March Magination

How would March Madness shake out if it weren't for COVID-19

As I alluded to in my previous article last week (The Day Sports Paused), the National Collegiate Athletic Association has canceled their Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, better known as March Madness, this year. As such, I felt it was only necessary that I tell you what would’ve/should’ve/could’ve happened. As the name suggests, March Madness is absolute pandemonium. In 2018, the Virginia Cavaliers entered as the top seed of all 68 teams but lost to the unknown University of Maryland Baltimore County in the first round. Then, 2019 rolls around and the same Virginia team goes and wins the entire tournament. My simulations did predict some upsets, but first lets lay down the ground rules.

The entire field of team is taken from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and his March 12th bracket projections. I, however, only use this to set the field. From there, I went back to our old friend at ncaagamesim.com, which I used for my December Madness article on a 64-team college football playoff. Different from that tournament, my March Magination bracket has 68-teams, using the typical four play-in games in Dayton, Ohio to weed out two low-ranked conference champions and two more at-large teams that barely made the field. On that note, all D1 conferences are represented with some form of a conference champion, whether they had a conference championship tournament before the world shut down or not. The rest of the field is filled with our favorite at-large squads, like Duke or LSU. In a weird phenomenon, it feels like the state of South Carolina never gets multiple teams into the field, and that is no different this year with only Winthrop in as a sixteen seed in the South region. Now let’s get to the bracket.

Midwest Region

Entering the tournament, Kansas had won their conference in some way, shape, or form in fifteen or the last sixteen years. Of course, 2019 was the exception. With their reputation to prove, the Jayhawks won twenty-eight games this season with just one loss in 2020, which was to a very good Baylor team (more on that later) on January 11th.

Riding their sixteen game winning streak, Kansas handled Sienna by a score of 86-47 and went on to face Marquette after the Golden Eagles defeated higher seed Houston 68-48. Auburn beat Liberty by twenty and continued to play Wisconsin after their thrashing of North Texas. The 6 and 3, Iowa and Duke, each advanced with solid double-digit victories while Providence escaped a close one against Arizona State but only to face a rested and relaxed Kentucky.

In the second round, Kansas once again handled business against Marquette setting up a Sweet Sixteen meeting with Wisconsin after the latter took down Auburn 72-65. Like Auburn, 65 was not enough for Iowa as Duke put up 74 on them. However, the Blue Devils did not have their expected opponent waiting in the next round. Nope. Providence beat Kentucky by twelve to advance. Only one problem. They still had to face Duke.

As expected Duke took care of Providence while Kansas assured everyone of their talent with a calm 22-point win over Wisconsin, setting up an Elite Eight matchup of the two blue bloods. The game was high-scoring and tight the whole way, but the Jayhawks kept riding their streak all the way into the Final Four, dispatching Duke 91-85.

East Region

Oddly enough, Lunardi set up three of the four play-in games to feed into the East Region. The simulator liked Boston U, Texas, and UCLA all to advance into the main body of the tournament, but none got any further. Dayton only escaped Boston 81-73, but a win is a win. In the second straight 8/9 upset, Florida eked out a five point win over Colorado while Butler took out the tired Longhorns of Texas by nine. Rather than face Maryland, however, Butler got to see our first double-digit seed winner (Akron) take down Maryland on what I will imagine to be a last second three. Continuing the trend of way-too-close games, Penn State defeated UCLA by just eight while 2018 champs Villanova only beat Hofstra by ten. Oddly enough, the most dominant game in this region was actually an upset. Utah State took out West Virginia, but not just by a little. The score was 70-43, or point more than the margins of victory for Villanova, Penn State, Akron, and Florida combined. Finally, the ACC champs Florida State won their first round game over Western Kentucky.

In the second round, Dayton once again won a narrow game over Florida while the Butler Bulldogs swiftly kicked out our Cinderella, Akron. In the bottom half, results were less predictable. Penn State took down Villanova by twenty, and if that isn’t enough, Utah State knocked out FSU by just one point. Finally, things calmed down in the Sweet Sixteen, where Dayton once again advanced while Utah State finally slipped up to Penn State. With a trip to the Final Four on the line, the surprise of the season, the Dayton Flyers and player of the year candidate Obi Toppin, took down Penn State 68-64.

