What's the wildest dream for your team this NCAA tournament? What's the darkest nightmare? We plot out best-case scenarios and worst-case scenarios for every team in the Big Dance:
No. 1 KANSAS
Best case: Jayhawks make Ol' Roy cry in Kansas City after a round-of-32 beatdown nearly as bad as the one they put on him in the 2008 Final Four. Jeff Withey blocks a million VCU shots in the Sweet 16. Ben McLemore outplays Otto Porter Jr. in the regional final, stating his case for being the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. After years of falling short, Bill Self has become a Final Four regular. Once there, McLemore banks in a 3-pointer to beat Indiana, as Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg throws up in a Georgia Dome trash can. In the title game, Elijah Johnson and McLemore run a dribble handoff on the right wing for the winning 3-pointer over Louisville. John Calipari is nauseated by the déjà vu but delighted to see it happening to his rival instead of him. Self shoulders up alongside Phog in the Kansas coaching pantheon. Missouri blows a late lead against Colorado State in its first game.
Worst case: Ol' Roy is a juicy target in the round of 32, but the Jayhawks never get there. The chalk gets rocked as Western Kentucky, 9-1 in the last two postseasons, becomes the Cinderella to End All Cinderellas by toppling the Jayhawks and making history. Kansas team that scored two points in the first 13 minutes against miserable TCU – and lost by 23 to NIT-bound Baylor – makes a disastrous reappearance. Self again invokes the name of Naismith afterward, knowing that this is worse than Bucknell and Bradley combined. Door opened, Ol' Roy strolls through on his way to an improbable Final Four. Missouri makes it to Atlanta as well, and there is dejection from Dodge City to Atchison (partly from the basketball, and partly from living in Dodge City and Atchison and all flat points in between).
No. 16 WESTERN KENTUCKY
Best case: The abidingly non-charismatic Roy Harper becomes the Norman Dale of March Madness. He leads the first-ever 16-over-1 upset, catching Kansas watching the paint dry as T.J. Price hits the winning shot in the biggest of all NCAA shockers. Hilltopper mascot charges onto the court in celebration and knocks over a stunned Bill Self. Emotionally drained Hilltoppers lose in round of 32 to North Carolina, but nobody cares – they've climbed Everest and planted their flag for posterity. Harper runs his postseason record at WKU to 10-2 and becomes a coaching oracle, giving notably bland clinic speeches for the rest of his life on preparing for tournament basketball. WKU fans ask Kentucky fans how they're enjoying the NIT.
Worst case: Harper has no Dale in his repertoire, and this 1 vs.16 game looks very similar to last year when the Hilltoppers were thumped by eventual champion Kentucky. Western Kentucky turns the ball over with alarming regularity, leading to a Kansas run-out dunkfest. Trying to play catchup, team full of sketchy perimeter shooters keeps launching rocks from the 3-point line and the deficit morphs into rout proportions. Harper remains big in Hot Springs, site of the Sun Belt tournament, but not much in demand beyond that. Kentucky fans continue to dismiss WKU fans as largely irrelevant.
No. 8 NORTH CAROLINA
Best case: Ol' Roy's Tiny Heels, the small lineup that won eight of its last 10 games, bring quickness and athleticism into the NCAA tourney with excellent results. Carolina sprints past Villanova, upsets Kansas in the Ol' Roy Psychodrama Game, handles VCU's pressure in a big game for freshman Marcus Paige and topples Georgetown in the regional final on a James Michael McAdoo putback. A year after the Kendall Marshall wrist injury derailed a probable Final Four team, this one improbably gets there. Heels lose to Indiana in the Final Four, but transition season is a success. Meanwhile, Cincinnati becomes the second-favorite team of Heels fans for eliminating both Creighton (see: Marshall injury) and Duke in Philadelphia.
No. 9 VILLANOVA
Best case: Riding the hot hand of Ryan Arcidiacono, who leads the 68-team tournament in syllables, 'Nova takes advantage of all the open looks North Carolina provides and eliminates the Tar Heels in payback for the 2009 Final Four drubbing. Then the Wildcats get Kansas in foul trouble and shock the No. 1 seed, advancing to the program's first Sweet 16 in four years. 'Nova bruises VCU there before falling to Georgetown in the regional final. After a couple of lean years, run re-establishes confidence that Jay Wright is more than cufflinks and pinstripes and pocket squares. LaSalle and Temple flop in their first games, and 'Nova owns Philly again.
Worst case: This looks like 2009 all over again – a North Carolina rout. Inelegant offensive team throws the ball away routinely and clangs one shot after another. Arcidiacono cannot get open. JayVaughn Pinkston gets no calls (and thus no free throws). NIT outcasts go back to grousing about how a team that was swept by Providence and blown out by Columbia and Alabama got a bid in the first place. Fans resume wondering whether pretty boy Wright has lost his touch. LaSalle and Temple both make a run.
