We should be preparing for the best week on the American sports calendar right now. We should be joining office pools, filling out brackets, and doing research on potential Cinderellas like East Tennessee State and New Mexico State. We should be figuring out what excuse we’re going give our boss to call off work on Thursday and Friday. We should be getting ready for March Madness.
Instead, the 2020 NCAA tournament has been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. While it’s unquestionably the right move (please stay home, people), it is still a massive bummer for the players who have worked all year for this moment, and for the fans who cherish the tournament every year.
The Monday after Selection Sunday is typically reserved for bracket predictions around your favorite websites. We’re not going to let a canceled tournament stop us.
Taking the most recent bracket projection from our Chris Dobbertean, — published on March 12 just before the tournament was cancelled — we have decided to still make some predictions on how the 2020 NCAA tournament would have played out. At least we can’t be proven wrong.
Here’s what the bracket looks like blank. Let’s go region by region and pick our winners.
Kansas anchors the South as the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. The Jayhawks blow out Prairie View A&M in their opener. They get USC in the Round of 32 after the Trojans defeat Saint Mary’s behind a big performance from star freshman center Onyeka Okongwu.
Ohio State outlasts a tough challenge from Yale and star big man Paul Atkinson. The Buckeyes face Seton Hall in the Round of 32 after the Akron’s defense has no answer for Myles Powell and company.
No. 6 Virginia’s championship defense ends early in the first round to Sam Merrill and Utah State in an upset that feels bigger than a No. 6 vs. No. 11. Utah State faces Maryland after Mark Turgeon’s team outlasts Missouri Valley winner Bradley.
No. 7 Providence also goes down early to Southern Conference winner East Tennessee State. Kentucky takes care of business vs. Boston U.
Here’s how the Round of 32 in the South would play out:
- Okongwu continues to build his case as a potential top-five draft pick against Kansas in the Round of 32, the Jayhawks simply have too much talent and win easily.
- Seton Hall blasts a talented Ohio State team to set up the most anticipated matchup of the Sweet 16 vs. Kansas.
- Utah State — led by Merrill’s shot-making and the defense of sophomore center Neemias Queta — shock Maryland to reach the Sweet 16. Sorry, Terps.
- We have our first true Cinderella in the Sweet 16 as East Tennessee State stuns Kentucky during a cold shooting night for the Wildcats. This Kentucky defense, ranked only No. 52 entering the tournament, simply can’t get enough stops late.
The race for the Final Four in the South
Kansas goes down in the Sweet 16 — and your office pool is officially wide open. Udoka Azubuike gets in foul trouble and sits most of the first half as Powell helps build a lead for Seton Hall. Devon Dotson leads a furious second half comeback for Kansas, but its shooters can’t find a rhythm — Kansas only got 25.3 percent of its points from three-pointers this season, which ranked No. 303 in America — and Seton Hall pulls the upset to move onto the Elite Eight.
Utah State vs. East Tennessee State is the Sweet 16 matchup no one saw coming. The Aggies likely wouldn’t have made the tournament without Merrill’s absurd game-winner to shock San Diego State in the title game of the Mountain West. The charmed run continues as they lock up the ETSU offense and move onto the Elite Eight.
- Seton Hall makes the Final Four by beating Utah State in the Elite Eight. Junior 7-footer Sandro Mamukelashvili becomes a March Madness cult hero for his work against Queta. The Hall is onto the Final Four for the first time since 1989.
Gonzaga leads Northern Kentucky by just four points at halftime, but eventually pulls away for a blowout victory. The Bulldogs face Colorado in round two after Buffaloes star Tyler Bey dominates Oklahoma on both ends fo the floor to build hype as a potential first round draft pick.
Liberty won a game in the NCAA tournament last season, but Luka Garza and Iowa pull out a close one this year. Iowa faces Oregon after Ohio Valley champ Belmont can’t close out against the Ducks. We miss you, Rick Byrd.