West Region

In the West we had our final play-in game from Dayton. In this one, Prairie View A&M, which I’m told is the SWAC champion from Texas, beat NCC 63-52. Bad news is they had to play Gonzaga and lost 91-57. Once again, the 9 seed prevails, this time with Oklahoma soundly taking out LSU 83-60. Both the 4 and 5 advance as both Michigan and Oregon take double-digit victories in the first round, but the same does not go for West’s 6 seed or 3 seed. Indiana knocked out BYU 83-69 while Eastern Washington won a nail-biter  over Seton Hall by a score of 90-89. Continuing the upset trend, Texas Tech took out southwest foe Arizona 76-72, but San Diego State held strong for a 71 points against UC Irvine’s 52.

Surprisingly, our first one seed to fall came in just the second round as Oklahoma forced Gonzaga’s exit 78-76 while Michigan knocked down the slightly higher-seeded Oregon 66-64. In the battle of teams that really shouldn’t be there, Indiana preserves some sanity with their 79-45 domination of Eastern Washington. If the first round was tough on the southwest (Prairie View, New Mexico State, Arizona, and UC Irvine), then the same can be said about the northwest here as Oregon, Gonzaga, and Eastern Washington all lost in consecutive games. In the final game of round 2, San Diego State silenced Texas Tech 75-67 to advance to a Sweet Sixteen where they are by far the highest ranked team left out west. In those games, Oklahoma won a narrow 7-point game over Michigan while SD State soared offensively in a 94-88 win over Indiana before closing out the region 74-65 against the Sooners.

South Region

Remember Kansas’ last loss? Oh yeah, Baylor is a 1 seed too. So much for our one SC team. As I’m sure you can guess, Baylor beat Winthrop soundly, 90-52 to be precise. Finally, we see an 8 advance, but it wasn’t easy. Saint Mary’s win only came by two points, and Rutgers had shot the whole game. Further down, top seeds Ohio State and Louisville advanced to face each other, while preseason #1 Michigan State  took down Bradly by 25. But, of course, all cannot be perfect. Virginia was #1 two years ago and fell only to rise to the top last year. Well, this year they weren’t so lucky and instead saw their season end with 54-51 victory for Cincinnati. In the last two games of the first round, both higher seeds won, including a ten point victory for Illinois and 35 points for Creighton, who beat the Illini by one two days later. Likewise, Cincinnati’s run continued into the second round as they took down MSU 97-87. In a run of good luck for the Ohio teams, Ohio State also won, narrowly eliminating Louisville 69-66. In an eerily similar game (thanks simulator), Baylor was only able to knock out Saint Mary’s 68-66 though they went on to beat OSU by 14. That said, the dubs did not stop for Cincinnati. First they took down Creighton in another close game in the sixties (69-65) before then vanquishing the top-seeded Bears 72-66 to punch the final ticket to the Final Four as our best Cinderella Story.

Final Four

The Final Four, which was supposed to take place (or will take place for the this article) in Atlanta next weekend, came down to two 1 seeds, a 2, and a very unexpected 11. The team represent four different conferences, and only one is among the “Power Five” with Kansas representing the Big 12. Otherwise, Cincinnati comes from the American, Dayton from the A-10, and San Diego State from the Mountain West. Whats important to note is San Diego State started out 26-0 and ended the season 30-2 while Kansas went 28-3 with their sixteen-game win streak, and Dayton was 29-2 with two overtime losses (one being to Kansas). On the other hand, Cincinnati was 20-10 with just one win over another team in this tournament.

As expected, Cincy quickly fell by a solid but respectable eleven points to San Diego State while Kansas once again go the better of Dayton, this time 88-85. In the championship game, it was the battle of two teams who carried long winning streaks during the season. Of course, San Diego State’s streak was broken in February while Kansas just kept on winning, taking home this imaginary title with their 76-65 victory.

Full bracket completed here:

Full March Magination Bracket

Reminder: These games are all predicted online through a simulator and not by me (hence all the close games). The whole thing is hypothetical and tries to use real-world factors as much as possible. Enjoy but don’t abuse.