No. 5 VCU
Best case: There is "Havoc" in Bracketville as the Rams make another run. VCU's pressure defense easily flusters Akron, playing without its alleged drug-trafficking point guard, and Shaka Smart beats old friend and mentor Keith Dambrot. Then the Rams take down vulnerable Michigan. That sets up a Sweet 16 flashback game: VCU-Kansas. Rams won the matchup in San Antonio two years ago to reach the Final Four, and they do it again this time by locking up the Kansas guards. Nostalgia tour continues with an upset of Georgetown, another of VCU's victims in 2011. Smart, hands in pockets and world at his feet, is back in the Final Four. Pep band and dance team continue to perform like No. 1 seeds. VCU beats Indiana to reach title game before losing to Louisville. Smart turns down interest from everywhere to stay and keep it rolling in Richmond.
Worst case: Pre-tourney VCU hype overlooks fact that the Rams can fall excessively in love with the 3 – and can seriously clank from the outside at times. Team that was just 3-for-18 outside the arc in Atlantic-10 final still can't find the range against Akron, and Dambrot knows Smart well enough to counteract his team's tendencies. Zips handle the VCU pressure just well enough to pull the upset. Pep band and dance team sent home before their talents are fully appreciated. With the A-10 losing Xavier and Butler, Smart decides it's time to upgrade and takes a bigger job.
No. 12 AKRON
Best case: Keith Dambrot's coaching acumen is finally recognized and respected on a wider scale. Zips, who circled the wagons and won the Mid-American Conference tournament without suspended point guard Alex Abreu, keep it going for one more weekend. They upset VCU for their first-ever NCAA win, with Carmelo Betancourt handling the ball well enough against the Rams' Havoc defense. Blessed with a bracket-collapse game in the round of 32 against South Dakota State, the Zips win again. LeBron James tweets his admiration and congratulations to Dambrot, his old high school coach. Run ends with loss to Kansas in JerryWorld, but Akron will take it.
Worst case: Disaster matchup. Combination of VCU pressure and no Abreu leads to something akin to lions feasting on a gazelle. Zips are ripped from the opening tip and remain winless all time in NCAA play. LeBron tweets nothing Zip-related. Eight straight 20-win seasons get Dambrot another job, and without him Akron basketball is in danger of slipping down to the level of Akron football.
No. 4 MICHIGAN
Best case: After watching six Big Ten schools advance to the Final Four since the last time they did it, the Wolverines at last break through. Michigan is too athletic for South Dakota State and too strong in the middle for VCU. John Beilein breaks out the 1-3-1 to make Kansas win from the outside in the Sweet 16, and Trey Burke outshines Otto Porter Jr. in a regional final All-American showdown. Wolverines finally beat Indiana on the third try in the national semifinals before losing in the title game to Louisville. But Beilein finally has his Final Four, and Michigan fans can stop pining away for the Fab Five days. Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. surprisingly announce they're coming back to finish the deal in 2014. Meanwhile, Ohio State and Michigan State both crash and burn early.
Worst case: Team that lost half its last 12 games, and hasn't done anything noteworthy away from Ann Arbor since January, still isn't right heading into the Big Dance. Underestimating a fundamentally sound South Dakota State team that can really shoot, the Wolverines are ignominiously dismissed in the round of 64. Burke has a sixth straight game making less than 50 percent of his shots and is outplayed by the Jackrabbits' Nate Wolters. Nobody else steps up. Beilein is criticized for letting his most talented team end the season so poorly. Michigan State and Ohio State both make the Final Four (again), and Indiana joins as well. It's a Big Ten party and Michigan isn't invited. Fans pine away all the more for the Fab Five days.
No. 13 SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
Best case: Jackrabbit mania sweeps the tournament, as South Dakota State pulls a pair of upsets and reaches the Sweet 16. Nate Wolters outduels Trey Burke of Michigan in the opener and sees his draft stock skyrocket. Then Wolters handles the VCU press and distributes to his sweet-shooting teammates in a round-of-32 triumph over the Rams. South Dakota empties out as entire state travels to JerryWorld to support the Jacks. Coach Scott Nagy's electric blue sport coat and prominent eyebrows become national discussion points. Wascally Wabbits finally run out of magic against Kansas, but South Dakota finally has something to brag about other than Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills and the Corn Palace.
Worst case: They don't have many athletes like Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and Trey Burke in the Summit League. Nor many big men the size of 6-foot-10, 250-pound Mitch McGary. South Dakota State finds that fundamentals only go so far when you're being dunked on and blown past repeatedly. Jackrabbits cannot match up with Michigan and are quickly dispatched. Wolters' draft stock slips. Nagy's sport coat and eyebrows are short-lived discussion points. Corn Palace remains the basketball highlight of South Dakota.
