers, then lose a competitive game in the round of 32 to Kentucky. Overexcited IPTAY members suggest that Brownell be put in charge of football, too.
Worst Case: Rest and preparation are not overrated. Saddled with a ridiculous turnaround by the selection committee and CBS, Clemson has no chance in second-round game against West Virginia. The Tigers didn't leave the court in Dayton until just before midnight ET Tuesday, flew to Tampa, and had to play at 12:15 ET Thursday afternoon against a Mountaineers team that has had a week off. It shows on the court as Clemson struggles to get going and loses by 15. In Blacksburg, morose Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg wails, "We'd do better than that!" Meanwhile, Tigers fans start getting nervous that Brownell is too good to keep at a football school, and begin praying that Tom Crean gets it going at Indiana so Brownell is not called back in a year or two to his home state to take over the Hoosiers.
Best Case: With their young stars growing up on national TV, the Wildcats return to the summit and win their eighth national title. Freshman Brandon Knight plays like the best NBA-prospect guard with two healthy big toes. Terrence Jones continues to be an all-court matchup problem and rebounding fool, but now takes better shots. Doron Lamb makes every open 3. Junior Darius Miller continues the late-season blossoming that made him SEC tournament MVP. Kentucky mows down Princeton, West Virginia, Ohio State, North Carolina, Duke and Kansas to win the title, cutting a wide swath through its blue-blood competition for the greatest program of all-time. John Calipari snips the nets at last, and 2,000 Kentucky families name their newborn sons Cal. To complete the rapture, Louisville loses its first game to Morehead State and Rick Pitino gets ejected. In response to rumors of interest from the New York Knicks, Kentucky gives Calipari an $8 million-a-year contract and a half-share in the Rachel Alexandra-Curlin foal and starts construction on a new 30,000-seat arena.
Worst Case: In a crushing case of déjà vu, Joe Mazzulla keys another West Virginia upset of the Wildcats -- this time in the round of 32 -- and extends Kentucky's longest-ever Final Four drought to 13 years. Bob Huggins runs his record to 9-1 against Calipari, who verbally bombs Terrence Jones again in a late-game situation. Big Blue fans who spent all week dissecting the presumptive Kentucky-Ohio State matchup have their daydreams pre-empted by the reality of Mazzulla evicting the Wildcats once more. Every key underclassman goes pro and so does Calipari, who is hired in New York to replace Mike D'Antoni after the Knicks bomb in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Louisville reaches the Final Four with no first-round draft picks.
Best Case: Tigers are charming and erudite in the press conference the day before the game. They're well-coached, play hard and play together. They do not get blown out against Kentucky. They do not win, either. Douglas Davis, who made the last shot against Harvard, makes the first shot against the Wildcats. The 2-0 lead doesn't last long, but the Tigers at least stay within striking distance long enough that Kentucky has to play hard for 32 out of the 40 minutes. Then the Princeton players return to school to become future leaders, statesmen and captains of industry.
Worst Case: Much like Cornell against Kentucky last year, Princeton is in several lottery picks over its head. The only comparable team the Tigers have faced this year is Duke -- and Duke beat them by 37. This is similar. The Cats run a dunk contest, throwing lobs to Terrence Jones and Darius Miller and even Josh Harrellson. Princeton calls timeouts that don't stop the flow and runs backdoor cuts that don't fool the defense. School is out early, and 20,000 Kentucky fans loudly reinforce that fact to the Tigers. Princeton's tournament experience is over before dinnertime Thursday.
Best Case: Tu Holloway becomes a March cult hero. The little guy wearing No. 52, the name change from Terrell to Tu, the swaggering city game all contribute -- that and the fact that he averages 25 points, five rebounds and eight assists for three games. The Musketeers beat Marquette and upset Syracuse -- a nice double-dip to shut up the obnoxious Big East fans in their backyard. Then they dispatch Washington to reach the regional final -- their fourth straight trip to at least the Sweet 16. There they get a rematch of a controversial 2007 NCAA tourney loss to Ohio State. They don't win this one either, but at least this time they don't get the shaft from the officials. Coach Chris Mack reaffirms his commitment to Xavier and refuses to follow those who used the job as a steppingstone. Meanwhile, Cincinnati is upset by Missouri, which means the Musketeers can tell Bearcats fans they've now won 11 NCAA games since the last time Cincy won one.
Worst Case: Marquette's guards have the quickness to compete with Holloway. They limit him and nobody else steps up, as the Golden Eagles spring the upset. Xavier fans have to hear even more about how the Big East is light years ahead of the inferior Atlantic-10. Mack decides that even though he's deeply rooted at Xavier, his career doesn't have to be and takes another job. Cincinnati, meanwhile, breaks out on a run to the Elite Eight.
Best Case: With a No. 11 seed, the Golden Eagles will probably wear their powder-blue uniforms throughout the tournament -- and nobody's uniforms look better. The unis get worn for a surprising three games, as Marquette upsets Xavier, then Syracuse, then Washington to reach the regional final. Marquette loses there to Ohio State, short-circuiting the Dwyane Wade and Bo Ellis Final Four nostalgia stories but leaving everyone very happy. Especially since Wisconsin is beaten in its first game by Belmont and scores 39 points in the process. Buzz Williams turns down Oklahoma to stay in Milwaukee.
Worst Case: Williams has one foot out the door to Oklahoma, scantly prepares his team and the Golden Eagles get run over by Xavier. Middling defensive team lets the Musketeers shoot a high percentage and allows Tu Holloway to get to the rim. Marquette is one-and-done, and no reporters bother calling Wade or Ellis for nostalgic comment. Wisconsin resuscitates itself and makes the Final Four despite averaging only 52 points in four games.
Best Case: Did this team really lose six out of eight games in one stretch? You can't tell that now, not with all the trademark Orange elements in place. The zone is active and annoying, the perimeter shooters are dialed in, Rick Jackson is a load inside and Fab Melo continues to show signs of life. They waltz past Indiana State (the weakest Missouri Valley champion in years), outlast Xavier, unsettle young North Carolina and unseat Ohio State when the Buckeyes go cold against the zone. Cuse beats Duke but, in a script flip from 2003, loses to Kansas in the title game. Run lasts long enough that most of the snow is actually melted on campus by the time the Orange return in early April.
Worst Case: Yes, this team really did lose six out of eight games in one stretch, and that's the team that shows up in Cleveland. Lax zone leaves shooters open. Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche launch too many bad shots. And nobody feeds Jackson on the inside. After wheezing past Indiana State in the opener, Cuse gets excused in the Round of 32 by Xavier. Jim Boeheim blames it on the local media for being too negative. Kris Joseph decides this is a splendid time to go pro. Another foot of snow falls in upstate New York.
|Indiana St. (14)
Best Case: Sycamores channel Larry Bird, shooting brilliantly from every position and hurting Syracuse's half-hearted zone. Entire crowd in Cleveland gets behind the upset bid, as Indiana State takes a nine-point halftime lead and attempts to hold on. It doesn't hold on, losing the lead in the final four minutes, but earns national respect for playing better than anticipated. Bird sends a congratulatory text to the team. So does Carl Nicks, but nobody remembers who he is.
Worst Case: Something gets lost in spirit-world translation, and the Sycamores actually channel Eddie Bird, Larry's less-talented little brother who was Indiana State's leading scorer when it was losing 20 games a year in the late 1980s. A team that lost to Loyola-Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, Ball State and Wyoming has no business beating Syracuse, and that is abundantly clear in the early going. Sycamores fall behind quickly and stay there, watching the Orange throw lobs over their heads all day. Nobody sends congratulatory texts. Not even Eddie Bird.
Best Case: One of the most athletically gifted teams in the field showcases its quickness, speed and leaping ability in a strong tourney performance. Isaiah Thomas plays like a "cold-blooded!" star, hitting big shots and fracturing defenses. Matthew Bryan-Amaning plays big in the paint. Justin Holiday plays better than his brother, Jrue, ever did in a UCLA uniform. Venoy Overton makes a convenient return from suspension. And Lorenzo Romar, who has coached some sneaky Sweet 16 runs, leads Washington's first Final Four run since 1953. Crowning moment is a regional final game against Kentucky, which took Enes Kanter, Terrence Jones and the last speck of Who Hash away from the Huskies. Romar gets the last laugh in that one, drawing up the game-winning play for Terrence Ross to score over former high school teammate Jones.
