Midwest Region: Good times – but also bad dreams
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 Midwest Region.
Best case: On a tour of its own glorious past, the Tar Heels add to the lore by winning their sixth national title. After opening with two walkovers in Greensboro, the Heels move on to St. Louis – site of their 2005 national championship. There, they dispatch Michigan and Georgetown (Ol’ Roy is spared another run-in with Kansas) to reach New Orleans – site of both Dean Smith’s national titles, in 1982 and ’93. But something weird has to happen for the Heels to win there – first it was Fred Brown throwing the ball away, then Chris Webber calling a timeout his team didn’t have. Now, after beating Florida State to avenge two earlier losses, Carolina is confronted by Kentucky – the team that eliminated the Heels last season and beat them by a point in December. With the game on the line, the Wildcats’ Anthony Davis blocks a John Henson shot off the backboard and into the hoop for a key basket in a two-point victory. Tyler Zeller, who knows the feeling, consoles Davis afterward. Ol’ Roy dances a dadgum jig on the court, then heads back to the hotel for a Coca-Cola, a Moon Pie and Andy Griffith re-runs. Duke, which lost to Xavier in the second round, loses Austin Rivers to the NBA. Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall inexplicably stay in school.
Worst case: Injuries and defensive indifference catch up with the Heels, who are shot down in the second round by Doug McDermott and a bunch of other Creighton players Ol’ Roy would never think of recruiting. Ol’ Roy boo-hoos a bit, then boo-hoos harder in another week when everyone who is someone in powder blue goes pro. Duke wins it all again and beats new ACC power player Florida State in the title game. Carolina, which began the season No. 1 in the country, exits the season as the third wheel in its league.
Best case: The Jayhawks win it all on a Tyshawn Taylor 3-pointer to beat John Calipari and Kentucky, which leaves a mark on Cal’s soul to match the unhealed wound from 2008. Then they celebrate with a goodbye salute to their departing rival. Instead of flying home, the KU travel party embarks on a caravan north from New Orleans to St. Louis. Then they turn west and parade the national championship trophy across every mile of Interstate 70 through the state of Missouri, rolling past Kansas City and into Lawrence. The Jayhawks show the Tigers what they missed out on – again – when they were upset in the second round. Final Four Most Outstanding Player Thomas Robinson is so grateful for the support network at Kansas after the tragic deaths in his family last year that he comes back for his senior season, too.
Worst case: It happens. Again. To the mid-major perp list of Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa and VCU, add the name Detroit. This time, it’s worse. This time, the Titans are a No. 15 seed, lowest of any team to take down Bill Self’s terribly uptight crew in the NCAA tournament. The game follows a familiar script: Jayhawks get behind early, and big. They fight to come back until – holy Farokhmanesh! – Detroit guard Ray McCallum buries the key “3” in the final minutes to secure the stunning upset. Self handles himself in classy fashion, as always, after the game, then adjourns to his hotel room to thank God one more time for Mario Chalmers and that shot against Memphis in ’08. Because without that, they wouldn’t keep putting up with these upsets at the hands of no-name opponents. Meanwhile, Missouri wins its first national championship, leaving the Border War with the last laugh forever.
Best case: A program that has developed a bad recent history in this tournament reverses the curse in emphatic fashion. After three consecutive eliminations at the hands of double-digit seeds, the Hoyas are perfectly prepared to take out Belmont; they don’t give up open 3-point shots, and the Bruins need them to survive. Next up is a San Diego State team that overachieved and is overdue to lose, then comes Saint Mary’s in the Sweet 16 when Kansas is stunned by Detroit. With Henry Sims facilitating, Otto Porter rebounding and everyone chipping in points, the Hoyas complete the journey back to their roots – New Orleans, site of the program’s first modern Final Four in 1982 – by beating North Carolina in the regional final. Georgetown loses to Kentucky in the national title game but re-establishes itself as an elite program.
Worst case: For the fourth season in a row, Georgetown is inconceivably bounced by a double-digit seed from mid-majorland. From Davidson to Ohio to VCU and now to Belmont, the rigid Hoyas can’t seem to transition from Big East play to different styles and are again lit up. Georgetown’s defense, which had been showing signs of slipping late in the season against Cincinnati and Marquette, now falls down and can’t get up against the crafty Bruins. John Thompson III, pretty much beyond reproach after taking the program to the 2007 Final Four, has some ’splaining to do.
