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 GONZAGA
Best case: Kelly Olynyk lets his freak flag fly, taking the 'Zags where they have never gone before – to the Final Four, and beyond. Gonzaga rolls through a user-friendly region, beating Southern, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin before finding New Mexico, not Ohio State, in the Elite Eight. In a geographically correct West Region final, the Bulldogs show their newfound defensive grit to prevail. In the Final Four, Gonzaga gets another break by facing Duke instead of Louisville, and Olynyk outplays Mason Plumlee. The 'Zags win the national title over Indiana on an Elias Harris tip-in at the buzzer, becoming the first non-power-six conference member to win it all since UNLV in 1990. Huge past year for Catholicism – new pope, new basketball league, Notre Dame 12-1 in football – continues with Gonzaga's title. Mark Few turns down big money to coach elsewhere, preferring the fishing around Spokane.
Worst case: Reacquainted with high-caliber competition for the first time in a while, Gonzaga is rudely dispatched in the round of 32 by Pittsburgh. Steven Adams frustrates Olynyk in the paint, the rest of the Panthers blanket Gonzaga's shooters and Talib Zanna beats up the 'Zags on the glass. Few tightens up under the pressure of the No. 1 seed and transfers that anxiety to his players, who miss a ton of open shots. Gonzaga is bounced in the round of 32, just like the previous three seasons, to the nationwide chants of "overrated" from the hoops elitists. Olynyk goes pro, and Few packs up his fly rod for another job in a bigger conference.
No. 16 SOUTHERN
Best case: The Southern pep band, known as "The Human Jukebox," enters the tournament as the overall No. 1 seed among bands and lives up to the billing. The 'Box brings the funk to an astonished Salt Lake City, rocking the Huntsman Center in an interesting cultural mix. The Jaguars make a decent accounting of themselves on the court as well, making Gonzaga work for its 20-point victory with some sticky defense.
Worst case: The 'Box experiences travel issues and misses tipoff. Lacking sonic support, Southern is slammed from the opening jump by Gonzaga. A team that can struggle offensively (winning score of the SWAC title game was 45-44) is overwhelmed by the Bulldogs' defense and held to 36 points. Then the flight home to Baton Rouge gets snowed in.
No. 8 PITTSBURGH
Best case: Jamie Dixon flips the script, actually overachieving in the NCAAs for the first time in his 10-season tenure. Pitt wins a mud-wrestling match with Wichita State in the round of 64, then waylays Gonzaga with sharp passing and tenacious rebounding to upset the West's top seed on a Talib Zanna putback at the buzzer. After years of buckling beneath the burden of March expectations, Dixon suddenly looks 10 years younger. Suitably energized, Pitt wins again in the Sweet 16 over Kansas State and advances to the regional final before losing to Ohio State. Dixon then turns down multiple Pac-12 job offers to stay put and oversee the transition to the ACC.
Worst case: Same old, same old. Pitt bruises the Huntsman Center rims with errant shots, then misses four free throws in the final seconds that could have iced the game against Wichita State. Shockers win on a full-court drive that brings visions of Scotty Reynolds barging into the heads of Pitt fans everywhere. Dixon looks 10 years older when it's over, then leaves for warm weather and a big check out West. Pitt staggers into the foreign territory of the ACC with nothing going for it.
[Related: See bracket, play Tourney Pick'em]No. 9 WICHITA STATE
Best case: The Cleanthony Early who scored 63 points in a two-game span in January magically reappears at just the right time, hitting 3-pointers and scoring all over the place as the Shockers live up to their nickname. They take out Pitt in the first game and jar Gonzaga two days later. Motivated for a Sweet 16 matchup against Kansas State, a former in-state rival that the Shockers haven't played since 2004, Wichita State knocks off the Big 12 big brother. Gregg Marshall's team finally loses in the regional final to Ohio State, but this goes down as the best NCAA run since 1981. Marshall turns down other jobs to stay put and rule a Creighton-less Missouri Valley Conference. Worst case: The Early who scored two points in the Arch Madness final and 15 in the entire Valley tournament is still around for NCAA play. Early misses early and often, and so do his teammates in a foul-filled, trench-warfare loss to Pittsburgh in the round of 64. Shockers then have to watch Creighton make a Cinderella run before thumbing its nose at the league on the way out the door. Confronted with the specter of spending the rest of his career in Wichita, Marshall hits the eject button for the first decent job he can find.