Worst Case: Long on athletes but short on basketball IQ, the Huskies take bad shots, commit a dozen silly fouls, miss a dozen free throws, play in a hurry all game and generally stink it up in an upset loss to Georgia. Mentally sketchy team that lost late home games to Washington State and USC shows up to face the Bulldogs, who actually hold onto a late lead for a change and eliminate the Huskies. Three seniors graduate, and Thomas and Ross make puzzling decisions to go pro. Meanwhile, Jones leads Kentucky to the national title.
Best Case: With Dustin Ware hustling upcourt to launch the winning shot against Washington, Mark Fox does not call a timeout this time. Ware lets it fly and it goes in and the Bulldogs beat the Huskies for their first NCAA tournament win since 2002. Georgia manages late-game situations that previously have baffled it. Trey Thompkins is a load down low and Travis Leslie throws down several spectacular dunks and the Dawgs follow their victory over Washington with a stunning upset of North Carolina. They lose in the Sweet 16 to Syracuse, but everyone is happy with the brief reprieve from agonizing over the decline of Georgia football. Fox signs 10-year contract extension, and Georgia Tech decides to rehire Bobby Cremins.
Worst Case: Up 12 on Washington with three minutes to play, Bulldogs go to their customary Chinese fire drill end-game strategy, combining bad shots with turnovers with defensive lapses with missed free throws with poorly timed timeouts. Up two in the final seconds, they foul Venoy Overton as he's heaving the ball from 60 feet away. He makes three free throws, and the Dawgs are done. Fox leaves for a school that likes basketball. Tech makes a good hire. Four more of Richt's players get arrested.
|North Carolina (2)
Best Case: With Larry Drew II, the Wear twins and thousands of Duke fans watching in morose amazement, the Tar Heels win it all for the second time in three seasons and third time in seven. A year removed from the indignity of the NIT, young Carolina continues its late-season roll and charges through a difficult region, while Duke is being shocked in the second round by Tennessee. After beating No. 1 Ohio State to get to Houston, the Heels blow out San Diego State in the semifinal and nip Kansas in the final. Ol' Roy only has two days to dither over facing the Jayhawks in the Final Four this time, instead of a full week, and he handles it better. Harrison Barnes continues his inevitable metamorphosis into a superstar. Kendall Marshall plays with a charismatic cleverness and somehow continues to evade being called for carrying the basketball. Tyler Zeller is the rock of consistency at both ends. John Henson grabs rebounds like Kevin Love. Ol' Roy tells the fans that it's OK to call his dadgum radio show now and tell him how good his team is.
Worst Case: Locked in a second-round tussle with athletic Washington, Barnes goes back to his high-volume, low-percentage shooting days. Marshall turns it over more than he finds his teammates, including three calls for carrying the basketball by non-ACC refs who apparently didn't know that it was forbidden to call it on the kid. Zeller and Henson are pulled away from the basket defensively to deal with pick-and-roll situations, negating their length. The Tar Heels miss almost all their 3-pointers and play indifferent defense. Ol' Roy tries the shove-five-subs-in-the-game trick one too many times and it results in a 10-0 Washington run. Ol' Roy cries, cusses and tells everyone not to call his dadgum radio show unless it's to compliment his golf game. Duke wins it all again.
|Long Island (15)
Best Case: Blackbird Mania sweeps Brooklyn for two hours, as Long Island gives powerful North Carolina its best shot. LIU roars fearlessly to the hoop and gets to the line, rocking surprised young Carolina back on its Tar Heels. It attacks the offensive glass with tenacity and generally plays with the cocksure confidence of a team that hasn't lost since January. It takes a late 3 from Barnes to subdue the Blackbirds, but the game serves as the highest point for the program since the Clair Bee, pre-point-shaving days. And since quite frankly nobody living remembers those days, this is as good as it gets for LIU.
Worst Case: The Northeast Conference champion is 0-28 in the NCAA tournament. Make it 0-29, and make it snappy. Beating Wagner, Bryant and the two St. Francises does not make a great dress rehearsal for North Carolina. LIU is no match for the towering length of the Tar Heels, who pound the ball inside for layups all day. The Blackbirds don't see many talents like Barnes and Marshall in the NEC. The game is effectively over by halftime, leaving the television crew to fill time with grainy black-and-white film from the Clair Bee days.
Best Case: Every single ticket gets distributed legally as the Jayhawks march all the way to their fourth national title and second in the past four seasons. The Morris twins have defenses seeing double, hurting opponents inside and outside. Experienced guards hit key shots and play airtight defense. Deepest team in the country gets contributions from 10 players -- even Josh Selby! -- as Kansas rolls past Boston U, UNLV, Louisville and Notre Dame to Houston. Once there, the Jayhawks bounce Florida and then do what they did in 2008 -- rip Roy Williams and North Carolina. Bill Self signs a lifetime contract, Selby humbly acknowledges he's not ready for the NBA, the Morrises return as well, and Kansas is the prohibitive favorite to win it all again in 2012. Meanwhile, Missouri and Kansas State both get knocked out in the first round.
Worst Case: Emotionally immature team overlooks its round-of-32 game against UNLV and comes out flat. Marcus Morris is tossed for a flagrant elbow, Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar miss every perimeter jumper, and Tyshawn Taylor turns the ball over five times. Bill Self gets that familiar, Northern Iowa/Bucknell/Bradley sinking feeling again, watching his team unravel. Jayhawks are dismissed while Missouri makes an unlikely Sweet 16 run and Kansas State goes to the Final Four.
|Boston U (16)
Best Case: After calling Boston College fans and telling them to enjoy the NIT, Terriers backers arrive in Tulsa in buoyant moods. They see the sights -- there are sights in Tulsa, right? -- eat the food and talk some good-natured trash to Kansas fans. The team looks great in layup lines, and the PA announcer pronounces each starter's name correctly. A stirring rendition of the national anthem is sung. The Terriers win the tip, and lead after both the first and second TV timeouts. Reality ensues thereafter, but BU gets its moment. And wins the hockey national title.
Worst Case: Food and weather are bad in Tulsa. Layup lines are sloppy, starters' names are mispronounced, anthem is botched Christina Aguilera-style. Kansas wins the tip and Marcus Morris dunks on the opening possession. Terriers are down 10 by the first timeout and lose by 40. Hockey team flames out quickly, too.
Best Case: Rebels re-establish contact with their November/December vibe, when they beat Wisconsin, Murray State, Virginia Tech and Kansas State. Tre'Von Willis plays back to his 2010 form, driving fearlessly and getting to the foul line, and his teammates follow his lead. Rebels make just enough 3-pointers to beat Illinois, then turn up the defensive pressure to rattle Kansas and pull a huge upset. In the Sweet 16 UNLV gets revenge for a December loss to Louisville before being beaten by Notre Dame in the regional final. His NCAA tournament record further strengthened, coach Lon Kruger signs a lifetime deal.
Worst Case: UNLV team that is 22-1 against non-tournament teams and 2-7 against the field of 68 knows it is in over its head against good competition, and plays like it. Rebels cannot make any shots and are tossed out of Tulsa by Illinois on Friday night. They're forced to watch Mountain West rivals San Diego State and BYU both make deep runs. Kruger takes another job, and the 20th anniversary of UNLV's last Final Four appearance passes quietly.
Best Case: Unsatisfying, underachieving season takes a turn at the 11th hour, when a team led in scoring by three seniors finally finds its sense of urgency. Demetri McCamey racks up 20 points and 10 assists against UNLV. Then, in the Jilted Fan Base Jihad Game against Bill Self and Kansas, coach Bruce Weber devises a brilliant game plan to neutralize the Morris twins and the Illini score their biggest win since 2005. They then defeat Louisville to reach the final eight before losing to Notre Dame. Weber is freshly appreciated by Illinois fans. As an added bonus, coach Bruce Pearl and Tennessee are routed in their first game and Pearl is given a one-year show-cause penalty.
Worst Case: Unsatisfying, underachieving season continues on same dismal path for 40 more minutes, when senior-led team loses ugly to UNLV -- coached by another former Illinois boss, Lon Kruger. Illini go 6½ minutes without scoring in the middle of the second half to blow an eight-point lead and lose by two when 7-foot-1 Mike Tisdale turns a low-post catch into a fadeaway 18-footer that misses at the buzzer. Tired of looking at the skinny upper bodies of Tisdale, Bill Cole and Mike Davis, and tired of listening to fans call for his job, Weber at least changes strength coaches. Meanwhile, Self wins another title and Pearl goes to the Final Four.