No. 6 UCLA
Best case: Shabazz Muhammad completes his single-season salary drive with a dominant NCAA run. Scoring from the perimeter, off the dribble, in transition and posting up, the freshman wing averages 25 points and six rebounds in four UCLA victories on the way to the Final Four. Travis Wear contributes the game-winning basket against Florida, Larry Drew II is excellent against Georgetown and Kyle Anderson plays a great all-around floor game against Kansas. Ben Howland's fourth Final Four, accomplished with a team left short-handed by transfers and the injury to Jordan Adams, shuts up Bill Walton – at least until the Bruins are beaten by Indiana in the national semifinals. Meanwhile, Pat Haden continues his odd proclivity for crackpots by hiring Bobby Gonzalez as USC's next basketball coach.
Worst case: Trailing Minnesota by a point in the final seconds, UCLA tries to win on the fly because Howland used his last timeout four minutes into the second half. With Drew II dribbling upcourt, Muhammad rushes up to knock him over and steal the ball from his teammate. Driving one-on-five, Muhammad fires an airball and the Bruins are beaten in the round of 64. Muhammad shrugs, grabs his Gucci backpack, signs with an agent on the way out of the arena and is never seen in Westwood again. Walton organizes a sit-in at the Morgan Center, UCLA's athletic administration building, and refuses to leave until Howland is fired. Haden hires Jamie Dixon, putting USC on the road back to respectability.
Best case: Given a week off to rinse away a late-season collapse and free themselves from the grind of the Big Ten, the Gophers bring a fresh mental outlook to the NCAA tournament. Once there, they are gifted with a game against a UCLA team that is down to six reliable bodies. Blasting the short-handed Bruins on the glass and slowing them in transition, Minnesota wins for the first time away from home since Jan. 9. Next, Minnesota drags Florida into a grind-it-out game, winning when the Gators once more collapse at crunch time. Georgetown restores order in the Sweet 16, but Gophers fans get off Tubby Smith's back, satisfied with the program's momentum and ready to see the hockey team win a national title.
Worst case: Time off is no tonic for a squad that has just been lousy down the stretch. A Minnesota team that has lost nine straight away from home – including games against noted non-powers Purdue, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern – meekly submits for the 10th straight time against UCLA. The offense stagnates, making defense easy for the Bruins. Tubby fumes at erratic Trevor Mbakwe, who fumes right back. After starting 15-1, the Gophers finish 20-13, and everyone wants big-bucks Tubby fired after failing to win an NCAA tournament game in six seasons. Hockey team unexpectedly bombs in that NCAA tourney as well.
No. 3 FLORIDA
Best case: Gators team that lost in regional finals last two years is on a mission to take the next step this time. Florida gets a good draw, destroying Northwestern State and UCLA in Austin and advancing to Dallas. Once there the Gators meet interloper Oklahoma, which upset Georgetown. Billy Donovan outflanks former Florida coach Lon Kruger, and then beats his old assistant, Shaka Smart, in the regional final. Kenny Boynton takes good shots and makes them in being named the regional Most Outstanding Player. Gators are back in the Final Four without having played a top-four seed in the South. Fans reluctantly choose national semifinals over spring football game and are rewarded with a victory over Indiana. Gators lose in final to Louisville, but redeem the SEC and prove they can win some close games.
Worst case: Gators cannot win close games. A team that came into the Dance 0-6 in games decided by single digits folds once again, this time in the round of 32 against UCLA. Boynton takes terrible shots and misses the vast majority of them. Scotty Wilbekin turns it over at crucial times. Musclebound Patric Young grabs three rebounds (one of which bounced). UCLA scores the last six points to win by one, part of an SEC round-of-64 whitewash. Fans are free to follow their instincts back to spring football. Donovan hears the siren song of the NBA again; this time he goes and doesn't come back.
No. 14 NORTHWESTERN STATE
Best case: The fastest team in the country in terms of tempo comes into Austin ready to run. Coach Mike McConathy, who was there in 2006 when the Demons pulled off a stunning NCAA upset as a No. 14 seed, is primed to repeat history. Northwestern State gets after Florida in the round of 64, pushing the Gators for 38 minutes before wobbling and relenting at the end. Shamir Davis, who averaged 28.5 points in two Southland tournament games, lights up Florida for 30. Northwestern in Chicago, which can never get to the tourney, is acutely jealous of Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La.
Worst case: If the Demons can lose by 16 to Niagara and 15 to Nicholls State, they can lose by 30 to a good team like Florida. Not a lot of defense to be found by Northwestern State in surrendering triple digits to the Gators. Shamir Davis gets locked up by Florida guards, and a repeat of the 14-over-3 miracle of 2006 isn't happening. America continues to have no idea where Northwestern State is located.