No. 5 WISCONSIN
Best case: Blessed with a bracket vulnerable to being busted, Bo Ryan's Badgers take advantage of the opportunity. They suffocate and frustrate Marshall Henderson and Mississippi in the round of 64, then Ryan gets the better of old Big Ten combatant Bruce Weber and Kansas State. In the Sweet 16, Wisconsin drags Gonzaga into its style of play in a major upset, and in the regional final faces an Iowa State team that lived by the 3-pointer for three games but dies by it against the Badgers. Ryan is finally in the Final Four, reinforcing his know-it-all attitude, and horrifying fans of scoring and a watchable tempo. Louisville ends the run by holding Wisconsin to 37 points, but Bo's coaching style is validated by making it to Atlanta.
Worst case: Bo's coaching style is questioned anew when the Badgers shoot 29 percent and plod around in sluggish pursuit of Mississippi hotshot Marshall Henderson, who scores 30 points and pours endless trash talk into the ears of Wisconsin players, coaches and fans. A team that has averaged fewer than 49 points in its last six losses feebly struggles to score, even against an Ole Miss team that is only marginally engaged defensively. Ryan snarls at the CBS sideline reporter during the game and the rest of the media after the upset loss, dismissing any criticisms of BoBall as uninformed. Ryan retires to his hotel room, wishing he could watch the rest of the tournament in black and white.
No. 12 MISSISSIPPI
Best case: Marshall Henderson hijacks March Madness, his shooting touch and manic antics on full display. Henderson hits Wisconsin with a 30-point barrage, pelvic thrusting at the Badgers fans after made 3-pointers. Then he lights up Kansas State for 25, leaping on the scorer's table and daring Wildcats fans to come at him, then buying them drinks later that night out on the town. In the Sweet 16, he smokes Gonzaga, at one point pulling down his shorts to moon the arena. Reality intrudes in the regional final against Ohio State, but by then Ole Miss fans are so excited they briefly avert their gaze from the spring football depth chart to cheer on the basketball team. Coach Andy Kennedy goes from hot seat to fat new contract. Henderson is lauded as a colorful competitor who is misunderstood by fans who would actively hate him if he were wearing another uniform.
Worst case: Henderson's mouth writes checks his game can't cash against the disciplined Badgers, who harass him into a 4-for-18 shooting nightmare. Frustrated to the boiling point, he cusses out Bo Ryan and gets ejected late in a Wisconsin rout of the Rebels. Henderson leaves the gym in uniform and is spotted at a bar near the arena tying one on later that night. Ole Miss, which beat no one of significance in the non-conference portion of the schedule, is exposed as the product of an inferior league. Kennedy slides back onto the hot seat. Back home, fans shrug and get back to obsessing over spring football.
No. 4 KANSAS STATE
Best case: Underappreciated team that suffered no bad losses makes the most of geographic favor from the committee, winning two games in fan-friendly Kansas City. In the Wildcats' round-of-32 takedown of Wisconsin, Rodney McGruder continues his late-season roll with 25 points, while fans double their pleasure by watching North Carolina stun Kansas the same day in the same place. K-State advances to a Sweet 16 game against neighbor Wichita State, winning on a Shane Southwell 3. Then sophomore point guard Angel Rodriguez stands up to Aaron Craft and Ohio State to win the region, taking the school to its first Final Four since 1964 and touching off joyous vandalism in Aggieville. After Illinois loses early, coach Bruce Weber asks Illini fans how they like him now.
Worst case: Illinois fans see a Weber-coached team that looks familiar, misfiring from 3-point range and uninterested in working the ball inside. The Wildcats are one-and-done, squandering the Kansas City gift and touching off surly vandalism in Aggieville. Kansas wins two games in the same arena, on its way to another national title, and Wichita State makes a cheeky Sweet 16 run. Fans start panicking at the thought of Weber reprising his Illinois slide here, winning immediately with the previous coach's players and then steadily sliding into mediocrity in the ensuing years.
Best case: The old aphorism is that good guard play wins in March, and the Explorers have a bunch of them. The best is Ramon Galloway, and he goes off on Boise State in Dayton and then on Kansas State in Kansas City. Galloway gets some help in the round of 32 from sidekick Tyreek Duren, and suddenly LaSalle is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1955. Media begins frenzied search for reaction from Tom Gola. It ends there against Gonzaga, but run re-establishes LaSalle in the uber-competitive Philadelphia hoops hierarchy.
Worst case: Living on the perimeter occasionally means dying there, too. And when the outside shots don't fall against Boise State, the Explorers do. La Salle is easily exploited defensively, falls behind early and cannot catch up. School quietly shuffles back to the lower tier of Philly hoops hierarchy, watching Villanova and Temple play on and hog the spotlight. Nobody bothers calling Gola for reaction.