Best Case: The hot John Jenkins makes the trip to Denver. The guard who made 24 of 50 3-point shots in five victories over the past month lights up Richmond and Louisville, carrying the Commodores to the Sweet 16. He is joined in San Antonio by the assertive Jeffery Taylor, an athletic marvel who, when tuned in, averaged 20.6 points in the SEC tournament. Together they key a dramatic upset of Kansas. Commodores lose in regional final to Notre Dame, but it's their deepest NCAA push since 1965. Tennessee, Memphis and Belmont all lose earlier, leaving the state spotlight to the Dores.
Worst Case: The cold John Jenkins makes the trip to Denver. The guard who made 8 of 31 3-point shots in four defeats over the past month cannot hit anything against Richmond. He's joined by unassertive Jeffery Taylor, who scores a quiet seven points in a second consecutive first-round upset loss. Vandy remains a good team that never threatens to do anything great, while Tennessee, Memphis and Belmont all win at least one game. Forget being the best team in the state; Vandy isn't even the best team in Nashville.
Best Case: Arachnophobia strikes as the Spiders win their first NCAA games since John Beilein was the coach in 1998. Dangerous 3-point shooters heat up to upset Vanderbilt, then beat Morehead State in a 12-13 anarchy game in the round of 32. On its deepest tournament run since 1988, Richmond loses a competitive game to Kansas in Sweet 16. Atlantic 10 office is thrilled to see someone not named Xavier win something. Coach Chris Mooney kicks the tires on a couple of jobs but decides to stay. The CAA wing of the commonwealth of Virginia -- George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion -- bows out early, leaving the stage to the Spiders.
Worst Case: Angry at being labeled the most likely No. 5 seed to lose early, Vanderbilt is locked in and ready for Richmond from the opening tip. Spiders' top five scorers all shoot more 3-pointers than free throws, which means they're more likely to spend time dithering around the perimeter -- and if the 3-point shots aren't going, they're in trouble. They don't fall against Vandy, and Richmond is one-and-done for the second straight season. Mooney leaves for North Carolina State. CAA wing of the commonwealth puts another team in the Final Four.
Best Case: Overachieving season reaches new high when the Cardinals ride sizzling shooting and pressure defense to five victories and the program's ninth Final Four. Highlight moment comes when Louisville hits 15 3-point shots and Rick Pitino runs his Sweet 16 record to 10-0 with an upset of No. 1 seed Kansas. After beating Pittsburgh for the second time this year in the Final Four, "them bums" wave goodbye to Ashton Gibbs and say hello to Ohio State in the final. Cardinals lose there but walk away from the season feeling giddy. Preston Knowles, Peyton Siva and Kyle Kuric play like the best backcourt triumvirate in the Dance. Kentucky loses in the second round to West Virginia and freshmen Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb all go pro.
Worst Case: Injury-addled season reaches a new low when big men Terrence Jennings and Gorgui Dieng collide in pregame layup line against Morehead State, knocking each other unconscious. With only end-of-the-bench post men left to contest Kenneth Faried, he goes off for 30 points and 20 rebounds, leading the Eagles to a shocking upset. Peyton Siva makes ill-advised decision to turn pro. Kentucky goes on to win the national title, announces plans to build a new arena that's nicer than the KFC Yum! Center and gets verbal commitments from every single five-star recruit in the Class of 2013.
|Morehead State (13)
Best Case: Hoopsworld falls in love with Kenneth Faried -- his braids, his boards and his compelling backstory -- as he leads the Eagles out of remote northeastern Kentucky and into the Sweet 16. Surprisingly athletic Morehead drives the ball with vigor and swarms Louisville's shooters in a first-round shocker, then beats Richmond in a 12-13 bracket-collapse game. Reality arrives in a Sweet 16 loss to Kansas, but by then America comes to appreciate coach Donnie Tyndall's ability to win at one of the toughest places to recruit in America. When the Eagles land at the Lexington airport, thousands of Kentucky fans greet them in ecstasy over the early dismissal of Pitino and Louisville.
Worst Case: The players on one of the nation's sloppier ballhandling teams might as well be wearing pork chops around their necks and playing with pit bulls against swarming Louisville. Eagles turn the ball over 28 times, fail to close on 3-point shooters in transition and are shot back to their backwater burg in short order by the Cardinals. Faried never gets a chance to punish Louisville inside because the Morehead guards can't get him the ball -- they're too busy giving it to the Louisville guards. With Faried leaving, Tyndall gets out, too. Kentucky fans heckle Morehead at the Lexington airport for failing to eliminate Pitino and the Cardinals.
Best Case: Chris Wright's hand is OK, and he rides in like the cavalry to save the Hoyas' season. The guard returns to his stabilizing, playmaking self to help Georgetown end a four-game losing streak and start a three-game winning streak. Hoyas handle weary USC and backsliding Purdue to set up a rematch with Notre Dame, a team they lost to in South Bend, Ind., in December. This time Georgetown turns the tables on a Nate Lubick layup at the buzzer and reaches the regional final before losing to Kansas. Coach John Thompson III almost smiles after beating the Irish.
Worst Case: Chris Wright's hand isn't OK, and he doesn't ride in like the cavalry, and the school gets ripped for its phony injury update to protect team seeding. Without Wright, the offense still doesn't run and a team averaging 51.5 points the past four games still can't score. The Hoyas are an easy mark for USC, despite the short turnaround from the First Four for the Trojans. JTIII doesn't come close to cracking a smile after his second straight first-round ouster and third consecutive NCAA loss to a lower-seeded team.
Best Case: Coach Kevin O'Neill minds his manners, refraining from cussing out anyone in Dayton as his Trojans beat VCU in a First Four game. O'Neill remains on his best behavior in Chicago as USC defeats aimless Georgetown. And he's the picture of decorum as USC wins its third game in five days by taking down Purdue. The Trojans lose in the Sweet 16 to Notre Dame, and O'Neill strictly limits his in-game F-bomb quota to 18 -- one for every media timeout and team timeout. After that, O'Neill instructs a team manager to call Arizona booster Paul Weitman and ask him how much he $*%^ enjoyed the Wildcats' opening upset loss to Memphis -- but O'Neill does not pick up the phone himself. Meanwhile, UCLA loses its first game to Michigan State and USC football coach Lane Kiffin gets commitments from every five-star prospect in Southern California.
Worst Case: O'Neill goes potty-mouth ballistic on the officials and is ejected from USC's First Four game against VCU, in which the Trojans shoot 9-of-22 from the foul line and lose by three points. In Blacksburg, Va., apoplectic Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg fumes, "We could do better than that!" In Dayton, O'Neill fields a call from Weitman offering #$&^%* congratulations on the Trojans' first-round flameout. In Tampa, UCLA coach Ben Howland chuckles at USC's misfortune before leading the Bruins on a Final Four run. Trojans fans are free to quit pretending they care about basketball and go back to obsessing over football.
Best Case: Rams justify their controversial inclusion in the field by beating USC in the First Four and then knocking off Georgetown before losing to Purdue in the round of 32. Jamie Skeen showcases his increasingly versatile game, banging for double-doubles but also skillfully shooting 3-pointers. Shaka Smart establishes himself as the latest hot commodity from the Billy Donovan coaching tree, but opts to stay in Richmond after overtures from other programs. VCU outlasts city rival Richmond and CAA rivals George Mason and Old Dominion.
Worst Case: Rams do nothing to justify their controversial inclusion in the field, playing indifferent defense and being waxed on the glass by USC in a 15-point loss. Team that lost five of its past eight is pilloried nationwide, as is the selection committee that chose it for the field of 68. In Blacksburg, outraged Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg shrieks, "We could do better than that!" Shaka Smart realizes that the time to upgrade is now and leaves for a bigger job. Richmond, George Mason and Old Dominion all win their first games.
Best Case: This was supposed to be a special season, and despite the roadblocks it ends that way. Losing Robbie Hummel didn't derail the Boilermakers, and neither do consecutive bad losses to Iowa and Michigan State to end the season. This is a veteran team that had its eyes on the Big Dance all along, and it's ready to show it. Purdue grabs Saint Peter's by the throat from the opening tip, beats fatigued USC in its second game, then takes down Notre Dame in a northwest Indiana battle relocated to San Antonio. From there, Purdue beats Louisville in the regional final, reaching its first Final Four since 1980. Stellar seniors JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore get enough help from their supporting cast. Boilers lose to Pittsburgh in Houston, but know they maximized their ability. And maximized the misery of Indiana fans everywhere.
