West 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 West Region.
Best case: Just before leaving the locker room for the Spartans’ 9:20 opener in Columbus on Friday night, they see Michigan get upset in Nashville by Ohio on TV. With that extra bounce in their step, Tom Izzo’s team steamrolls through the West Region and into the Final Four, where they win the school’s third national title. They do it with defense, rebounding and Draymond “Day-Day” Green. Day-Day’s double-doubles (six of them) help the Spartans muscle past Memphis, shut down Louisville, then batter Missouri inside to reach New Orleans. Once there, a classic Izzo Guy, senior guard Austin Thornton, hits the game-winning 3-pointer to shock Kentucky. Then the Spartans get aircraft carrier payback, beating North Carolina as the final game of the season circles back to the start. Ecstatic about the league’s first basketball championship in 12 years, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany renames the Leaders Division after Izzo.
Worst case: Defense and rebounding only go so far, especially with athletic wing Branden Dawson out with an injury and State’s guards turning the ball over too much. “Day-Day” is day-to-day after injuring himself in the famed War Drill, can’t go at 100 percent and the Spartans lose to Memphis in the round of 32. Upset by the loss and the graduation of Green, Izzo dithers for a month over another NBA offer, but takes it this time. Michigan goes to the Final Four – and gets to keep the banner up this time.
Best case: The most accomplished program in America without a Final Four breaks down that barrier at last – but isn’t done there. The fast and fearless Tigers keep going right through the last Monday night of the season, winning the school’s first team national title in any sport since 1965. With New Orleans resident and near-graduate Brad Pitt in the Superdome, Mizzou outshoots Kentucky and shoots holes in the Syracuse zone to win the title. Perimeter quartet of Flip Pressey, Michael Dixon, Marcus Denmon and Kim English set tournament records for 3-pointers made. Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore heroically hold their own inside. English becomes the most-quoted player in NCAA tournament history. In a single season, Frank Haith moves shoulder-to-shoulder with Norm Stewart in the school’s coaching pantheon. On the podium in New Orleans, SEC boss Mike Slive shoulders aside the Big 12’s Chuck Neinas to steal the moment with his future member. And Kansas does what it’s been known to do under Bill Self: lose to a no-name. This time it’s 15th-seeded Detroit, and Mizzou fans are there to see it happen.
Worst case: Beset by foul trouble to its only two interior players and burdened by a bad shooting night, Missouri is stunned in the second round by Florida and Madness maven Billy Donovan. Flip Pressey throws the ball all over Omaha. Kansas fans in the building go crazy rooting for the Gators. The school with the most glaring Final Four hole on its resume cannot fill the void, and the most exciting season in school history ends with a painful thud. Journalism school grads nationwide find a quiet corner of the newsroom to weep. Meanwhile, Kansas wins it all and solidifies its vow to never play turncoat Missouri again. Haith then is nailed by the NCAA for violations at Miami and the whole thing blows up as fast as it came together.
Best case: Quick-handed Golden Eagles steal everything that isn’t nailed down on a stirring charge to the Final Four. Mixing pressure defense with transition offense and deadly shooting, Marquette has its deepest run since the Dwyane Wade days before losing to Kentucky in the national semifinals. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder play like the best tandem this side of Kansas. Backing up the Sweet 16 run of a year ago, Buzz Williams establishes himself as one of the nation’s best coaches and worst dressers, wearing a powder-blue zoot suit against Kentucky. Good news is that Williams’ fashion sense scares off stuffy Establishment schools and he signs long-term deal to stay at Marquette. Meanwhile, Wisconsin loses early again as a high seed.
Worst case: Fears borne from the Golden Eagles’ decisive late-season losses to Cincinnati and Louisville are realized in a one-and-done loss to BYU. In the gym where Marquette last season coughed up an 18-point lead with less than six minutes to play, the Eagles again come from ahead to lose. Johnson-Odom misses a ton of shots and Crowder, just 4-of-24 in his last four games from 3-point range, keeps clanging long jumpers as well. Buzz flees for Illinois. Wisconsin goes to the Final Four. Marquette students drink even more heavily than usual.
