What's the wildest dream for your team in this NCAA tournament? What's the darkest nightmare? We'll tell you. Here are the best-case and worst-case scenarios for every team in the East Region.
Best case: Encased in a force field of indifference, either real or impressively feigned, Jim Boeheim continues his remarkable ability to coach great basketball through off-court issues. The bombshells of Bernie Fine, drug-testing issues that have resulted in an NCAA investigation and Tuesday's suspension of Fab Melo haven't touched the Orange, who won 31 times during the regular season and win six more in the tournament for the school's second national championship. With the 2-3 zone airtight and Kris Joseph raising his game to a senior-in-March level, 'Cuse rolls past UNC-Asheville, Kansas State, Vanderbilt and Florida State to reach New Orleans. Once there, Syracuse gets a lunging blocked shot by Hakim Warrick – no, wait, it's Baye Keita – of a potential tying 3-pointer by a Roy Williams guard from the corner, then avenges the 1996 title-game loss to Kentucky to win it all. Boeheim cuts down the net, gets an immediate commitment from Nerlens Noel and saunters off into an offseason of scratch golf. Still bulletproof.
Worst case: The cumulative effect of the off-court drama wears on the 'Cuse, which didn't finish the regular season in dominant fashion anyway. A team that won squeakers in five of its last 11 games finds itself locked in another barn-burner with Kansas State in the round of 32. K-State hammers the Orange on the offensive glass to keep it close, and Baye Keita goaltends a last-second Wildcats shot. The refs call it this time, to the joy of West Virginia residents. The Orange is shockingly eliminated in the second round and left to face an offseason filled by an NCAA investigation and Boeheim retirement rumors. Melo sheepishly goes pro. Nerlens Noel wants nothing to do with the place – and the ACC wonders what it has gotten itself into with Syracuse.
2. Ohio State
Best case: In a region that serendipitously became Fab-free on Tuesday, Buckeyes capitalize on Syracuse's misfortune and roll to New Orleans. William Buford is hitting shots, Aaron Craft is locking up opposing point guards, DeShaun Thomas is operating within the offense and Jared Sullinger comes to play like the preseason Player of the Year candidate he was. After an unspectacular season, "Sully" is a bully in the low post, scattering defenders and getting to the foul line with regularity. In the Final Four, Ohio State slows down North Carolina, then gets revenge on its 2011 elimination by beating Kentucky on a Buford jumper in the final seconds. In Columbus, fans halt 24/7 construction of an elaborate shrine to Urban Meyer just long enough to celebrate hoops national title, then get back to work. Michigan loses in first round.
Worst case: Thomas shoots too much. Sullinger shoots too little. Buford shoots like he did in the Big Ten tourney (12-of-34, 3-of-13 from 3-point range). Thad Matta's overworked starters bog down in a second-round upset loss to West Virginia, and the underutilized bench cannot ride to the rescue. Everyone goes pro. With doubt growing about his ability to win a title, Matta gets the wandering eye and unexpectedly goes back to his home state to coach Illinois. Michigan makes the Final Four. Shrine to Meyer collapses during a violent spring storm.
3. Florida State
Best case: Leonard Hamilton's team goes where no Seminoles basketball player has gone before – all the way. After a remarkable overthrow of the Tobacco Road power structure in the ACC tourney, FSU keeps it rolling all the way through New Orleans. In the same building where the school last won a football national title, the 'Noles earning a matching bauble for the trophy case when Michael Snaer hits a last-second jumper to beat Kentucky in the championship game – despite having all five Wildcats guarding him. That follows a last-second jumper by Luke Loucks in the semifinals, a last-second jumper by Ian Miller in the regional final and a last-second jumper by Snaer in the Sweet 16. Emotionally drained Florida State fans are too tired from all the drama to celebrate on Bourbon Street, leaving football alum Sebastian Janikowski to do that for them. Meanwhile, Florida loses in the first round to ACC compatriot Virginia.
Worst case: After all the improvement as the season went along, the Seminoles backslide into offensive impotence at precisely the wrong time. A team that scored 10 points in the first half – 10! – against Princeton – Princeton! – at home – at home! – struggles for baskets against St. Bonaventure. Trailing by two in the final seconds, Snaer gets a clean look at the winning "3" – and misses. FSU loses 52-50. Hamilton decides he has one more move left in him and takes another job at a more basketball-centric school. Meanwhile, the Gators reach yet another Final Four.
Best case: Playing at a pace that would make Buddhist sand painters antsy, the Badgers methodically plod into the Final Four. Pass by pass, screen by screen, defensive stop by defensive stop, Bo Ryan's team frustrates Montana and Vanderbilt. Then the Badgers unleash their Jeremy Lin, Rob Wilson, against the Syracuse zone. The senior who averaged 2.4 points for his career before lighting up Indiana last week for 30 does it again, hitting six 3-pointers and carrying Wisconsin to the regional final. Once there Bucky beats Ohio State again, 38-36. RyanBall is as exciting to watch as televised chess, but it works. Badgers finally lose in New Orleans to North Carolina, ending a landmark season. Marquette gets upset in its first game.
