The 5 Biggest What if’s in NCAA Tournament History

What if?
DAYTON, OHIO - MARCH 22: G.J. Smith #24 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball over Kent Benson #54, Scott May #42 and Steve Green #34 of the Indiana Hoosiers in the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships on March 22, 1975 at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, OH. Kentucky defeats Indiana, 92-90. (Photo by Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

1) What if Gordon Hayward’s shot had gone in against Duke?

In 2010 the Duke Blue Devils battled the Cinderella Butler Bulldogs for the National Championship, and not many gave the Bulldogs a shot, but they did have a shot from a little past half-court that hit off the backboard, hit the rim and bounced out. The shot looked destined to go in as we watched from home or the game, but alas, it was not meant to be. If the shot goes in, how would that have impacted college basketball? Where would a Butler win have ranked in the annals of sports history?

2) What if Arkansas had beaten Indiana State in the 1979 Regional Final?

The Sycamores escaped this game with a last-second shot that went in and, by going in, led to Magic v Bird in the title game. The Razorbacks were a great team led by Sidney Moncrief, and they had lost in 1978 final four to the eventual National Champion Kentucky Wildcats.  The game itself, of course, was a nail-biting heartbreaker: with the score tied with just more than a minute to play, a controversial walking call on U.S. Reed gave the Sycamores the ball, and Indiana State held it for the rest of the game. Moncrief’s defense prevented Bird from getting the ball for the last shot, but the immortal Bob Heaton took an off-balance, left-handed jumper that rolled around the rim and dropped through at the last second to give Indiana State the win. If Heaton misses the shot, the game would have gone to overtime. What would an Arkansas win have done? Bird/Magic was the most-watched final ever, and I think it’s safe to say Magic/Moncrief would not have been as significant. Also, how would no Bird/Magic final have affected the NBA? The 1979 NCAA Final between Bird/Magic made for an explosion in basketball popularity worldwide, especially for March madness and the NBA.

3) What if Scott May had not broken his arm in 1975?

A one-point rivalry win over Purdue on Feb. 22, 1975, came with a high cost for Indiana, one that may have rewritten history. Then 26–0 and sweeping through the Big Ten, the Hoosiers’ second-leading scorer, Scott May, broke his left arm in the victory. May, who would be named a First-Team AP All-American, didn’t shut down his season, but he played just 11 total minutes in the 1975 NCAA tournament due to the injury. With its star limited to two points and seven minutes, Indiana fell in the Elite Eight to Kentucky, 92–90, ending the season at 31–1. 1975 Kentucky would lose the National Championship game to UCLA in John Wooden’s last tournament. If May doesn’t break his arm, I think it’s safe to say John Wooden’s final game may not have been a win. The following season with a healthy may, the Hoosiers went undefeated and won it all. The 1976 team is revered, but what if the Hoosiers had been undefeated back to back National Champions?

4) What if Kenyon Martin had not broken his leg?

Martin was the National Player of the Year in 2000, just months before becoming the No. 1 NBA draft pick. His Cincinnati team was in play for a No. 1 seed in the 2000 NCAA tournament when he broke his leg just minutes into its Conference USA quarterfinal with Saint Louis, a game the Bearcats lost. Now a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance and without its star, Cincinnati won its first-round meeting with UNC Wilmington before being upset by No. 7 seed Tulsa two days later, unceremoniously ending a dream season. Tulsa would make a run to the elite eight with head coach Bill Self; Self would snag the head coaching gig at Kansas primarily because of this run. If Martin doesn’t;t break his leg, then maybe no Tulsa run exists, and Self doesn’t get the Kansas job. If Martin and the Bearcats had won it all, then that would mean until this day that Tom Izzo would still not have a title. A lot of parallel universes exist off of what if Martin didn’t break his leg?

5) What if Villanova had lost in the first round to Dayton in 1985?

Forced to play No. 9 seed Dayton on the Flyers’ campus in the first round, Villanova won, 51–49, in front of a sellout crowd in a game that Massimino later said: “anyone could have won.” How differently would that 1985 tournament have looked if it had been Dayton prevailing on that March day? Not only would we have not seen one of the all-time great Cinderella stories, but also, presumably, Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas would have won a second straight championship, cementing their place in college hoops history as one of the greatest teams in College Basketball history.

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