Best case: A Cardinals team that enjoyed a renaissance in Madison Square Garden last week keeps rolling out West, melting down Davidson and New Mexico with defensive pressure. Russ Smith, an All-American in streetball situations, then goes off on unstructured Memphis in the Sweet 16, and bellwether point guard Peyton Siva puts a triple-double on the board against Murray State in the regional final. Rick Pitino goes to another Final Four, chuckling again at Louisville fans who turn every two-game losing streak into a howl-fest about whether the coach has lost it. Kentucky is shocked in the second round by Connecticut, the fifth consecutive season a team from Louisville’s conference has eliminated the Wildcats from postseason play. John Calipari abandons his Pitino obsession and makes like his players, going to the NBA.
Worst case: Injury plague continues in Portland when Chane Behanan slips in the shower and knocks himself unconscious hours before the Davidson game. Then Gorgui Dieng sprains an ankle on the opening tip. Siva and Smith combine for 20 missed shots and 12 turnovers, trying to win the game on every possession against heady Davidson. Louisville is one-and-done for the third season in a row, and the howls intensify that Pitino has lost it – so he leaves for newly opened job at UCLA. Kentucky wins it all, signs another dozen All-Americans and Calipari spins donuts in Pitino’s front lawn. Dieng becomes the third straight Louisville center to inexplicably go pro early.
5. New Mexico
Best case: Lobos shoot threes like their coach, Steve Alford, did 25 years ago in the NCAAs. Big man Drew Gordon asserts himself inside. And their persistent defense makes life miserable for fast-paced Long Beach State and Louisville. New Mexico crashes the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1974, rewarding a tenacious fan base and efficiency-stat geeks who love the Lobos. Gifted with a geographic advantage over Michigan State in Phoenix, New Mexico wins again to reach the regional final before losing to Missouri. Alford signs a new, long-term deal while New Mexico State flames out early and Marvin Menzies leaves Las Cruces.
Worst case: Any team that can lose by 19 points in late February to TCU is vulnerable, and Long Beach State proves it by running the Lobos out of Portland. Heated up by a faster pace, New Mexico shoots it more like the 40-something Alford than the hero of 1987. While New Mexico State makes an improbable run, Alford takes a right out of Albuquerque for another job.
6. Murray State
Best case: Racers pull a Butler, becoming the third consecutive mid-major power to go all the way to the national title game. Isaiah Canaan makes like Isiah Thomas did 31 years ago, dazzling as a scorer and distributor at point guard. With the backing of 20,000 Kentucky fans in Louisville, backcourt sidekick Donte Poole sticks a big shot to beat Marquette. In the best Sweet 16 matchup of them all, Murray’s fast and furious perimeter players outduel Missouri’s. And in the regional final, the Racers beat Memphis for the second time this season to reach New Orleans. With a full national bandwagon, Murray takes down Duke in the semifinals before losing to North Carolina in the title game. Nation learns where Murray is (far western Kentucky) and falls in love with Ed Daniel’s sprawling afro. Rookie coach Steve Prohm, hailed as the next Brad Stevens, signs long-term extension.
Worst case: Succumbing to the pressure that accompanies the highest seeding in Ohio Valley Conference history, the Racers play uncharacteristically tight against Colorado State. Canaan and Poole can’t buy a basket and make too many turnovers. Prohm’s resistance to calling timeouts works against him, as the Rams build early momentum and hold on for the upset. Murray is the first team eliminated from the field of 64, and nobody bothers to learn where the school is located. Prohm is hired away by Ole Miss.
[ Pat Forde: Breakdown of the entire NCAA tournament field ]
Best case: Inspired by a higher power – Tim Tebow is in the house – the Gators beat Virginia and upset Missouri in Omaha. Then Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and Brad Beal shoot them past Murray State and Michigan State for a fourth Final Four in 12 years. In a fourth meeting with Kentucky, Florida finally comes out victorious when the officials actually call it both ways (free throws were 20-2 Big Blue in the SEC tournament). The Gators lose in title game to North Carolina, but spring football changes the subject quickly. Meanwhile, Florida State flames out against St. Bonaventure and Beal comes back for his sophomore season.
Worst case: Walker and Boynton add to their SEC career record for forced shots by a single backcourt, pushing that total past the 500 mark. Combine that with the Gators’ lack of containment of Mike Scott inside and you have a one-and-done loss to Virginia. Beal goes pro after one season. Florida State wins it all. And the quarterbacks still look shaky in spring practice.