Worst case: Program that has been eliminated five consecutive seasons by teams from lesser conferences makes it six in a row, as Montana shocks the Badgers in the first round. Grizzlies score in transition as the Badgers fail to get back quickly. They fight through the screens and cover Wisconsin's 3-point shooters – including Wilson, who fails to score. Ryan's "swing offense" breaks down inside the arc, producing little around the basket. Montana joins UNLV, Davidson, Xavier, Cornell and Butler on the list of recent Badger killers. Marquette goes to the Final Four while playing an entertaining, up-tempo style.
Best case: The 'Dores broke down the door to the SEC throne room Sunday by finally beating Kentucky, and the roll continues into this tournament. A program that never seemed capable of winning the big one now seems capable of almost anything. Riding the scoring tandem of John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor, Vandy wins the SAT Bowl against Harvard, then beats Wisconsin, Fab-less Syracuse and Florida State to reach its first Final Four. Coach Kevin Stallings is recognized as an elite coach and one of America's leading bald men. Skip Bayless develops bigger man crush on Taylor than he has on Tim Tebow. Run finally ends against Stallings mentor Roy Williams and North Carolina, but nobody ever looks at Vandy basketball the same way after this.
Worst case: Vandy left it all in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon, arriving in Albuquerque flat and exhausted for a Thursday afternoon game. Perpetually inconsistent Taylor plays like the guy who scored two points in the SEC tourney against Ole Miss, not the guy who scored 18 against Kentucky. Harvard outsmarts the Commodores, as the entrance-exam scouting report predicted. Vandy goes down hard in the first round, and the upset of UK turns out to be a blip and not a breakthrough. Stallings says he's maxed out in Nashville and takes another job.
Best case: A seasoned bunch that scored seven victories over NCAA tourney teams isn't scared of anyone in the East Region. Bearcats beat Texas with 3-pointers and upset Florida State with defense to reach a delicious Sweet 16 game against Ohio State. Battle for Ohio goes to the boys from the South when Cincy shuts down William Buford and swarms Jared Sullinger inside. Then Mick Cronin's team beats Syracuse for the second time in two weeks to reach its first Final Four in 20 years. Gates has a field day inside against the Fab-free Orange. Nobody throws a single punch along the way. Semifinal loss to North Carolina is no shame. Xavier is one and done.
Worst case: Yancy Gates flies off the handle after a hard foul from Texas' Alexis Wangmene. Benches clear and Cheikh Mbodj gets his stomping foot ready. It comes close enough to another bad scene that Cronin has no choice but to bench Gates for the rest of the game, and the Bearcats are upset by the Longhorns. Shooting 9-of-22 at the foul line doesn't help. After three months of trying to put the Xavier brawl behind it, Cincy again comes under fire for failing to control its players. Xavier somehow advances to the Final Four.
Best case: Armed with the dynamic point guard last season's team lacked, the Zags kick it back up a level after a two-year plateau as a first-weekend NCAA tourney team. Freshman point Kevin Pangos bounces back from 3-for-18 debacle in West Coast tourney title game to lead Gonzaga past West Virginia and to a huge upset of Ohio State in the second round. Zags don't stop there, beating Florida State and then knocking off Fab-free Syracuse to reach the school's first Final Four. Conference rival Saint Mary's loses in first round. Gonzaga revives its rep as the boss mid-major after watching Butler own that title in recent seasons.
Worst case: Gonzaga remains unable to make the good-to-great leap, losing in the first weekend for the third season in a row and fifth in the past six. Pangos makes freshman mistakes with the ball against West Virginia's Truck Bryant, and the Kevin Jones-Deniz Kilicli tandem gets the better of Elias Harris and Robert Sacre. Zags fans left to ponder why their best players don't improve much as their careers go along. Meanwhile, Saint Mary's bolts to the regional finals.
8. Kansas State
Best case: His Wildcats play so well that newly reformed Frank Martin isn't even tempted to cuss as K-State crashes the regional final. His team blows out Southern Miss, shocks Fab-less Syracuse and outlasts Vanderbilt before losing to Ohio State in the Elite Eight. Wildcats have followed the lead of Rodney McGruder for the past month (22.3 ppg and 57 percent shooting in four victories, 12.5 ppg and 38 percent shooting in four defeats) and he plays great. K-State looks like the team that swept Missouri. World's Angriest Coach has to manufacture outrage over a couple of missed box-outs during the run, just to maintain his rep. Meanwhile, insufferable Big Brother Kansas is shocked by Detroit and annoying Little Brother Wichita State is cut down to size by VCU. Middle child rules March.