Worst Case: Season that began badly ends that way, too. Those stumbles against the Hawkeyes and Spartans weren't a blip, they were flashing warning lights. Johnson and Moore can't get good help, and the Saint Peter's defense tilts heavily to stopping them. Peacocks pull off the biggest of all 2011 early-round shockers on a banked-in 3 at the buzzer. Four years of big dreams end in an opening-game nightmare. Former coach Gene Keady gets to the Final Four as an assistant coach at St. John's, saying he had to get away from West Lafayette, Ind., to finally reach the last weekend of the season. In-state neighbor Notre Dame makes the Final Four as well. Indiana fans point at the Assembly Hall rafters and invite the Boilermakers to compare banners.
|Saint Peter's (14)
Best Case: Peacocks catch struggling Purdue at precisely the right time. With four big-city, back-East seniors, they're unafraid of the challenge. They jump to a big early lead and hold on down the stretch, with Ryan Bacon blocking an E'Twaun Moore drive at the buzzer to preserve the biggest win in school history. Then they catch a fatigued No. 12 seed USC off an upset of Georgetown but playing its third game in five days. Inconceivably, Saint Peter's slides into the Sweet 16. With St. John's and Syracuse both being upset, the tiny Jersey City neighborhood school improbably becomes the team for the New York metro area to embrace. Coach John Dunne finally becomes enough of a household name to quit being confused with John Donne.
Worst Case: A team that hasn't been to the Big Dance in 16 years and shoots 40 percent from the field is no match for Purdue's defense. The Peacocks are inhaled immediately, with nobody who can make shots and nobody to check JaJuan Johnson. School returns quickly and quietly to Jersey City neighborhood anonymity. John Dunne remains far behind John Donne in name recognition.
|Texas A&M (7)
Best Case:Aggies continue their season-long overachieving by advancing to an improbable regional final. With just one significantly talented player in Khris Middleton, A&M is a team of hardworking role players who shut down offensively challenged Florida State, stun cold-shooting Notre Dame and topple Purdue. They finally tap out in the regional final against Kansas, but it's the deepest move in school history. Coach Mark Turgeon is given a new contract and his own personal Yell Leader to fetch coffee and lunch and wash his comp car. When Texas flames out against Oakland, Aggies fans still riding a high from beating the Longhorns in football nearly expire from happiness.
Worst Case: Lack of major talent catches up with the Aggies, who are broomed out by Florida State. Seminoles forward Chris Singleton is recovered from his broken foot and shuts down Middleton, and nobody else can score enough to pick up the slack. Turgeon decides he wants to coach at a school that likes basketball and relocates. Texas wins national title, and six more blue-chip recruits commit to Rick Barnes.
|Florida State (10)
Best Case: Chris Singleton is all the way back from his broken foot and is the best defensive player in the tournament. He smothers Khris Middleton of A&M, Tim Abromaitis of Notre Dame and Austin Freeman of Georgetown in succession, as the Seminoles somehow score enough to win three games -- all by the score of 55-54. They lose in the regional final to Kansas, but their run improves coach Leonard Hamilton's career NCAA record to .500 at 6-6. Florida, meanwhile, loses its second game, to Michigan State.
Worst Case: Singleton's injury recovery is overstated in order to protect seeding. Without him at 100 percent, the Seminoles are the same bunch of haphazard ball handlers, foul shooters and perimeter shooters who lost three of their past five games. Hamilton drops to 3-6 in NCAA tournament play, as Texas A&M beats Florida State easily. In Blacksburg, Seth Greenberg howls, "We could do better than that!" Meanwhile, Florida further dwarfs the Seminoles by winning another national title under Donovan.
|Notre Dame (2)
Best Case: Mike Brey does what Digger Phelps and every other men's basketball coach in school history failed to do -- capture a national title. Riding the rarest commodity in the game -- lavish experience -- the heady Fighting Irish reverse the trend that says you must have surefire pros to win it all. The Irish shoot the lights out of three successive venues and win a succession of close games -- they beat Louisville in their third overtime meeting of the season, then take out Kansas State in Houston and slay Ohio State in the title game. Ben Hansbrough joins big brother Tyler in the fellowship of the (championship) ring. Phelps gives Brey a gold-plated highlighter. Notre Dame faces reality and officially becomes a basketball school, and to prove it, the Irish commit to building a new arena.
Worst Case: Experience is great, but athleticism can beat it. Notre Dame runs into that in a second-round upset loss to Florida State. The Seminoles blanket the Irish shooters and savage them on the offensive glass. Crestfallen Notre Dame fans remember that Mike Brey has never been to a regional final, much less a Final Four, as a head coach. Then they go back to scrutinizing the spring football depth chart. Meanwhile, Mike Krzyzewski unexpectedly retires after winning a fifth national title and Duke names Brey to succeed him.
Best Case: The Zips take inspiration from a text message sent from former Akron homie LeBron James: "Take your talents to Chicago. And shock the world." Balanced team that won 11 of its past 13 games jumps on sleepy Notre Dame in afternoon tipoff, instills unease in pro-Irish crowd in the United Center and hangs around until the final media timeout before capitulating. LeBron sends consoling postgame text saying that he knows what it's like to lose in a playoff format. Gerry Faust shows up to root for both teams.
Worst Case: There are no motivational texts from LeBron, and no hope, either. Akron team that didn't beat anybody in the RPI top 75 and lost to a pair of teams in the 300s is in far beyond its depth against the Fighting Irish (No. 8 RPI). Zips fail to challenge Notre Dame inside and are buried beneath an avalanche of 3s. Faust gets booed by both fan bases.
Best Case: Gifted with a region that is only slightly tougher than the average Atlantic 10 tournament, the Panthers overcome their penchant for March Madness meltdowns and surge to their first Final Four since World War II. Ashton Gibbs outplays Jacob Pullen in the Sweet 16, and Jamie Dixon outcoaches two-time national champion Billy Donovan in the regional final. In Houston, Pitt beats Kansas on a length-of-the-floor drive by Brad Wanamaker at the buzzer to reach the title game before losing to Ohio State. Having broken the Final Four barrier, Dixon becomes almost as big a celebrity in Pittsburgh as the long snapper for the Steelers. Meanwhile, West Virginia loses in the first round, and Bob Huggins breaks more ribs in another hotel-room fall.
Worst Case: Even with the room-service regional, Pitt apples up in the second round and loses to Butler on a length-of-the-floor drive by Shelvin Mack at the buzzer. The Panthers do what they do most every March: fail to make shots and struggle to score against the Final Four-seasoned Bulldogs. The few Pitt fans not obsessing over the NFL lockout start to turn on Dixon for failing to deliver on the big stage. Gibbs tweets that the Butler players are bums, then issues an apology so eloquent that some suspect it came straight from Barack Obama's speechwriter. Huggins takes West Virginia to a second straight Final Four.
|North Carolina-Asheville (16)
Best Case: Riding high after a thrilling First Four overtime victory, the Bulldogs forget to be intimidated by No. 1 seed Pittsburgh. Guard Matt Dickey makes more fullback charges to the rim and clutch jumpers, the D.C. crowd gets behind the underdog and Jamie Dixon puckering on the Pittsburgh bench can be audibly detected. The best of this year's No. 16 seeds hangs around stubbornly until the final five minutes, when its legs begin to go after the overtime effort in Dayton. Bulldogs get a big ovation leaving the court and have the luxury of going home to one of the cooler towns east of the Mississippi.
Worst Case: The thrill of beating Arkansas-Little Rock wears off quickly when they are confronted with the on-a-mission mentality of Pittsburgh. The Panthers aren't puckering, they're flexing. Dickey's fullback drives to the basket collide with linebacker bodies in the paint for Pitt, and the gritty guard begins to feel the 43 minutes he played Tuesday night in Dayton. Panthers savage UNC-Asheville on the offensive glass. Bulldogs can't make any shots and lose by more than the 21-point margin of defeat they had against Texas in 2003. Nobody notices the team's return to town because everyone is fixated on the Tar Heels.