Best case: The Wolverines go to the Final Four – and actually get to keep the banner up this time since Ed Martin is no longer with us. Coach John Beilein and his rolled shirt cuffs have had a lot of NCAA success at three schools but never have crossed that final threshold to the last weekend of the season until now. His funky zone and perimeter-based offense befuddle Ohio and Temple, then the Wolverines have an epic 3-point shooting night to take down North Carolina. In the regional final, Michigan out-backdoors Georgetown to reach New Orleans, then makes the title game in the same building where Chris Webber called timeout 19 years earlier. The Wolverines lose to Kentucky but nobody complains – especially not with Ohio State and Michigan State both losing early. Then Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. both stay in school.
Worst case: The Wolverines do their customary abysmal job rebounding against Ohio, then compound the problem by failing to make any 3-pointers and get smoked in transition by the Bobcats. Burke and Hardaway combine to go 2-of-14 from 3-point range. Nobody else steps up. The offseason arrives abruptly in Ann Arbor – but not in Columbus or East Lansing, as Ohio State beats Michigan State in the national title game while the Wolverines watch. Burke and Hardaway go pro, and Denard Robinson asks to be switched to wide receiver full-time.
Best case: With the rest of Philadelphia basketball sitting this one out, Big Five brethren get behind the Owls and are rewarded with a run to the Sweet 16 – Temple’s first in 11 years. Ramone Moore is hitting clutch shots and Michael Eric is a hyperactive presence inside, helping Fran Dunphy make the deepest run of his 14 inglorious NCAA appearances. The Owls are taken out by North Carolina but succeed in temporarily changing the subject in Philly from Eagles free agency, the Phillies’ starting rotation and the Sixers’ playoff status. Naturally, the talk shows rip Temple when it loses.
Worst case: Talk shows get to ripping right away when Temple is upset in its first game. An Owls team that struggled late in the regular season never gets back to playing like the one that won 11 games in a row in January and February. Dunphy’s NCAA record drops to an abysmal 2-14. Even Bill Cosby is perturbed. Big Five brethren are forced to watch the NIT, and Philly quickly reverts to being a pro town.
6. San Diego State
Best case: Steve Fisher isn’t getting older, he’s getting better. A year after what looked like the high point of Act II of his coaching career, a Sweet 16 run with a veteran group of Aztecs, Fisher is back with a different cast that’s nearly as good. He replaced four starters and still has an athletic bunch that beats down North Carolina State, stuns Georgetown and finally falls to Kansas in the Sweet 16. America gets a good appreciation for Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, two California kids who could have helped the Pac-12 avert complete embarrassment but instead are repping a Mountain West Conference that puts three teams in the Sweet 16. They return along with Fisher for what could be another top-10 team in 2012-13.
Worst case: The selection committee and CBS combine to put the Aztecs behind the eight-ball right away, flying them to Columbus, Ohio, and sticking them with a 9:40 a.m. PDT tipoff against a team from the Eastern Time Zone. North Carolina State is ready and San Diego State is still asleep, and the Aztecs fall behind by 15 points in short order. They can’t make up the deficit and are upset in their first game. Fisher unexpectedly retires, and things go from bad to worse when there’s a partly cloudy day in La Jolla.
7. Saint Mary’s
Best case: With a beautiful offense and just enough defense, Randy Bennett’s Gaels roll into their second Sweet 16 in the past three seasons. With the backcourt-frontcourt combination of guard Matthew Dellavedova and forward Rob Jones, Saint Mary’s is too diverse offensively for Purdue. Then the Gaels catch a monumental break when Detroit shocks Kansas. They take down the Titans and advance to St. Louis before being beaten by Georgetown. When Gonzaga loses in the first weekend and BYU bows out in the round of 64, Saint Mary’s can stake legitimate claim to kings of the West Coast Conference. Bennett turns down job offers from Pac-12 schools to stay in Moraga.