Worst case: Martin goes off the potty-mouth wagon in the first half against Southern Miss when sleep-walking Wildcats fall behind by 12 in an early Thursday tipoff. With F-bombs bursting in air, McGruder jump shots thudding off rims and point guard Angel Rodriguez throwing the ball away, K-State is in an immediate fight for survival. Inevitable rally falls short when team that was 2-5 in games decided by six or fewer points can't execute at crunch time. Martin closely resembles bellowing muscle man in the Old Spice commercials as game slips away. Insufferable Big Brother Kansas wins it all and annoying Little Brother Wichita State makes the Final Four.
9. Southern Miss
Best case: The first trip to the Dance since 1991 is a memorable one, resulting in the first victory in school history. A Golden Eagles team that has gotten by on little more than grit, free throws, good ballhandling and Larry Eustachy's coaching acumen beats Kansas State the way it has won its past six games – the hard way. Southern Miss hasn't had a double-digit victory since January and needs a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Neil Watson to beat K-State. The jig's up in the next round against Syracuse, but this goes down as the most memorable season in school history. Eustachy signs a new, long-term deal. Fans ask Ole Miss and Mississippi State how they're enjoying the NIT.
Worst case: One of the most vulnerable 25-win teams in NCAA tourney history is exposed by Kansas State in brutal fashion. A team that makes just 43.3 percent of its two-point shots cannot score against the Wildcats, who control the game from start to finish and win easily. Famous Eustachy temper erupts late and he's ejected. Days later, he takes another job. Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans tell USM brethren that being bad in the SEC is a better life than being good in C-USA.
10. West Virginia
Best case: The Mountaineers show Zags the difference between the Big East and West Coast conferences, walloping them on the glass and turning the usual fusillade of missed Mountaineers jumpers into second-chance points. Kevin Jones plays like an All-American, and serially misfiring guard Truck Bryant miraculously catches fire against Ohio State to lead a major round-of-32 upset. Deniz Kilicli's beard becomes the Facial Hair of March, and his hook shot at the buzzer beats Florida State in the Sweet 16. The Mountaineers top off amazing run by getting revenge on Syracuse for hosing from the refs in February. Bob Huggins is back in the Final Four, credential dangling from his sweatsuit, screaming at everyone. A loss to North Carolina in national semifinals does not dampen enthusiasm for the run.
Worst case: A team that lost eight of its last 12 games staggers into the tourney and is knocked out like Marvis Frazier against Mike Tyson. The Mountaineers make few shots against Gonzaga, though Bryant insists on taking a lot of them. (When a guy who shoots 36 percent from the field hoists it 428 times in a season, it's a sign of, um, persistence.) Multiple WVU players get in foul trouble, including two whistles on Kilicli's beard. Huggins goes berserk and, for the second time in his career, gets ejected by Mike Kitts from an NCAA tourney game against Gonzaga. (The radio analyst does not get tossed this time.) After seeing that scene and hearing about rampant rioting in Morgantown, the Big 12 reconsiders and throws the Mountaineers back to the Big East.
Best case: Already America's favorite gunner after averaging 19 shots in three March games, J'Shameless J'Covan Brown ups the ante to 25 jacks per game – and they go in. Brown becomes the tournament's leading scorer while guiding the Longhorns to the regional final. He shoots down Cincinnati, Florida State and Ohio State while averaging 29 ppg. Syracuse finally slows Brown enough to eliminate Texas, but not until the 'Horns have tied a pretty bow on a disappointing season. Tourney momentum helps Rick Barnes sign four more McDonald's All-Americans, and David Ash looks terrific in spring practice.
Worst case: Brown takes more shots than ever but makes fewer than normal against Cincinnati's vigilant defense, shooting Texas out of the tournament in 40 minutes. On the rare occasion passes are made to the big men, they drop them. In dropping to .500 for his career in the NCAAs, Rick Barnes again looks powerless to get his team to play smart and together. Despite doing little to excite the scouts, point guard Myck Kabongo becomes the third Canadian Longhorn in the past two years to go pro after one season. Barnes still signs more All-Americans, but to negligible effect. Ash hurts his throwing arm in spring practice.
Best case: With Supreme Court justices, Nobel Prize winners and U.S. Senators shamelessly jumping on the bandwagon, America's premier academic institution shows it can ball a little, too. With a confidence borne from beating ACC, Conference USA, Pac-12 and Atlantic-10 teams, the Crimson take down Vanderbilt in the first round and Wisconsin in the second, advancing to a virtual home game against Syracuse in Boston. Power lawyers, captains of industry and inventors become insufferable fans of a team they ignored while in school. Media waxes about the scandal-ridden Syracuse program vs. the pristine lads from the Ivy League. Crimson tap out against the Orange, but the program gains street cred when Worldwide Wes starts hanging around team hotel.