Best Case: A Bulldogs team that has rediscovered its tournament mojo wins its 10th straight game against Old Dominion, its 11th straight in a stunning takedown of Pitt, its 12th straight in a Sweet 16 triumph over Kansas State and its 13th straight over Florida on a Matt Howard half-court shot that banks in -- and reaches a second consecutive Final Four. Along the way, Butler shoots 83 percent from the line and turns the ball over five times a game. The Bulldogs lose in Houston to Kansas but make their point: They're here to stay as the most unlikely of national powers. To reinforce that point, coach Brad Stevens signs yet another reworked long-term contract after turning down half a dozen major job offers. Blue the Bulldog signs an endorsement deal with Alpo.
Worst Case: Butler realizes how much easier it was to have tournament mojo with Gordon Hayward and falls in the first round to Old Dominion. Howard picks up two fouls on the opening tip and plays a total of 11 minutes before fouling out. Stevens comes to appreciate the rewards of coaching future lottery picks and leaves for a job in a big-six conference. Blue the Bulldog follows the lead of UGA's VII and VIII and goes paws-up after the loss. Hinkle Fieldhouse is condemned.
|Old Dominion (9)
Best Case: Monarchs show that Butler isn't the only mid-major capable of a little magic, dispatching the Bulldogs, Pittsburgh, Kansas State and Florida on the way to the second Colonial Athletic Association Final Four in the past six tournaments. Blessed with two games in nearby Washington, D.C., ODU fans show up in force to watch Frank Hassell (15 points, 9.6 rebounds) foul out Butler's Matt Howard and Pitt's Gary McGhee. Veteran team plays physical defense, refuses to turn over the ball and makes Blaine Taylor the next Jim Larranaga -- an underappreciated CAA coach who finally gets his due. After winning NCAA games two years in a row, Taylor is hot on the job market but makes like Larranaga by turning down Providence to stay at ODU.
Worst Case: A team that struggles shooting the ball in the best of times goes catastrophically cold against Butler in an early-afternoon game in D.C. Monarchs miss their first 12 shots and must play from behind against the confident Bulldogs, and wind up losing by 15. Taylor drops to 1-6 as an NCAA tourney coach and makes a lateral move to another job. Rival VCU makes a run to the Sweet 16.
|Kansas State (5)
Best Case: Team that hasn't lost to anybody but Colorado since January rejoices to see the Buffaloes left out of the bracket and begins plotting a Final Four run. Jacob Pullen makes it reality by averaging 30 points per game, making his beard the most famous this side of Fidel Castro's. Season-long underachievers Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels return to active, disruptive form inside. The Wildcats whip past Utah State, Belmont, Pittsburgh and Florida to reach Houston. At a key juncture against the Gators, Kansas State misses a box-out and allows a putback basket -- but coach Frank Martin endures it without committing homicide. Reassured that their coach only looks like an ax-murdering madman, as opposed to being one, K-State settles down and wins the game. Loss in national semifinals to Notre Dame doesn't hurt because Kansas was eliminated earlier.
Worst Case: After failed box-out in the first two minutes, Frank Martin's head explodes on the sideline, ruining his suit and hampering his team's ability to beat Utah State. Aggies coach Stew Morrill calls the Colorado staff to get the dope on beating the Wildcats and employs the same game plan to perfection. Under duress, K-State reverts to unintelligent offense and Pullen goes 4-for-23 from the field. Kelly and Samuels play in a fog. The Wildcats are forced to return to Manhattan, Kan., and watch Kansas win the national title.
|Utah State (12)
Best Case: Underseeded and angry about it, the 30-3 Aggies arrive in Tucson ready to play. They're greeted by a Kansas State team that underestimates them. The Wildcats fall behind, cannot rattle a team with six seniors and are solidly beaten. Then Utah State meets up with fellow Cinderella Belmont in the second round and wins that one easily, advancing to the Sweet 16 before Pittsburgh finally ends the run. Aggies fans chant "Goodbye Jimmer!" while watching BYU get upset in the first round by Wofford. Meanwhile, Utah rehires Rick Majerus in a misguided fit of nostalgia.
Worst Case: Marginally athletic team that lost to Idaho finds itself outrun and outjumped by Kansas State, especially on the interior. Knocks on the Aggies' provincial scheduling philosophy intensify as Stew Morrill drops to 1-9 as an NCAA tourney coach. Meanwhile, Jimmer takes BYU to the Final Four, and Utah hires a stud.
Best Case: Rightfully shamed by performance in Big Ten tournament, Badgers push the gas pedal just enough to unleash the full talents of point guard Jordan Taylor. He leads Wisconsin to the Final Four, recording 80 points, 32 assists and 4 turnovers in four impressive victories. Fastidious Badgers commit just 32 team fouls and 22 turnovers in four games while also leaving their locker rooms spotless. Before matchup with Florida in regional final, injured forward Mike Bruesewitz shockingly shaves the red poodle off his head and implores his team to "win one for the Brueser." 'Sconsin gets it done. Aaron Rodgers flies to Houston to see the Badgers play. And Buzz Williams takes the Oklahoma job five minutes after Marquette is eliminated in the first round.
Worst Case: Team that scored a Cro-Magnon 33 points last time out shows up in Tucson and gets upset-romped in the first round. Badgers shoot 29 percent from the field and drive fans out of the McKale Center shielding their eyes from the horror. Wisconsin backers who feverishly defended Bo Ryan's plodding approach as "playing the right way" now wonder why the right way keeps turning out wrong in March. Marquette goes on a run, and Buzz Williams re-ups. Fans morosely return home to spring snow, labor strife and the Packers lockout.
Best Case: Thirty-win team that hasn't lost since January has no intention of starting now. Bruins stake their claim to being the best team in Tennessee after capturing their first two games and watching Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Memphis all lose earlier. Sublime shooting display blows away Wisconsin, then defensive pressure creates an abundance of Utah State turnovers in a broken-bracket round-of-32 game. Nation falls in love with coach Rick Byrd, who has nursed the Belmont program for 25 years from NAIA to NCAA Division I independent to mid-major power. Close Sweet 16 loss to Pittsburgh is no shame. Nation finally figures out that the Nashville, Tenn., school has nothing to do with the New York racetrack.
Worst Case: Bruins drop to 0-4 all-time in NCAA tourney play when their offense is suffocated by a Wisconsin team eager for atonement. After losing the tempo battle, normally fast-paced Belmont is held to 44 points. Byrd retires after the loss, but not before being asked if he was present for Secretariat's big race. Tennessee, Vandy and Memphis all reach the Sweet 16, returning Belmont to little-brother status in the state.
|St. John's (6)
Best Case: Steve Lavin unleashes his long list of analogies to describe the Red Storm's run to the Final Four. Boxing, movies, football, Buddhism, politics and reality TV are used to describe the Johnnies as they battle past Gonzaga, BYU, Florida and Pittsburgh to reach Houston. Dwight Hardy plays like a star, and everyone ups their game to offset the loss of D.J. Kennedy to a knee injury. By the time the Johnnies reach Reliant Stadium, even UCLA fans admit Lavin can coach. Black suit with white sneakers and no tie look starts to catch on in Manhattan. Louie Carnesecca, Chris Mullin and Walter Berry are interviewed into exhaustion. Gene Keady finally gets to see what the working side of a Final Four looks like. New York columnists leave the Yankees batting cage long enough to declare this the greatest story in college basketball history, then rip the Johnnies when they lose to Kansas by three in the national semifinals.
Worst Case: Red Storm never rediscover their February verve and are one-and-done against red-hot Gonzaga. St. John's misses Kennedy's presence on the defensive end and the glass. Lavin dishes out 23 analogies in a five-minute span to describe the Johnnies' 69-65 loss. UCLA fans smirk. Fans decide Lavin looks unprofessional without a tie and dress shoes. New York columnists never have to leave the Yankees batting cage, but do pause the A-Rod watch long enough to rip St. John's for the worst performance in college basketball history.
Best Case: After years of being in contention, the Zags break through. Team that has won nine straight entering the Dance continues to finally play up to its talent level and makes an unexpected dash to the Final Four. Robert Sacre discovers that he is indeed 7-foot, 260 pounds, and averages a double-double. Elias Harris returns to freshman form and starts making shots. Steven Gray continues making shots. And tiny freshman point guard David Stockton becomes the darling of the Dance, throwing dazzling passes like his dad and giving the Bulldogs the offensive table setter they've lacked. Very cool black "Zags" jerseys become hottest-selling college hoops merchandise in the country. Coach Mark Few turns down 12 more jobs so he can stay in Spokane, Wash., and fish for salmon all summer. Washington gets bounced in the first round.