Worst case: The last time the Gaels came east, they were walloped by Murray State in a BracketBuster game. This result is similar, as softish Saint Mary’s gets beaten up in Omaha by the Big Ten Boilermakers. Where is Omar Samhan when you need him inside? Where, for that matter, is Mickey McConnell? The one-and-done hurt gets worse when Gonzaga makes the Final Four, and much worse when Bennett finally flees for the Pac-12. The school is free to slide back into irrelevancy.
[ Pat Forde: Breakdown of the entire NCAA tournament field ]
Best case: “McDermott Mania” goes national after the Bluejays beat Alabama, then shock North Carolina on a buzzer-beating “3” by the man himself, Doug McDermott. The coach’s son then lights up Michigan in the Sweet 16 and Kansas in the regional final, carrying Creighton to its first Final Four. Per-game averages through the first four victories: 27 points, nine rebounds and 12 CBS cutaways to the player’s mom and coach’s wife, Theresa. Bluejays finally bow out in a national semifinal against Florida State, but McDermott is just a sophomore and his parents have grounded him, so entering the draft is out of the question.
Worst case: Playing poorly against Alabama, Greg McDermott reprises the in-game annihilation of his kid from the February loss to Wichita State. This time, the TV cameras immediately pan to mom for a nationwide look at her reaction. It’s not good – and when mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy. After losing to the Crimson Tide, narrative changes from endearing family story to whether dad is too hard on the boy. Tired of the drama, McDermott turns pro and Creighton is back to rebuilding mode next season.
Best case: Defensive tenacity frustrates Creighton star Doug McDermott, and lax Bluejays defense leads to open looks that sketchy Alabama shooters actually make. JaMychal Green gets it done inside and the Crimson Tide earns its first NCAA victory since 2006. Team that shoots 28.5 percent from 3-point range can’t do it for two consecutive games, but Tide makes life difficult for North Carolina before submitting. (Put it this way: Nobody is accused of point shaving.) Anthony Grant gets a lucrative extension and keeps signing talented recruits. Fans take notice of Alabama’s NCAA success because Nick Saban notes it during a spring practice interview session, then everyone goes back to obsessing over the spring depth chart. Worst case: A Tide team that has done nothing of note for months does nothing of note against Creighton, losing handily and being bounced from the tournament in 40 minutes. Alabama didn’t beat an NCAA tourney team during SEC play; in fact, you have to go back to Dec. 11 against Detroit to find the last one it did beat. When faced with better competition than anything South Carolina, Auburn or Arkansas can provide, the Tide is not up to the task. Anxiety spikes statewide when Eddie Lacy gets hurt in spring practice and Saban gets a cold.
Best case: In his ninth and final season as a Boilermaker, hard-luck Robbie Hummel finally has a fitting sendoff. He leads Purdue to a regional final, shooting them past Saint Mary’s and bracket-busting Detroit to reach St. Louis, then slaying Georgetown with 30 points and 10 rebounds. Purdue Pete proves his prowess by knocking a hole in the Arch with his sledgehammer. Hummel and his teammates are stopped in the Elite Eight by North Carolina, but a surgically repaired career ends on a high note. After last year’s dalliance with Missouri, Matt Painter tapes himself to his desk for days at a time to re-prove his loyalty this spring. Boilermakers rejoice at Indiana’s one-and-done demise at the hands of New Mexico State.
Worst case: After averaging just eight points in two Big Ten tournament games, a worn-down Hummel has nothing left to give in his final Purdue game and the Boilermakers are dismissed by Saint Mary’s. Purdue Pete is ejected for trying to assault an official with his sledgehammer. As an era ends and having seen what he passed up at Missouri, Painter redoubles his efforts to get away from the penny-pinching administration at Purdue. Meanwhile, Indiana gets to the Final Four at least a year ahead of schedule and gets commitments from three in-state studs in the class of 2016.
11. North Carolina State
Best case: Not satisfied with simply making the tournament for the first time in six years, the Wolfpack cut loose on a surprising run to the regional final. Taking advantage of a 9:40 a.m. PDT tipoff time for sleepy San Diego State, Mark Gottfried’s team pulls its first upset. Then they shock misfiring Georgetown and draw Saint Mary’s in a broken-bracket Sweet 16 game. By then, David Thompson and Dereck Whittenburg have shown up in St. Louis to root on the Wolfpack. They get the added bonus of seeing North Carolina get upset in that round by Michigan. The Wolverines take out NC State as well, but by then the Wolfpack is – for the first time since 1983 – the undisputed last Tobacco Road team standing. Then the McDonald’s All-Americans arrive for next year.