Worst case: Bandwagon breaks down before the illuminati can fully exploit it. A Crimson team that wobbled late in the season is smoked from the outset by a hot Vanderbilt team riding high after winning the SEC tournament. Too many turnovers and not enough perimeter firepower doom Harvard to remaining winless in NCAA tournament play. Power lawyers, captains of industry and inventors continuing ignoring basketball team. Worldwide Wes sticks with Kentucky.
Best case: The Grizzlies arrive in Albuquerque blazing hot and underappreciated, but gain plenty of appreciation after scoring two upsets and extending their winning streak to 16 games. Kareem Jamar continues playing like Kareem Jabbar; he had 41 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in two Big Sky tournament games, and the 6-foot-5 sophomore burns Wisconsin and Vanderbilt in similar fashion. The run ends against Syracuse in Sweet 16 but nobody complains after the greatest tourney in school history. Wayne Tinkle becomes the unlikely hot name in coaching circles, but chooses to stay at Montana. In an attempt to give Boise State some geographic company, Big East inquires about making Griz its 63rd member.
Worst case: A Griz team that hasn't played anyone in the Sagarin top 120 since Dec. 10 is in far over its furry heads against Wisconsin. Bogged down in their slowest game of the year, Montana can't make enough shots to get the tempo in its favor. Kareem Jamar's game bears no resemblance to Kareem Jabbar's. A Big Sky champ gets bounced in the first round for the sixth consecutive season. Tinkle takes another job. And it's a bad spring for trout fishing in Montana.
14. St. Bonaventure
Best case: America gets an eyeful of the college game's best-kept secret: 6-foot-9, 250-pound Andrew Nicholson, the Canadian post player who tore up the Atlantic-10 tournament. Nicholson keeps on breaking brackets in the Big Dance, averaging 25 points, 15 rebounds and 5 blocks as the Bonnies upset Florida State and Cincinnati to reach the Sweet 16. Back in Olean, N.Y, students go crazy – partly because there's nothing else to do in Olean. The Bonnies' run finally ends in a close regional semifinal loss to Ohio State, but scouts turn out by the dozens to watch Nicholson battle Jared Sullinger. Bob Lanier comparisons abound.
Worst case: This ain't the A-10. A long, athletic Florida State frontcourt that makes it brutally difficult to score inside neutralizes Nicholson. Teammates cannot pick up the slack. Bonaventure's run ends in unceremonious fashion, with its offense strangled in a 15-point loss. Bonnies fans dreaming of their first NCAA tourney victory since the Lanier days (1970, to be exact) are left to forlornly wander the streets of Nashville, listening to one sad country song after another floating out of the downtown honky-tonks. Still beats being in Olean.
15. Loyola (Md.)
Best case: Semi-reformed wild man Jimmy Patsos entertains the media Wednesday with tales from his bartending days, then reverts to old form and entertains the late-night viewing audience Thursday with his sideline coaching histrionics. Patsos stops short of going to sit in the stands, which he did during one game in 2008, but does actually tear off his coat, shirt and tie and coaches in his undershirt while speaking in tongues. Terrified Greyhounds try extra hard to keep Patsos from further Linda Blair behavior, and actually hang with Ohio State until the second half. An eight-point loss certainly beats Loyola's only other NCAA appearance, which ended in a 26-point beating from Arizona in 1994.
Worst case: Patsos' Linda Blair act has reverse effect on players, who lose concentration and get steamrolled by the on-a-mission Buckeyes. Team that struggled to score against the likes of Marist, Fairfield and Niagara has no idea what to do against Ohio State, flinging one low-percentage shot after another at the rim. Loyola sputters to 39 points in a 27-point beating as Patsos bashes his head on the scorer's table in Pittsburgh, then quits after the game and returns to bartending.
Best case: Eddie Biedenbach's boys look great in their layup lines – the sweats are sharp, the passes crisp. The pep band plays the fight song and the fans swell with pride in Pittsburgh. The game starts and the Bulldogs are making shots against a Fab-less Syracuse zone, hanging around all the way until halftime. UNCA fans take joy in the pained expressions of Jim Boeheim. CBS offers a live look-in when the score is closer than anyone envisioned late in the first half. It all comes crashing down in the second half, but UNCA had its 20 minutes. Nobody can take that away.
Worst case: Group of abject midgets (no key player is taller than 6 feet 5) immediately is squashed by the long, athletic Orange. Even without Melo, Syracuse blocks 11 shots and dunks the ball six times on the heads of the defensively challenged Bulldogs. This looks like parents against pre-schoolers in the driveway. Syracuse wins by 40. At age 66, Biedenbach decides it's time to retire and play golf in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it's another nine years before the Big Dance sees the Bulldogs again.
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