BYU-Marquette is a thriller of a No. 6 vs. No. 11 game. Markus Howard gets one last March moment and hits nine three-pointers in the win. Marquette advances to face Duke after the Blue Devils beat North Texas in the final minute.
LSU and Texas Tech is one of the best games of the tournament. The Tigers’ No. 4 offense vs. Tech’s No. 9 defense produces an instant classic tournament game, but ultimately Chris Beard’s offense is enough is better than Will Wade’s defense, and the Red Raiders get the win.
San Diego State does its job vs. Eastern Washington.
Here’s how the Round of 32 in the West would play out:
- Bey continues his NBA-breakout for Colorado, but Gonzaga’s top-ranked offense prevails and sends the ‘Zags to the Sweet 16.
- Payton Pritchard is the star for Oregon to push the Ducks past Iowa and into the second weekend. Garza feasts inside for Iowa but his lack of defensive ability starts to show in March. It’s Oregon vs. Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
- Howard puts on a show, but Duke beats Marquette thanks to a dominant game from Vernon Carey Jr. The media can’t stop comparing him to Jahlil Okafor.
- Texas Tech emerges as a betting favorite vs. San Diego State, but the Aztecs prevail over their doubters. Point guard Malachi Flynn hits a game-winner for SDSU to build his case as an All-American.
The race for the Final Four in the West
Pritchard has another brilliant game for Oregon, but the Zags’ No. 1 offense simply can’t be stopped by the Ducks’ No. 76 defense. Gonzaga is back in the Elite Eight and emerges as the favorite to win it all without Kansas around.
San Diego State and Duke comes down the wire. Carey feasts inside against a small Aztecs interior, but co-star Tre Jones struggles to get going against a fierce perimeter defense for SDSU. Matt Mitchell makes some incredible plays on both ends to burnish his reputation as a March cult hero. San Diego State controls the tempo — SDSU wants to play slow, Duke wants to play fast — and with it controls the game. A tough finish inside by Mitchell ends up being the game-winning basket. San Diego State is going to the Elite Eight. The country rejoices.
- San Diego State gets a reality check vs. Gonzaga. The Aztecs earn the respect they fought for all season with a deep run through the tournament, but Gonzaga’s offense is just too much. This time it’s Killian Tillie who is the hero for the ‘Zags, getting hot from three and dropping some beautiful passes for assists. The ‘Zags are back in the Final Four for the second time in four years.
Wintrop puts a scare in Baylor for a half, but the Bears’ defense eventually locks down and scores the easy victory. Baylor faces Houston in round two after the Cougars overcome a huge scoring effort from Alonzo Verge to knock off Arizona State in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game.
Stephen F. Austin gets hot from three — 37.4 percent on the year — and takes advantage of a vulnerable Butler defense to score the upset in a No. 5 vs. No. 12 game. It’s the Lumberjacks’ third NCAA tournament victory in six years. SFA faces New Mexico State in the Round 32 after the Aggies edge Wisconsin in the opening round behind a powerful performance from Trevelin Queen, the best player on the floor.
Penn State knocks off Texas in the first round after the Longhorns knock off NC State in the play-in game. The Nittany Lions face Villanova in round two after the Wildcats win in the final minute vs. a tough Hofstra team.
Rutgers — making its first tournament appearance in 30 years — gets an opening-round win vs. West Virginia. They face Florida State in round two after the ‘Noles dominate Little Rock.
Here’s how the Round of 32 in the Midwest would play out:
- Down goes Baylor. Kelvin Sampson and the Houston Cougars take out the top-seeded Bears behind a great game from freshman guard Caleb Mills. The Bears are the first No. 1 seed to fall.
- Queen stars again for New Mexico State and pushes the Aggies into the Sweet 16 with a decisive win over Stephen F. Austin. His NBA buzz is building.
- Villanova takes out Penn State and Florida State makes short work of Rutgers.
The race for the Final Four in the Midwest
New Mexico State’s Cinderella run ends against No. 8 seed Houston. The Cougars are onto the Elite Eight thanks to a balanced scoring attack led by Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau, who has bounced back from an underwhelming season in the tournament.