No. 6 ARIZONA
Best case: Team that beat Florida and Miami as part of a 14-0 start on the season reappears in Salt Lake City, running past Belmont and upsetting New Mexico to reach the Sweet 16. Arizona takes advantage of an Iowa State upset of Ohio State by beating the Cyclones, then eliminates Gonzaga to unexpectedly win the West. Sean Miller goes to his first Final Four, officially rebuilding the Lute Olson legacy. Mark Lyons leaves the 3-point shooting to more reliable guys like Nick Johnson and successfully goes to the basket and the foul line. Solomon Hill provides the leadership. The world's oldest fan base descends upon Atlanta in search of 4 p.m. cafeteria specials.
Worst case: Team that finished the season 11-7, with few noteworthy wins, is still around for the Big Dance. As a result, the Wildcats are bounced in the round of 64 by Belmont (something about playing teams called the Bruins brings out the worst in this Arizona group). U of A gives Belmont all the open perimeter shots and driving lanes it desires, falling behind early and never closing the gap. Lyons, who has only made six of his last 29 3-point shots, keeps jacking them up with the same result. Miller stews over being slapped with another technical foul. World's oldest fan base grumbles that Lute and Fred Snowden would never get T'd up like that, then head out in search of 4 p.m. cafeteria specials.
No. 11 BELMONT
Best case: Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson, the best backcourt nobody has heard of, power a Bruins uprising. They catch Arizona and New Mexico both overconfident and looking ahead, knocking both out of the tourney with impeccable shot selection. Given their highest seed in six NCAA appearances, program patriarch Rick Byrd finally gets a win. Reality check arrives in the Sweet 16, but that's more than enough to make Belmont's transition from Atlantic Sun to Ohio Valley Conference a smashing success. With Tennessee and Vanderbilt spectating and Memphis losing early, the small school in Nashville owns the Volunteer State. Country songs are written in the Bruins' honor.
Worst case: Belmont drops to 0-6 all-time in NCAA tourney play, as a change in conference does nothing to offset a deficit in height. Bruins are bludgeoned inside by Arizona in another round-of-64 mismatch. Byrd, wondering if the breakthrough will ever come, contemplates retirement. Nobody bothers to write a country song about his team, and the Volunteer State goes back to thinking about spring football.
No. 3 NEW MEXICO
Best case: Program that has forever hungered to be bigger than it is finally has its breakthrough moment, reaching the school's first Final Four. Long Lobos overpower Harvard and Belmont in their first two games, then step up as the competitions stiffens. They upset Ohio State behind a big game from forward Tony Snell, then clamp down defensively on Gonzaga in the regional final. In Atlanta, New Mexico avenges last season's close NCAA loss to Louisville before Steve Alford is beaten by his alma mater in the championship game. Bob Knight sits behind the New Mexico bench wearing Lobo gear. Alford is given a massive new contract to stay in Albuquerque, and a team that starts zero seniors sets its sights on the 2014 national title.
Worst case: The long wait for a breakthrough continues, as a team overrated because of a bloated RPI is exposed right away. New Mexico, which shoots just 46 percent from two-point range, goes cold in a shocking opening loss to Harvard. The Mountain West continues its recent history of NCAA struggles. A couple of players make hasty decisions to go pro and Alford is wooed for other jobs, scuttling dreams of a 2014 super season. Meanwhile, New Mexico State comes out of nowhere to make a Sweet 16 run and stake claim to state superiority.
No. 14 HARVARD
Best case: Crimson learned a thing or two from last year's first-ever NCAA tournament game, a thorough beating from Vanderbilt. (It's Harvard, so the learning comes naturally.) With a better idea what it takes to win, Tommy Amaker's team runs its offense for good 3-point looks for Canadian import Laurent Rivard and gets to the foul line in a major upset of New Mexico. Harvard then meets Belmont in a bracket-collapse round-of-32 game and somehow advances to the Sweet 16. This incites five days of insufferable bandwagon jumping by politicians, Nobel scientists and circuit judges who never went to a game while in school. That ends in a Sweet 16 loss to Ohio State, but this goes down as the school's best-ever moment in a sport people actually pay attention to.
Worst case: Team with limited size and athleticism gets a terrible matchup in the huge Lobos, who score over the Crimson early and often in a round-of-64 rout. If Harvard can lose by 15 to 12-16 Columbia, it can lose by 30 to New Mexico – and does. Politicians, Nobel scientists and circuit judges are spared having to pretend to care about basketball and can go back to running the country.