Worst case: The Wolfpack remain winless in the NCAAs since the Herb Sendek days. San Diego State is wide awake and ready to rumble in Columbus, lighting up an NC State defense that has been known to leave shooters open. C.J. Leslie gets in foul trouble, and that’s never a good thing; the Wolfpack is just 3-8 when he gets four or five fouls in a game and 16-4 when he gets three or fewer. Meanwhile, Duke, Carolina and Florida State all make the Final Four and the Tar Heels win the thing. The Wolfpack fade further in the Tobacco Road rear-view mirror, and the incoming All-Americans have eligibility issues.
Best case: Hip, hip, Jorge. After not finishing the season well, relentless Golden Bears guard Jorge Gutierrez is at his floor-burning, collision-surviving best in leading Cal past USF in the opening round, past Temple in the round of 64 and past Ohio in a bracket-collapse game in the round of 32. A Cal team that many thought didn’t belong in the tournament pops up in the Sweet 16, where a loss to North Carolina does not diminish the run, the school’s best since Tony Gonzalez was a hoopster. Rejuvenated Mike Montgomery signs a contract extension. The Golden Bears send their love to Stanford in the NIT.
Worst case: A team that backpedaled into the tournament while losing three of its last four games – and went 1-5 vs. NCAA tourney opponents – is exposed as a pretender by USF. The Bulls turn the game into a grinder and the Golden Bears don’t respond well, failing to hit the offensive glass or get to the foul line. Montgomery decides afterward that it’s time to hang it up. Stanford reminds Cal how the football series has gone lately.
Best case: The Bulls ride statistical socialism – everyone is equal – all the way to the Sweet 16. Without a player averaging even 10 points per game, opponents have no idea who to key on and are nibbled to death by a rotating array of sharp-toothed puppies instead of one big dog. The first victim is Cal in Dayton, then Temple in Nashville, and finally USF beats Michigan. Bulls plod to 165 total points in the three games, but it works. Stan Heath suddenly is celebrated for the first time since he was a rookie head coach at Kent State a decade ago. With Florida and Florida State both losing early, the Bulls own the state in basketball for the first time ever.
Worst case: A team with no stars has no go-to man, and the Bulls need one late in their play-in game against Cal. Nobody steps up, and they go down – not a shocking outcome for a team that was 3-10 against NCAA tourney competition and also lost to Auburn and Penn State. Heath remains uncelebrated in Tampa and everywhere else. Fans go back to being bored by low-scoring, no-star basketball and gravitate to Florida and Florida State, both of which make deep runs.
Best case: With normally condescending Ohio State fans suddenly rushing to support the Bobcats, John Groce’s team reprises first-round walloping of Georgetown in 2010 by bum-rushing Michigan. The unlikely hero: Ivo Baltic. He’s made one 3-pointer since Christmas, a span of 22 games, and it happened to be the final and clinching Ohio basket in MAC tournament title game. Emboldened, Baltic becomes Jimmer Fredette, dropping “3s” on bewildered Michigan, whose scouting report does not list the forward as a perimeter threat. Baltic keeps it up in the next round in a victory over USF, becoming an instant March sensation. The jig’s up in the Sweet 16 against North Carolina, but by then Baltic is an Ohio U. legend who never will have to buy another beer in Athens. And they do like their beer in Athens.
Worst case: A team that lost by 13 points to Eastern Michigan (No. 261 in the Sagarin ratings) isn’t quite up for the challenge of the Big Ten tri-champions. The Wolverines don’t surrender open looks to the scatter-shooting Bobcats, who connect on just 31 percent of their field-goal attempts for the game and are beaten by 20. Baltic goes 0-of-6 from the perimeter. Ohio State fans quickly revert to condescension mode toward their Bobcats brethren. Much beer is sullenly consumed in Athens.