No. 7 SAN DIEGO STATE
Best case: Aztecs redeem themselves for a disappointing season. They began the year ranked 20th, and after 10 losses enter the NCAAs under the radar and underappreciated. That all changes when Jamaal Franklin rediscovers his shooting stroke at precisely the right time. A 27 percent 3-point shooter on the year, significantly down from his first two seasons, Franklin gets hot from the outside and carries San Diego State past Oklahoma in the opener and past Georgetown in a major upset two days later. Aztecs catch UCLA in the Sweet 16 and beat the Bruins for the second time this season, advancing to the regional finals for the first time. They lose there to Kansas but everyone feels much better about the year. Rosy cheeked Steve Fisher isn't ready to retire yet and announces that he's back for next year.
Worst case: There is no NCAA redemption for an unfulfilling year. Franklin keeps misfiring, and nobody picks up the offensive slack. A team that beat nobody better than Boise State over the season's last two months keeps that intact by falling to old UNLV rival Lon Kruger in the round of 64. Rest of Mountain West goes out early, too, and the league is derided as overhyped. Rosy cheeked Steve Fisher opts for retirement. It's a long trip back home from Philadelphia, but Aztec fans at least have the solace of returning to San Diego. There are worse places to ride out the offseason.
No. 10 OKLAHOMA
Best case: College basketball's best vagabond, Lon Kruger, strikes again. The first coach to take five schools to the NCAA tourney gets the Sooners in the Dance in his second season, and makes some hay once he gets here. Oklahoma rides athletic forward Romero Osby, a transfer from Mississippi State, to victory over San Diego State. Then Tidewater product Stephen Pledger gets hot against Georgetown in the round of 32. Oklahoma prevails again in a bracket-collapse Sweet 16 game against Minnesota and finds itself facing Big 12 sidekick Kansas in the regional final. Sooners win the rubber match between the two and are the biggest surprise in the Final Four. Bob Stoops, who has forgotten how to win the big one, consults with Kruger. Oklahoma loses to Indiana in the national semifinals in Atlanta (déjà vu 2002) but Sooner Nation is tickled.
Worst case: Oklahoma started leaking oil three weeks ago and lost three of its last five games – two of them to certifiable dogs Texas and TCU. Too late now to pull out of that tailspin. Sooners are bounced by San Diego State, making them 1-5 in the postseason since Blake Griffin took his aerial show to the pros. Kruger gets the wandering eye again, looking around for another job. And Bob Stoops still has no one to consult with about how to win the big one.
No. 2 GEORGETOWN
Best case: It's been a long time since 1984, but the Hoyas are finally ready to retake the throne. John Thompson III joins his dad as the first father-son national championship coaches, as Otto Porter Jr. performs like the best player in the country. After being unchallenged in its first two games, Georgetown needs Porter to star against Florida in the Sweet 16 and he does. Then Markel Starks hits the big shots in a regional final victory over VCU. In the run-up to the Final Four, media scrambles to find Michael Graham but settles for the more easily located Patrick Ewing. In the national semifinal, Indianapolis product D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera nails the game-winner against Indiana. Then Porter reasserts himself in the final as Georgetown runs its winning streak over Louisville to five straight. Year of the Jesuits in college hoops ends with Hoyas as the first Catholic-school titlists since Villanova in 1985. Porter, who has never been an instant-gratification kid, stays in school.
Worst case: Since 2007 Final Four run, JTIII has been a Big Dance bust – and that continues this year. The Hoyas have lost to a lower-seeded team four straight NCAA trips and haven't made a Sweet 16 in that time. This time the Hoyas bust out in the round of 32, upset by Oklahoma. Georgetown has a scoring drought late in the first half, falls behind by a dozen and cannot recover in the second half. Little John still cannot match Big John's accomplishments or escape his shadow. Porter goes pro and Washington, D.C., swaps interest in JTIII's team for interest in RG3's knee.
No. 15 FLORIDA GULF COAST
Best case: CBS locks in on coach Andy Enfield's wife seated behind the bench, model Amanda Marcum, and gives her the full Katherine Webb treatment. Watching at home, Brent Musburger sits up and yells "hubba hubba!" at the TV. Pavlovian "Hot Chick on TV!" viral freakout commences. Twitter erupts, bloggers drool and Marcum's agent is inundated with interview requests from media curious why she is married to a low-major basketball coach. Viral freakout puts FGCU on the map more than the game, which the Eagles lose easily. [Related: Life's literally a beach at FGCU]
Worst case: Game is out of hand so fast, national audience fails to get the full Webb treatment of Marcum as CBS cuts away to a more competitive contest. Brent never gets fired up. Twitter registers a ripple of response and not a tsunami. Bloggers move on to writing about actresses displaying excessive cleavage while shopping in Hollywood, and other issues of grave national import. Mrs. Enfield leaves the arena without her life substantially different, and the Eagles leave the arena 20-point losers.
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