Worst Case: Under pressure, Few reverts to Play Everyone Mode and inserts Mangisto Arop and Mathis Monninghoff in key situations against St. John's with disastrous results. The spindly Stockton is knocked around by the physical Johnnies. Sacre again declines to rebound or go up strong with the ball. Elias Harris misses some more jump shots. Gonzaga is gone in the first round despite Sweet 16 talent. Few decides 12 years of fishing for salmon in Spokane is enough and finally takes another job. Washington makes the Final Four.
Best Case: The Jimmer goes from folk hero to superhero, averaging a Maravichian 44 points per game and carrying the Cougars to the Final Four. He scalds Wofford and Gonzaga in Denver, then it's off to New Orleans. He is led not into temptation by the omnipresent vices of the Big Easy, staying in his hotel room to read the Book of Mormon located in the end table. He leaves only to score by the bushel in the Superdome, willing BYU past Florida and Kansas State in a pair of 2010 tourney rematch games. Delirious BYU fans converge on the French Quarter looking for celebratory jello, only to find that the jello available on Bourbon Street is either ingested as a shot or wrestled in. Not their style. Cougars escape New Orleans without honor-code violations and lose honorably to Kansas in Houston. Despite losing Fredette and downgrading to the West Coast Conference, coach Dave Rose stays at the school. And Utah hires a stiff.
Worst Case: The loss of post player Brandon Davies comes home to roost with finality as BYU loses in the first round to Wofford. There is Noah-on-Noah crime in the paint, as Wofford's Dahlman dominates BYU's Hartsock. Worn out from carrying his team this far, The Jimmer shoots 9-for-30 and commits eight turnovers. Making matters worse, Fredette is seen ordering a triple latte at Starbucks later that night to drown his sorrows. That's a no-no in Provo, Utah, so BYU halts plans to put his jersey in the rafters. Rose realizes his ceiling at the school and skedaddles for the nearest good job -- which happens to be at archrival Utah.
Best Case: The Terriers got their NCAA education last year in a close first-round loss to Wisconsin; now they're ready to put that education to use. Armed with a favorable draw against depleted BYU and toughened by games against Georgetown, Xavier, George Mason, VCU, Clemson, Minnesota and South Carolina, Wofford is ready for its moment. Hot team (eight straight wins) stays hot and rides a 20-10 game from Noah Dahlman to the biggest victory in school history. Wofford exploits The Jimmer's defensive liabilities and double-teams him enough to hold him under 40. There's dancing in the streets in Spartanburg, S.C. Nobody minds losing to St. John's next time out.
Worst Case: There is nothing in the Southern Conference to prepare the Terriers for The Jimmer, who lights them up for 50. Accustomed to playing at altitude, BYU pushes the pace and wears out Wofford in Denver. Nobody dances in the streets of Spartanburg, and nobody outside of South Carolina bothers to learn where Wofford is located.
Best Case: Back in the Dance after a one-year absence, coach Ben Howland regains his March mojo and returns the Bruins to their fourth Final Four in six years. Motivated by the ongoing disrespect of Pac-10 baskeball and the widespread support for Big Dance darling Michigan State, UCLA comes out inspired and takes command right away. Then the Bruins gain some revenge for 2006 and '07 Final Four beatdowns by upsetting Florida. After that they beat Gonzaga (another '06 tourney rematch) and Howland takes on his old team and former assistant Jamie Dixon in the regional final. UCLA wins that, too, before losing to Notre Dame in the Final Four. By then the world is in love with the round mound that is Josh Smith, fascinated by the well-inked Reeves Nelson and amused by the comically bearded Tyler Honeycutt. USC flames out in Dayton, and recruits once again commence flocking to Westwood.
Worst Case: Tom Izzo's March mojo is stronger than Ben Howland's, and it shows. The Spartans are ready to play and the Bruins are not, having been softened up by the weak Pac-10. A panicked Howland calls all five of his timeouts in the first half, three of them in the opening four minutes, and runs nothing but pick-and-roll for the entire 40 minutes. Seduced by legendary Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa, Josh Smith eats his way into a meat coma and is useless. Reeves Nelson spends too much time in an Ybor City tattoo parlor and is late for warm-ups. Fans start to wonder whether Howland's window of opportunity has closed in Westwood, particularly since USC goes on a tear to the Sweet 16.
|Michigan State (10)
Best Case: All the stress and anxiety over the underachieving, dysfunctional Spartans was a waste of time. When it's time to be ready, they're ready -- and they play like they usually play when the Big Dance begins. Draymond Green is the smartest player on the floor in the Southeast Regional, Delvon Roe is the toughest, Kalin Lucas is the most clutch -- and even mercurial Durrell Summers shows up for the stretch run. Tom Izzo crafts his game plan to perfection, and Michigan State beats UCLA, Florida, Gonzaga and Kansas State to reach its third straight Final Four. In dumbfounded appreciation, the state of Michigan renames its native Upper Peninsula the Izzone. The coach is so touched he vows never to spend the summer dithering over another NBA job again.
Worst Case: All the stress and anxiety over the underachieving, dysfunctional Spartans was perfectly justified. A bad season ends badly. A team that loses 14 times in the regular season cannot suddenly turn it on against quality competition, and the result is Michigan State's first opening-game loss since 2006. A lack of inside scoring and a dearth of the usual defense-and-rebounding ferocity are fatal flaws, and lack of backcourt depth comes back to haunt the Spartans. Michigan goes to the Final Four, and Izzo reconsiders and takes the Cavaliers job.
Best Case: Gifted with a seeding more inflated than post-Civil War Confederate currency, the Gators make a run. The natural No. 4 seed enjoys a soft regional draw, walloping UC Santa Barbara, favorite whipping boy UCLA, Gonzaga and Kansas State to reach a fourth Final Four in 11 years. After three years without an NCAA win, people remember Billy Donovan can coach. Chandler Parsons displays the versatility that made him SEC Player of the Year. Guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton shoot judiciously and remember to feed the post on occasion. Big man Vernon Macklin repays their generosity by scoring consistently in the paint. Gator Nation loses its collective mind when Joakim Noah and Tim Tebow show up in Houston for the Final Four. Donovan, who is 3-0 in national semifinals, makes it 4-0 by beating Kansas before the Gators lose to Ohio State in the title game.
Worst Case: Showing that they had no business with a No. 2 seed, the Gators are bounced in the second round by Michigan State. Walker and Boynton combine to shoot 35 times and make nine, feeding the post twice all game. Parsons misses four key free throws, showing the one part of his game that's a glaring weakness. Florida State makes the Sweet 16, and Will Muschamp decides in spring ball that none of his quarterbacks is very good. In a stunning move, Donovan leaves Florida for his alma mater, Providence.
|UC Santa Barbara (15)
Best Case: Infused with confidence after a surprising Big West Conference tournament championship run, the 18-13 Gauchos are ready for Florida. They are embraced by the 15,000 Kentucky fans in Tampa and ride the hot shooting of underrated Orlando Johnson (21.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3 assists) to a stunning halftime lead. UCSB keeps it close before losing in the final minutes, leaving the court to a round of applause from Big Blue Nation. And when it's over, the Gauchos get to return to Santa Barbara, Califl., which is not to be confused with, say, Starkville, Miss.
Worst Case: A team that lost to North Dakota State early, then dropped eight Big West games, is in no way ready to face the SEC champions. Florida treats the Gauchos the way its football team treats an FCS opponent, roaring to a 21-4 lead and playing everyone in a game-long mismatch. Mechanical problems on the flight home force an emergency landing and overnight stay in Starkville.