Best case: The Bruins finally get over. Plucky Atlantic Sun champions always schedule the big boys but never beat them: They’re 0-10 against the power six conferences in the past four seasons. But this time, they stand up to powerful Georgetown, hit the Hoyas with a dazzling display of passing and shot-making, and earn the first NCAA victory in school history. Guard Kerron Johnson is the straw that stirs the drink, with 3-point specialist Drew Hanlen providing the timely twist of lime. It gets better when the Bruins beat North Carolina State in a bracket-collapse round of 32 game, making the Sweet 16. With Tennessee in the NIT and Vanderbilt beaten by Wisconsin, Belmont officially (and for once) rules Nashville.
Worst case: Same story, new verse. Belmont plays hard, Belmont hangs tough, Belmont cannot finish against the big boys. This time, the Bruins blow a 10-point lead late against Georgetown and lose when they give the Hoyas four shots at the go-ahead basket in the final seconds. Program architect Rick Byrd decides enough is enough and retires. Vandy goes to the Final Four. And Tennessee spring football overshadows all of it.
Best case: The scariest No. 15 seed since Steve Nash and Santa Clara beat Arizona in 1993 lives up to its giant-slayer billing. Behind a future NBA point guard in Ray McCallum Jr., Detroit becomes the latest mid-major team to shock Kansas. Only it’s not just McCallum. Yeah, the guy who could have gone almost anywhere but signed with the Titans because his dad is the coach is triple-double brilliant – 24 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds. But Detroit also has big-time size and big-time athleticism – enough of both to play toe-to-toe with the increasingly anxiety-ridden Jayhawks. When McCallum makes the clinching “3,” it’s the biggest thing to hit the school since Dick Vitale, John Long and Terry Tyler. The Titans move on to beat Saint Mary’s in the round of 32 before falling to Georgetown in the Sweet 16. By then, they have overshadowed Michigan and Michigan State, and have Mitch Albom tagging along to write valentines to the Titans. McCallum Jr. has so much fun, he comes back to do it again as a junior.
Worst case: After too many ambushes, Kansas is wide awake and on upset alert in Omaha. The Jayhawks trap the ball out of McCallum’s hands whenever possible, forcing the rest of the Titans to beat them. Chase Simon and Eli Holman continue their Horizon League tournament struggles and cannot make Kansas pay for its defensive strategy. Team that has zero wins against the NCAA tourney field – and played just one of the 68 teams in it – is no match for the Jayhawks. The Titans are steamrolled before Albom has a chance to jump on the bandwagon.
Best case: Pat Knight’s news-conference detonation of his team and the Buckley Amendment last month becomes a leading moment in Lamar lore. On a six-game winning streak after that, the Cardinals make it seven by knocking the sap out of Vermont in the First Four. Son of The General becomes a national curiosity heading into game against North Carolina. Veteran team keeps it close for 30 minutes, and Knight’s stock rises even more. Gets two-dozen invitations to speak at camps and clinics this summer. Topic: “How to destroy your team and build it up at the same time.” Worst case: In love with his own instant celebrity, Knight tries another rant – this time in the locker room at halftime of a tight First Four game against Vermont. It backfires in the heat of the moment. Cardinals pout through second half and are eliminated. Invitations to speak at camps and clinics quietly are rescinded. And all the veterans Knight inherited use up their eligibility, which makes the second act a lot harder.
Best case: Coach John Becker’s story captures imagination of the nation: former director of operations for Vermont’s hockey team winds up as the basketball coach; rental home burns to the ground over the holidays; family escapes but loses everything and relocates to friend’s condo. Now he winds up in the First Four and orchestrates a victory over Lamar, setting up David-Goliath game with North Carolina. With Tom Brennan, T.J. Sorrentine and Taylor Coppenrath looking on, Catamounts keep it close in Greensboro for a half before relenting. Life is good in New England.
Worst case: Nation never gets around to Becker’s back story because the Catamounts are dispatched with alacrity and disdain by Lamar on Wednesday night. The team that astonishingly was one of Binghamton’s two victims this season has no business being in the NCAA tournament and plays like it, struggling to score against the Cardinals. Brennan, Sorrentine and Coppenrath shield their eyes from the carnage. Fans turn their attention back to skiing.
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