No. 7 NOTRE DAME
Best case: Locked in a tight game with Iowa State, Jerian Grant summons his inner Reggie Miller – the one that went thermonuclear on Louisville to spawn five overtimes in February – and saves the day. Wearing their electric celery green uniforms in the next round, the Fighting Irish disorient Ohio State in a shocking upset. A Sweet 16 matchup with Arizona becomes a shootout and the Irish prevail on a Pat Connaughton corner 3. In the regional final, Notre Dame draws Pittsburgh in a Big East bracket-collapse game, and the Irish make their first Final Four since 1978. Digger Phelps walks around Atlanta trying to get interviewed, as if he had anything to do with it. Run ends in six-overtime loss to Louisville, but nobody is complaining.
Worst case: Pregame pep talk from Manti Te'o proves to be a bad idea, as he starts spinning yarn about being in the gym when the Irish broke UCLA's 88-game winning streak in 1974. Suitably weirded out, Notre Dame is strafed from 3-point range by Iowa State in a bewildering rout. It's Mike Brey's fourth opening-game loss in Notre Dame's last six NCAA appearances, ending their Big East association on an inglorious note. But it still looks good compared to the football team's last effort.
No. 10 IOWA STATE
Best case: Avid 3-ball shooters are ready to heat up Dayton, dropping bombs on Notre Dame and then Ohio State in a bracket-busting opening weekend. But why stop there? Cyclones keep shooting in the Sweet 16, taking down New Mexico and Gonzaga to reach an improbable Final Four. Royce White buses to Atlanta to see what the hubbub is all about. Fred Hoiberg, forever known as The Mayor of Ames, is promoted to governor at Sweet 16 level, then named emperor of the state upon making the Final Four. Cyclones fans ask Iowa how it is enjoying the NIT.
Worst case: The 3s aren't falling, and there isn't much for the Cyclones to fall back on when that's the case. Short and defensively indifferent, Iowa State is susceptible to Jack Cooley inside and cannot stop Notre Dame in a first-game punch out. White skips the game, preferring weird Twitter rants instead. Hoiberg demoted to dog-catcher.
No. 2 OHIO STATE
Best case: Under orders from Urban Meyer, Buckeyes fans stop worrying about who will punt in the fall and pay attention to the best Buckeyes basketball team in six years. With Aaron Craft at the top of his offensive game, Deshaun Thomas as an unstoppable scorer and the athletic of additions of LaQuinton Ross and Shannon Scott to the rotation, Ohio State is more versatile now than it had been all season. Combine that with the usual Buckeyes defense – airtight without fouling – and you have a team that can win it all. And Ohio State does, knocking out Louisville in a vicious Final Four game and then beating Indiana in a rubber-match final – after which the winner cuts down the nets, not the loser. Bob Knight sits behind the Ohio State bench in a gray sweater, glaring at various Indiana administrators. Jim Delany is so thankful to see his league finally win something that he hugs Thad Matta for an uncomfortably long time during the postgame trophy presentation. Five minutes after the game, Meyer declares it safe to go back to discussing the punter, and everyone does.
Worst case: Feeling the stress of the moment, Thomas reverts to Hero Ball, taking too many shots in a tight round-of-32 game against Iowa State. A guy who is struggling from 3-point range (five of 32 over the last six games) keeps launching and keeps missing. Matta feels the stress too and stops going to his bench. Craft can't make any shots and actually gets called for some of the fouls he commits. Iowa State gets ungodly hot from the outside – which it can do – and stunningly shoots the Buckeyes out of the tournament. Gordon Gee materializes in the postgame locker room to make a tone-deaf joke and show off his latest bow tie. After at least 20 minutes of hand-wringing over another blown opportunity to win the first basketball title since 1960, the fans go back to obsessing over the punter. Meanwhile, Michigan wins the national title.
No. 15 IONA
Best case: Coach Tim Cluess becomes a cult hero to the ironic hipster set, with his 1980s middle-hair part and thick mustache going viral within minutes of tipoff against Ohio State. Throw in the sideline sweat suit (worn to raise awareness for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation) and you have a genuine curiosity. That curiosity grows as Iona and guard Lamont "MoMo" Jones push the Buckeyes to the brink, finally submitting in the last minute. The Gaels' made-you-look moment is appreciated by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, men with mustaches, the Iona admissions department and everyone who bet against the Buckeyes.
Worst case: Nobody is watching casual-dress Cluess or his team for very long after the Buckeyes hit them with an opening haymaker. Ohio State is up double digits after eight minutes and it gets no closer against a Gaels team that just isn't into guarding. After MoMo goes pro, Iona is faced with slipping back into the pack in the MAAC.
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