Florida State vs. Villanova is one of the best games of the tournament. Saddiq Bey puts on a show for the Wildcats from three-point range, while freshman forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl showcases his versatile floor game. The Seminoles advance thanks to a breakout game from freshman wing Patrick Williams, who is suddenly drawing lottery hype from NBA circles.
- Houston is on the brink of a Final Four appearance before Devin Vassell rips their heart out. Florida State’s sophomore wing hits two three-pointers and forces a late turnover to put the Seminoles in the Final Four. It’s finally Leonard Hamilton’s time.
Dayton handles Jalen Pickett and 16th-seeded Sienna with ease. The Flyers face Florida in the second round after a tremendous No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup vs. Arizona. The Gators are a dangerous eighth-seed.
Juwan Howard gets his first NCAA tournament victory as Michigan beats Cincinnati on a late hook shot from Xavier Simpson. They face Louisville for a rematch of the 2013 national championship game as Jordan Nwora and company take care of Anthony Lamb and Vermont.
Auburn beats Indiana in the opening round behind a big game from Isaac Okoro, who flashes his passing chops and builds his case as a potential top-10 NBA Draft pick. Auburn faces a dangerous third-seed in Michigan State in round two after Cassius Winston and company knock off UC Irvine.
Illinois is back in the tournament for the first time since 2013, and get a win against a surging UCLA team. Creighton is the Illini’s opponent in round two after the Jays get the job done against 15-seed North Dakota State.
Here’s how the Round of 32 in the East would play out:
- Florida has Dayton on the ropes, but a late jumper from Jalen Crutcher gives Dayton the win. The Gators let it slip away.
- Louisville breaks Michigan’s heart again in the NCAA tournament. Freshman guard David Johnson is the hero and starts to become one of the most talked about players in the field.
- Xavier Tillman and Michigan State win a dramatic game over Auburn. The Tigers used all their tournament magic on their Final Four run last year.
- Illinois gives Creighton its best shot, but the Bluejays’ No. 3-ranked offense is too much to handle behind point guard Marcus Zegarowski, who looks healthy after recovering from an ankle injury. Greg McDermott has finally made the second weekend.
The race for the Final Four in the East
Dayton vs. Louisville is another classic. Johnson continues his star turn while Malik Williams shows a versatile skill set from the center position. Still, Dayton prevails behind 30-point effort from Obi Toppin, who continues to build his case for national player of the year.
Creighton takes an early lead on Michigan State, but eventually the Bluejays just can’t get enough stops to advance to the Elite Eight. Aaron Henry, the sophomore wing for the Spartans, pours in four three-pointers to push MSU to victory.
- In the best game of the Elite Eight, Dayton and Michigan State go down to the wire. It’s Toppin again who is the hero for the Flyers, scoring inside on Tillman late to secure the win. Dayton is going to the Final Four for the first time since 1967.
The Final Four
Gonzaga vs. Seton Hall is a beautiful showcase of offensive firepower. Myles Powell continues his climb as a college basketball legend by draining five three-pointers in the first half, but Gonzaga’s balanced offense is eventually too much. Corey Kispert goes off for 19 points to lead the Zags back to the national championship game.
Dayton vs. Florida State can’t live up the hype. The Flyers get hot from three early with Rodney Chatman having the game of his life. Vassell and MJ Walker do all they can to get the deficit down to single-digits, but the Flyers pull away to reach the title game.
Dayton vs. Gonzaga for the title.
And the winner is ....
Ryan Mikesell hits three three-pointers in the first half to help Dayton build an early lead. Joel Ayayi leads the Gonzaga comeback with some beautiful floaters near the rim, but Toppin and Dayton are too much. Toppin goes off for 32 points and is named Most Outstanding Player.
Toppin becomes a top-five NBA Draft pick and Anthony Grant is the hottest coach in the country. Dayton is your national champion.