If not for the coronavirus, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament would be holding its Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds this weekend. But instead of watching buzzer beaters and legends in the making, we will have to settle for wondering - what if?
The East Region
Last week, the Midwest Region was picked without any major upsets, but the East, I believe, would have been ripe for some wild outcomes.
The virtual lock: No. 1 Dayton.
The Flyers went 29-2 carried by Obi Toppin, the national player of the year. The region’s other top seeds just weren’t as dominant. Florida State won a weak ACC. Villanova and Maryland had Final Four potential, but I think they could have just as easily exited the tournament early.
Upset picks and potential Cinderellas: No. 10 Utah State over No. 7 West Virginia and No. 11 NC State over No. 6 Penn State.
Utah State had just beaten San Diego State in the final of the Mountain West conference tournament. Senior guard Sam Merrill, conference player of the year, was one of the best scorers in Division I at 20 points per game. As a team, Utah State was ninth in the nation in scoring margin and second in rebounding margin. For those reasons, I picked the Aggies to advance to the Elite Eight. I also picked No. 11 N.C. State to make the Sweet 16. My reasoning: the Wolfpack’s balanced scoring attack, point guard Markell Johnson and their head coach Kevin Keatts.
The tossup: No. 8 Colorado vs. No. 9 Florida
I think the Gators would have come out on top in this one based on the teams’ recent play. Colorado had lost five straight while Florida had just lost to Kentucky by one.
The Regional Final: No. 1 Dayton over No. 10 Utah State, 76-68.
History tells us that a No. 10 seed or higher making a run to the Elite Eight isn’t out of question. Over the past three years, four double digit seeds have made the Sweet 16. Three of those four advanced to the regional final, and one (Loyalo Chicago) made the Final Four.
But no Cinderella could have stopped Toppin and crew. The sophomore forward is a likely NBA lottery pick after proving to be one of the most gifted players in the country. He scored 20 points per game on better than 60 percent shooting and pulled down nearly eight rebounds a game to lead the Flyers into the national title debate.
Editor’s Note: The preceding are the opinions of the writer and do not reflect the views of the U.S. Marine Corps or Department of Defense.