Nineteen years after repeat titles, the Blue Devils go back-to-back again. After breaking Bob Knight's all-time victory record and moving into second place alone in national titles won, Mike Krzyzewski is given a second Sirius radio show titled, "I Love My Kids -- But Let's Talk About Me." Nolan Smith wins Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors, going for 40 against Michigan in the second round as Coach K reminds everyone he was 3-0 against the Fab Five. Kyle Singler rediscovers his three-point shooting stroke and hits the game-winner against Connecticut in the regional final, saying, "That was for Trajan Langdon and the '99 team." Miles Plumlee grows a Zoubeard and neutralizes Jared Sullinger in the national semifinal. Seth Curry hits key shots in championship game victory over Louisville and declares Jay Bilas off the hook for the '86 punking from Pervis Ellison. In keeping with an eternal theme, all key block/charge calls go Duke's way, no matter how sketchy. (See: Scheyer, Jon, vs. Hayward, Gordon, 2010.) Despite rampant speculation that he would play, the Devils don't even need a cameo from Kyrie Irving, who is so inspired that he vows to come back healthy next year and go for the three-peat. North Carolina is shocked by Long Island, Roy Williams cusses and cries for the media, and the freshmen Tar Heels go pro.
Worst Case: Tennessee and dissembling Bruce Pearl knock the halo off Krzyzewski's head and the Blue Devils out of the tournament in a second-round shocker. Singler's stroke remains AWOL, and Curry's joins it. Smith finally wears down from playing excessive minutes. The Plumlees combine to be tall, and that's all. Tennessee gets an even whistle in the game, which infuriates the Duke faithful. Irving is seen break dancing later that night, furthering suspicions he could have played weeks ago but his dad didn't want to hurt his draft status. He and his healthy big toe go pro five minutes after returning to Durham, where the Devils watch North Carolina win its third title in the past seven years.
Best Case: The Pirates have a short commute to Charlotte and pack their exceptional defensive mindset for the trip. After winning 15 road/neutral games, they are unaffected by the Duke crowd and energized by their new best friends, the North Carolina fans. Down just four at halftime, Hampton goes on a 5-0 run to start the second half, taking the lead and teasing the nation. The Pirates hang tough for another 12 minutes before submitting.
Worst Case:: Hampton lost by seven to Wake Forest, which lost by 24 to Duke, which tells you how this one will go. Blue Devils get a dunk by Singler on their first possession, Hampton goes six minutes without scoring and Duke coasts to a 74-43 victory.
Best Case: Wolverines capitalize on all the Fab Five nostalgia in the air, charging to their first Final Four since the (vacated) glory days of the early 1990s. After shocking Duke in the second round, Michigan is gifted with a Sweet 16 game against neighbor Oakland, which pulled two upsets to set up a rematch of their December game in Ann Arbor. This goes like that one, which was an 18-point Wolverines win. Nostalgia deepens when Michigan is confronted by Steve Fisher and San Diego State in the regional final. Wolverines win there, as John Beilein wins the coaching matchup and reminds everyone that Fisher was a better recruiter (with the help of Ed Martin) than tactician. Jalen Rose, Chris Webber and Juwan Howard hold court like elder statesmen in Houston. Meanwhile, Ohio State flames out in the second round against George Mason, and Jim Tressel is suspended by the NCAA for several games that actually matter.
Worst Case:: Tennessee plays up to its talent, and Michigan plays down to its unathletic weaknesses in a first-round rout. The Wolverines don't make enough 3-pointers to offset their chronic weaknesses in rebounding, blocking shots or making steals. The nomadic Beilein decides he's not a Michigan man and bolts back to the Big East at Providence. Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. go pro, just because they can. Ohio State wins the national title in a waltz. And Brady Hoke inexplicably moves Denard Robinson to safety during spring practice.
Best Case: A team that hasn't won two straight games in six weeks suddenly gets it together, winning four straight and advancing to the first Final Four in school history. Scotty Hopson shoots lights out to beat Michigan. Skylar McBee, with the name and game of a Duke walk-on, shocks the Blue Devils with a late 3 in the round of 32. Tobias Harris takes a renewed interest in rebounding and post defense, out-scrapping fellow freshman Tristan Thompson and Texas in the Sweet 16. Then, Steven Pearl banks the first made 3 of his college career to beat San Diego State and deliver the Vols to Houston. Harris surprises everyone by returning for his sophomore year, and the NCAA further shocks the world by opting not to punish Bruce Pearl any further. Kentucky and Vanderbilt lose early, and Lane Kiffin comes down with a rash.
Worst Case:: Michigan forces the indiscriminate, scattershooting Volunteers away from the basket, and they launch a barrage of 3-point bricks in a first-round loss. Harris won't get on the floor for loose balls without a written invitation but will go pro within a week. Hopson goes with him. The NCAA hits Pearl with a one-year show-cause penalty and the program with a one-year postseason ban, while absolving Kiffin of all wrongdoing. Kentucky wins another title. Vandy makes the Final Four before Tennessee does.
Best Case: Derrick Williams plays like the best player in college basketball for four games, averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds while leading the Wildcats to their first Final Four in a decade. After beating Arizona alum Josh Pastner and Memphis in the round of 64, the Cats benefit from a bracket collapse. Oakland upsets Texas, Michigan upsets Duke and Cincinnati takes down San Diego State. Arizona faces a 12, a 13, an 8 and a 6 seed on the way to Houston. Booster Paul Weitman calls First Four-loser Kevin O'Neill from there to tell him how the $%^*& weather is. Sean Miller signs a lifetime contract.
Worst Case:: Pastner has a little something for his alma mater, pulling a first-round upset. Scattershooting guards Kyle Fogg and Momo Jones are lured into a mano-a-mano duel with Memphis' athletic backcourt. They shoot too much, make too few and forget to feed Williams, who takes his frustration out by announcing he's going pro in the postgame locker room. Meanwhile, long-shot USC advances to Sweet 16. O'Neill calls Weitman from San Antonio to tell him how the $*%$ weather is. Miller takes a good look at aging McKale Center and hightails it to Georgia Tech, then Pastner turns down a chance to return to Tucson.
Best Case: Maturation is the buzzword as the young Tigers and their young coach perform with greater poise, making a surprise push to the Sweet 16 before losing to Duke. Freakishly athletic point guard Joe Jackson continues his Conference USA tournament roll (18.7 ppg, 3.3 apg), and thirtysomething Josh Pastner makes the right calls at the right times. Memphis catches a break when Oakland stuns Texas. Tigers win that No. 12 versus No. 13 round of 32 matchup, advancing as far as John Calipari's last Memphis team did in 2009 for less than half the coaching salary. Pastner signs new long-term deal and celebrates with organic apple juice and 50 push-ups, earning admiration from the BYU honor code office. Then he watches Calipari lose early with Kentucky and Pearl go down in NCAA infractions flames at Tennessee.
Worst Case: Team that lost six games in middling C-USA shows it is plenty capable of losing the first one in the NCAAs and is routed from the opening tip by Arizona. Jackson reverts to spree turnover tendencies, and the flustered young Tigers fail to run a single coherent offensive set. Calipari wins it all with Kentucky, and Pearl takes Tennessee to the Final Four. Pastner is so distraught he goes on first-ever bender.
Best Case: Longhorns relocate the cohesion of mid-winter, ride homecourt advantage in Houston and roll impressively to the national title by beating Kansas in a rubber-match title game. As they did last week in Kansas City, Jordan Hamilton and J'Covan Brown shoot judiciously and accurately from all areas of the floor. Tristan Thompson leads the nation's best interior defense in shutting down the paint. Dogus Balbay runs the show with unerring precision. Nobody pouts. Rick Barnes gets King Kong off his back by cutting down the Reliant Stadium nets. Meanwhile, Texas A&M flames out in the first round, and Oklahoma inexplicably exumes Billy Tubbs to replace Jeff Capel.
Worst Case:: Everybody pouts, and the Longhorns are punked by Oakland in the first round. After a listless start in an early Friday tipoff, Texas reverts to its worst tendencies. Hamilton and Brown go into gunner mode, and only Balbay will share the basketball. Barnes fails to calm the waters and watches another team with NBA talent lose well before its time. Texas team that squandered a No. 1 seed with late losses to Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas State fails to contain Oakland big man Keith Benson or point guard Reggie Hamilton, and the Horns become "that team" -- the most notable Round of 64 upset victim. Everyone goes pro, A&M goes on a run and Oklahoma hires Dave Rose.
Best Case: Seasoned by a schedule that featured seven opponents in the NCAA field, the criminally underseeded Golden Grizzlies show the selection committee they mean business with a Cinderella run to the Sweet 16. Keith Benson, 6-foot-11 center, plays like a first-round draft choice in upsets of Texas and Arizona. Reggie Hamilton, 5-11 point guard, plays with the Chicago swagger he showed in averaging 23 points and six assists in the Summit League tournament. Entire team benefits from 2010 NCAA trip by showcasing increased poise and focus. Team that has only been defeated once since Christmas demonstrates how averse it is to losing by pushing Duke for 35 minutes before falling.