Best case: After spending months sleeping on the Tigers, America awakes to find them in New Orleans for the Final Four. Underachievers early and underseeded late, this impetuous bunch of athletes has wised up and grown up. Memphis rides rising star Will Barton past Saint Louis, Michigan State, Louisville and Murray State – the latter two revenge games for December losses, when the Tigers were a mess. In the Final Four, they get the ultimate revenge – a victory over John Calipari and the school he jilted Memphis for, Kentucky, when the Wildcats miss four foul shots in the final minute. Coach Josh Pastner tells Calipari after the game, “It takes more than a village. It takes a team that makes its free throws.” The Tigers lose in championship game to North Carolina and nobody cares even a little bit.
Worst case: Team that has wised up and grown up reverts to brain-dead play against maddeningly methodical Rick Majerus. Memphis steadily loses its composure when it can’t speed up the Billikens, with Joe Jackson throwing the ball away and Barton called for three charges when he tries to dunk everything. Fans continue two-year run of mood swings on Pastner, going back to deciding he’s in over his head and can’t control his talented players. Meanwhile Calipari wins it all and steals two recruits from Pastner, just because he can.
9. Saint Louis
Best case: The Big Man is back in the limelight, as Rick Majerus works some more March mojo and takes the Billikens to the regional final – farthest they’ve been in school history. Majerus throws the tempo voodoo at Memphis, then shocks Michigan State in the second round by throwing a junk defense at All-American Draymond Green. The Billikens catch a break in the round of 16 by drawing Long Beach State, and center Rob Loe hits the winning shot. (The media asks him afterward where Peyton Manning is headed.) Run finally taps out in the Elite Eight against Missouri, the in-state team that doesn’t want to schedule Saint Louis. Majerus re-ups with his hotel and signs contract extension with the school.
Worst case: Billikens are overwhelmed by Memphis’ athleticism and bounced in the opening round. Majerus is powerless to control tempo, watching the Tigers score on one fast break after another. Saint Louis remains winless in the NCAA tourney since 1998. With no more restaurants in town left to conquer, Majerus gets the wandering eye and changes jobs one last time.
Best case: Late-season swoon is forgotten when Tony Bennett slows the game to a crawl, frustrates Florida and earns the Cavaliers their first NCAA tournament victory in five years and just their second in 17 years. With Seth Greenberg watching at home and eating his liver, Virginia then does the same tempo trick to Missouri for an improbable Sweet 16 berth. Party on The Lawn goes ‘til dawn. Run ends in Phoenix against Marquette, but persistent ACC underachiever finally has something to brag about.
Worst case: Late-season swoon was real and persists through a futile performance against Florida. Team that lost six of its last 10 and hasn’t beaten an NCAA tourney team since January gets blown out by the Gators. Other four ACC teams in the Dance all win games while Virginia fans take solace by continuing to wear out old tapes of Ralph Sampson, Jeff Lamp and Lee Raker.
11. Colorado State
Best case: America swoons over the wit and wisdom of Rams coach Tim Miles as Colorado State sneaks into the Sweet 16. The sharp-shooting Rams follow a takedown of Murray State with an upset of Marquette for the best NCAA run in school history. It ends in Phoenix with a loss to Missouri, but CSU is transformed into a basketball school (not that there are a lot of choices, given the state of the football program). As an added bonus, Colorado is eliminated right away.
Worst case: With a 10:15 a.m. Mountain Time tip in Louisville, groggy Rams are no match for underseeded Murray State. Adding to the degree of difficulty is a de facto home environment for the Racers, who are embraced by Kentucky fans. Game becomes a blowout as the Rams are the first team eliminated from the field of 64. Miles takes his wit and wisdom to a better job. Colorado wins two games in the tourney.
12. Long Beach State
Best case: Casper Ware becomes the most famous Casper since The Friendly Ghost, or at least the dude who is Jennifer Lopez’s boyfriend. The dynamic little guard lights up New Mexico, Louisville and Memphis in leading senior-laden Long Beach to a fairy-tale regional final. The run finally ends with a loss there to Missouri, but not before scoring a merchandising coup for the school: America makes a big run on excellent yellow jerseys that read “The Beach.”
