One of my favorite things is considering alternate history. What would have happened if x country had won x battle or if Napoleon hadn’t invaded Russia in the winter of 1812. It’s always interesting to consider what might have been. It’s human nature to be curious. We wonder about what could happen as opposed to what did happen.
The greatest thing about the NCAA Tournament is the unknown. The unpredictability. No matter what a team has looked like coming into that first weekend, it always serves as a clean slate. The tournament is also full of events that have massive implications. This year’s tournament was not an exception.
So many individual moments can be pinpointed as pivotal. To pick only three could be considered criminal, but there are three that do stand above the rest in terms of importance. Feel free to tweet me or comment below if you think I’m wrong.
3. Vee Sanford Misses the Layup
Cinderella teams always come out of nowhere in the NCAA Tournament and they always steal our hearts. We latch onto them, especially if our favorite team has already been eliminated. This year, the Dayton Flyers were the Cinderella squad. They defeated powerhouse after powerhouse on the road to earning their first Elite Eight appearance in 30 years.
However, all of that could have been prevented. Dayton was playing Ohio State in the first game in the round of 64. They were caught in a tight one. It was a battle all game and the Buckeyes looked like they had all of the momentum to propel them to a victory. That all was capped off by a made layup by Aaron Craft to put Ohio State up by a point with 20 seconds left.
In true NCAA Tournament fashion, Vee Sanford made a game-winning layup for Dayton to defeat an in-state rival who continually refused to play them.
I think it’s painful to imagine a world in which Dayton was knocked out in the first round. It’s seemingly inconceivable. Mainly because of a few reasons. For one, it would have deprived college basketball of another team that will surely see success in the future. As history has shown us, Cinderellas usually always succeed, even after their run is over. Butler and VCU can certainly attest to that. Dayton will now be a team that AP voters recognize and every team will hate to see on their schedule. Especially since Jordan Sibert will be returning.
Sanford’s layup also helped to seal the fate of two other schools who stood in the Flyers’s way. Due to that layup, Syracuse, a three seed and previous number one ranked team in the AP Poll, was matched up with Dayton. An awesome Syracuse season and the collegiate career of Tyler Ennis was ended in the subsequent matchup. Dayton then went on to defeat another team who turned it on in the tournament and pulled off an upset of two-seeded Kansas, the Stanford Cardinal.
Sanford’s layup also led to the meteoric rise in the job status of Dayton Coach Archie Miller. Miller, whose brother Sean Miller coaches at Arizona, has been at Dayton since 2011. With this most recent run, Miller’s name and reputation has been given a major boost. Although, he neglected to leave Dayton and instead signed a contract extension through the 2018-2019 season. The overall effects of this run by Dayton will be chiseled on the college basketball landscape for years to come.
2. Wichita State Hits a Buzzer Beater Against Kentucky
One of the most compelling storylines of the NCAA Tournament was the improbable run by the Kentucky team that blossomed in the tournament as an 8 seed. They recovered after their late season stumble, which included a demoralizing loss to South Carolina, managing to defeat three teams from the previous year’s Final Four.
Wichita State almost made sure that none of that happened.
In perhaps the best game of the tournament, Kentucky went down to the wire against Wichita State. The Shockers inevitably let the lead slip through their grasp and Fred VanVleet missed a game-winning three, leading to a Kentucky victory. The Shockers’s perfect season had finally come to an end at 35-1. They would not win the title.
From that win, we watched as Kentucky met up with and beat a 4 seed and 2 two seeds. The Wildcats were rolling and in perfect form. The slumping draft stocks of Julius Randle and Aaron and Andrew Harrison improved, and they were one of the most inconceivable runners-up in history. And not to mention the insane shot that Aaron Harrison hit . . . twice.
VanVleet almost erased all of that. Had Wichita State won, they would have faced Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen, the team that defeated them in the Final Four last season. The Shockers would have been 36-0, but could have possibly lost to the quick and efficient Russ Smith, as well as the size of Montrezl Harrell.
Had they won, they would have most definitely faced off against Michigan, another team from last season’s Final Four. Had the Shockers won, they could have faced Wisconsin and UConn and tried for the first ever 40-0 season in men’s basketball history. They would have gone down as arguably the greatest team ever and Gregg Marshall would have cemented his place in coaching history.
Instead, the Shockers went home in the round of 32. The Shockers could finish what they started this season, however, as they are bringing back key pieces in Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, and Tekele Cotton. I can only hope that this alternate reality could spring to life next season.
1. UConn Loses to Saint Joseph’s
When considering what ifs for this season’s NCAA Tournament, nobody can forget that UConn, the eventual national champions, came dangerously close to losing in the first round. After being down by as many as 8 to St. Joe’s, the Atlantic-10 Champs, the Huskies battled their way back in the second half. This was due, in large part, to the scoring of the trio of Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, and DeAndre Daniels.
It goes without saying though, that it was the rebound, put-back, and made free throw by Amida Brimah that won it for UConn. Down by three with less than a minute left, Brimah snagged an offensive rebound and earned an and-one. He was a terrible free throw shooter up to that point, but nailed it to send the game to overtime, where the Huskies would ultimately prevail. That one rebound saved an entire championship run from falling through in the first round.
Had Saint Joseph’s won, it would have been another 10/7 upset that didn’t really mean much, except for the fact that St. Joe’s would have to play Villanova in the Holy War in the round of 32. Nobody would have batted an eye at UConn losing in the first round. Nobody knew what they were capable of.
Shabazz Napier’s career would have been over, losing in the first round after not making the tournament since 2012 due to NCAA probation. Napier would have won one title in his career, but his senior season, the one he returned for, would have ended in heartbreak.
St. Joe’s would have faced a Villanova team who was the weakest two seed in the field and were a much easier team to beat than the one that the Hawks had faced on December 7th, when they lost by 30 points. Perhaps the rejuvenated Hawks would have gotten by Nova. They certainly had a talented backcourt that could compete, as Langston Galloway was criminally underrated.
Michigan State, a team that most all analysts picked to win it all, could have possibly made the Final Four. They couldn’t defeat the Huskies, but without them in the picture, the Spartans could have danced right by the Wildcats and into Arlington.
It only took one rebound. One rebound, in the first round, against a 10 seed, could have prevented a national championship. That, my friends, is the often unpredictable yet beautiful college basketball world we live in.
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