Worst Case:: Defensively indifferent Grizzlies fail to get their hands up on the Texas shooters. Benson is bottled up by the Longhorns' interior defense. Hamilton shows his penchant for turnovers. A bad matchup against a talented team shows Oakland how wide the gap is between the Summit League and the summit of the Big 12. Big dreams die hard as the Griz's record in NCAA tournament play drops to 1-3 all time.
Best Case: Back in the tourney for the first time since 2005, the Bearcats make the most of it with a run to the regional final. Athletic, physical and balanced team gets on the offensive glass and defends with vigor to knock out Missouri, avenge a February loss to Connecticut and take down San Diego State. Players toss bantam weight coach, Mick Cronin, in the air after upset of the Aztecs. Regional final loss to Duke is taken well by Cincinnati fans, especially in combination with first-round flameout by Xavier and Sweet 16 loss by Ohio State.
Worst Case:: Caught up in a close game with Missouri, Bearcats big men Yancy Gates and Ibrahima Thomas take turns bricking free throws, and Cincinnati loses by a point. Cincy fans turn on Cronin for his career-long failure to win in the Big Dance, while Xavier makes a deep run and Ohio State wins the national title. As an added bonus after West Virginia upsets Kentucky again, Cincy fans send a little more hate mail to SUNY-Binghamton president Nancy Zimpher for firing Huggins during her stint at UC.
Best Case: Tigers play well away from home for the first time in months. They romp past Cincinnati, then press dead-legged Connecticut into distress to reach the Sweet 16. Once there, they upset San Diego State before falling to Duke in the regional final. Kim English shoots 50 percent from the field in successive games for the first time all season -- yes, all season. Go-go guards Marcus Denmon, Flip Pressey and Michael Dixon push the pace relentlessly and force turnovers. Big men Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe get some rebounds. And when Kansas is beaten by Louisville in the Sweet 16, Mizzou has outlasted the Jayhawks by at least one day for the third straight season.
Worst Case:: The team that hasn't beaten a member of the field of 68 since mid-January and hasn't won a big game all year outside the state of Missouri isn't going to start now. Tigers miss jump shots, give up easy baskets, get hammered on the glass and lose handily to Cincinnati in their opening game. Watching at home, Seth Greenberg fumes, "We could have done better than that!" Mike Anderson finally progresses past window shopping and takes an open job. Kansas wins another title.
Best Case: The Kemba Show just keeps on going, all the way to Houston. Scoffing at fatigue and defenders, Kemba Walker continues to make ridiculous shots for four more games. He shoots down Bucknell, Cincinnati, San Diego State and Duke, then cuts down the nets in Anaheim with nothing more than a sharp glance. UConn finally taps out in the Final Four against Ohio State, but by then the sheen is restored to Jim Calhoun's résumé. Big East renames its tourney Most Valuable Player award the Kemba Trophy. Walker is so touched he decides to come back for his senior year in an attempt to win his namesake trinket.
Worst Case:: Returning to the site of the George Mason meltdown of '06, UConn runs out of gas Thursday night in D.C. Five games in five days catches up with Walker, and he goes 3-for-17 from the field against Bucknell in a first-round shocker. Nobody else can pick up the slack, because they're all exhausted, too. Calhoun gets ejected for dog-cussing the refs. Walker goes pro on the guidance of new advisor Josh Nochimson.
Best Case: The lightly regarded Bison take advantage of Connecticut's overconfidence and fatigue to pull the biggest shocker of the round of 64. Center Mike Muscala holds his own inside against the big Huskies, shooter Bryson Johnson knocks down 3s and a confident team that has only lost once since Christmas makes the round of 32. Bucknell losses there to Cincinnati, but nobody cares. The school has something for the trophy case suitable to put alongside the 2005 upset of Kansas. John Feinstein writes a book about the Bison.
Worst Case:: A finesse team is brutalized inside by the Huskies, who sharpened their elbows all season in the Big East. (Patriot League versus Big East equals bad matchup.) Muscala can't score, nobody can stay in front of Walker and UConn wins easily. In karmic payback for a no-call that helped secure the Patriot tourney title over Lafayette, Muscala is leveled going in for a layup on the opening possession. Not a single whistle blows. Feinstein writes an outraged column, not a book.
Best Case: If the year ends in a one, it must be time for a Temple run. On the 10th anniversary of their last Elite Eight appearance and the 20th anniversary of another regional final, the Owls do it again. Riding the balanced scoring and solid defense, Temple dispatches Penn State, shocks San Diego State and beats Cincinnati in the Sweet 16. Temple loses for the second time in a month to Duke, but Bill Cosby gets to do a lot of interviews and everyone walks away happy. Fran Dunphy becomes the first Temple coach not named Harry Litwack or John Chaney to win an NCAA tourney game.
Worst Case:: Dunphy falls to 1-13 in the Big Dance when the Owls are dispatched Thursday by the Nittany Lions in a battle of Pennsylvania programs that have forgotten what it feels like to win an NCAA game. Team that was walloped convincingly by No. 12 seed Cornell last year gets the same sinking feeling this time around when Talor Battle lights up the Owls from 3-point range. Cosby does no interviews, and leaves the game early.
|Penn State (10)
Best Case: Gritty team that won its final seven must-win games to get off the bubble and in the tournament isn't ready to stop yet. Nittany Lions take down Temple behind a Battle shooting barrage, surprise San Diego State with opportunistic transition game and slow down Walker just enough to reach regional final. By then, upward of 24 fans in white T-shirts jump on the Penn State bandwagon to watch the Nits lose a competitive regional final to Duke. Alerted that Penn State has a basketball team, Joe Paterno travels to Anaheim to watch a half against the Blue Devils before nodding off.
Worst Case:: In front of their usual 12 ardent followers, Penn State gets NCAA stage fright and loses an error-filled opening contest with Temple. Foul trouble forces Ed DeChellis to use his bench, which is a good place to stash those in witness protection. Neither Paterno nor anyone else in State College notices that the school has a basketball team and returns to obsessing over spring football. Watching at home, Greenberg fumes, "We could have done better than that!"
|San Diego State (2)
Best Case: The Aztecs have finally slayed the Jimmer dragon, and nobody else in the field has beaten them, so the sky's the limit. Riding a wave of confidence after the Mountain West tournament title, San Diego State doesn't stop winning until there are no more games to play; they're national champions for the first time. Kawhi Leonard plays like a lottery pick, D.J. Gay plays great defense and makes clutch shots, Malcolm Thomas controls the paint and Steve Fisher coaches like it's 1989. Aztecs go from zero all-time tournament wins to six. Upward of 2,000 San Diego residents wander in from the beach to watch SDSU beat Kansas for the national title. Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson is so excited to see a championship run by a school that's not leaving his league that he gives SDSU priority in scheduling for the next five years.
Worst Case:: Feeling the weight of unprecedented expectations, Aztecs bomb in their opener and are stunned by 15th-seeded Northern Colorado. San Diego State remains winless in the NCAA tournament. Leonard goes pro and five seniors depart. Fisher decides he'd rather not rebuild at this stage of his career and retires. San Diego residents go back to the beach and resume total apathy regarding college basketball. BYU advances to the Final Four.
|Northern Colorado (15)
Best Case: Riding a blazing shooting display by guard Devon Beitzel (averaging 26.5 points in his past nine games), the Bears position themselves to upset massive favorite San Diego State. Beitzel is fouled late in a tie game and the 90 percent free throw shooter swishes two to make Northern Colorado's first-ever NCAA tournament game one for the ages. Bears lose next game, but nobody cares. Beitzel becomes bigger than Tim Tebow and Troy Tulowitzki combined in Colorado (but not necessarily bigger than 12 inches of fresh powder at the ski resorts). Delirious fans e-mail former coach Tad Boyle at his new job in Boulder, telling him that he should have stayed in Greeley if he wanted to go to the NCAA tourney.
Worst Case:: Bears get stage fright and get blown out by the Aztecs, trailing by 10 at the first media timeout and never getting any closer. Beitzel shoots 5-for-20 and returns to being as anonymous as the average ski-lift operator in Vail. Boyle e-mails Northern Colorado fans and reminds them of the quality-of-life difference between Boulder and Greeley.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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