Worst case: Larry Anderson’s injured knee hasn’t improved, and without the Big West defensive player of the year, the 49ers are even less adept at stopping people than usual. New Mexico gets up big on The Beach early, forcing Ware into a volume-shooting debacle. The 49ers are one and done, and still searching for their first NCAA tourney victory since 1973. After going from Gonzaga to Minnesota to Long Beach, Dan Monson decides it’s time to try the big-time once again and scrams for another job. Jersey sales go nowhere.
Best case: It’s 2008 all over again – the Wildcats are a March darling. A balanced team that doesn’t beat itself with turnovers or bad shots outsmarts Louisville, then outlasts fellow long-shot Long Beach State in the round of 32. Sweet 16 berth has the nation nostalgic for Stephen Curry shooting sprees. Run ends there against Michigan State, but everyone remembers why they fell in love with Bob McKillop four years ago.
Worst case: Nostalgia is overrated. Steph Curry doesn’t live (or shoot) here anymore. A Davidson team that isn’t that good defensively is beaten repeatedly in transition by a Louisville team with an athletic advantage. Cross-country sojourn from Charlotte to Portland isn’t worth the effort as the Wildcats are dismissed in 40 minutes.
Best case: What do you do for an encore after a 25-point comeback in an NCAA tournament game? Jump ahead right away in the next round and shock Marquette, that’s what. The Golden Eagles have had some epically bad starts to games, and the Cougars take advantage. Still riding the high of their stupefying comeback against Iona, Brandon Davies tears up Marquette inside and everyone makes enough shots outside to forge a 15-point lead. BYU weathers the inevitable comeback and moves on to the round of 32, where it catches former Mountain West colleague Colorado State in a bracket-collapse game. Cougars prevail there as well to make their second consecutive Sweet 16 before falling to Missouri. Dave Rose is given a big new contract for winning without Jimmer.
Worst case: No longer able to sneak up on Marquette after that extravaganza Tuesday night, BYU gets the full frontal assault from the Golden Eagles. Worn out and emotionally flat, the Cougars can’t respond and are solidly beaten for a full 40 minutes. After struggling with Iona’s athletes, it’s only worse trying to contain Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. There will be no miracle rally this time. BYU fans find jello juice mighty scarce in a bourbon-and-tobacco town such as Louisville.
15. Norfolk State
Best case: The planes are on time taking the Spartans to Omaha. The hotel is significantly nicer than the average stay on the road in the MEAC. The bus ride to the arena is short and easy. The Omaha steaks live up to their billing. The arena is big and beautiful. The open practice is fun. The first trip in school history to the Big Dance is a dream – right up until tipoff. Then it gets real and Missouri gets rolling. But nobody can take the experience – or the hotel soap – away from Norfolk State.
Worst case: Planes are late. As the lowest seed in town, Spartans get shuffled to the worst hotel. Bus driver gets lost going to the arena. Restaurants are crowded. And Norfolk State gets creamed from the opening tip by a Missouri team on a mission. Even the free hotel soap smells bad.
16. Long Island
Best case: With the rest of Big Apple basketball a bust and Linsanity tapped out, the New York media shows up in Columbus and shows some love to the Blackbirds. LIU reciprocates by doing what it does best – flying around in helter-skelter style and annoying a Michigan State team more accustomed to the plodding nature of the Big Ten. They’re making shots, getting steals, whipping all 68 of their fans into a frenzy – and then comes the first media timeout. The Spartans restore order after that and go on to win convincingly. But the New York columnists find something nice to say about the Blackbirds before turning viciously on Jeremy Lin for making too many turnovers.
Worst case: New York columnists recognize a lost cause when they see one and don’t bother going to Columbus. Freed from the shackles of the Big Ten, Michigan State relishes the chance to run, refuses to be rattled by helter-skelter ball and blasts the Blackbirds from the opening tip. Team that lost games to Hofstra, Monmouth, Norfolk State and Columbia is ill-prepared to D-up on the mean green. Mercy from Izzo keeps the margin under 40. Coach Jim Ferry decides it’s finally time to fly the Brooklyn Blackbird coop and takes another job.
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