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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top 10 Biggest What if’s in NCAA Tournament History: Kenyon Martin, Scott May, Rick Pitino and more

Top 10 Biggest What if’s in NCAA Tournament History: Kenyon Martin, Scott May, Rick Pitino and more

What if?
Publish Date: 03/22/2024
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

What-ifs are everywhere in life, and the NCAA Tournament is no different. What if somebody gets hurt? What if a small bounce goes the other way and changes the outcome of an early-round game? What would have been the domino effect of changing a game?

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

Butler may have lost, but you were a winner if you took them and the points! 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 was destined to go in as we watched from home or the game, but 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? Check out the top March Madness Parlays.

Video: Gordon Hayward's near miracle shot bounces out, from every angle

Gordon Hayward’s near miracle shot bounces out, from every angle

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 the 1978 final four to the eventual National Champion Kentucky Wildcats.  The game itself 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 had missed the shot, the game would have gone 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.

Video: Larry Bird vs Arkanas 1979 NCAA College Highlight

Larry Bird vs Arkanas 1979 NCAA College Highlight

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. Check out our top Upset Picks for March madness.

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?

Video: Scott May Highlights

Scott May Highlights

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?

Video: 2000 SportsCenter feature on Kenyon Martin in the aftermath of breaking his leg

2000 SportsCenter feature on Kenyon Martin in the aftermath of breaking 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 Dayton had prevailed on that March day? Not only would we have not seen one of the all-time great Cinderella stories, but 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.

Video: 1985 Villanova - NCAA Championship Game Recap

1985 Villanova – NCAA Championship Game Recap

6) What if Kendall Marshall doesn’t break his wrist in the second round of 2012’s NCAA Tournament?

From a neutral point of view, the 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket looked ideal.

Kentucky and North Carolina had No. 1 seeds in their respective brackets; Kentucky on one side and North Carolina on the other. These teams had been widely regarded as college basketball’s two best and most talented squads that season. They played an epic battle at Rupp Arena in December of that year that was decided when Anthony Davis blocked John Henson with six seconds left in a one-point victory.

We all wanted that rematch, knowing full well that the Tar Heels were one of few teams with a realistic chance at beating Kentucky, who boasted two first-round picks in 2012 along with the National Player of the Year on their roster.

But that all ended when Creighton’s Ethan Wragge knocked Marshall to the floor late in the second half of a second-round win. He landed on his right, non-shooting hand and fractured his scaphoid bone – leaving Stillman White, a walk-on, as the sole point guard left on the roster.

The Tar Heels managed to overcome Ohio, a No. 13 seed, in overtime in the Sweet 16 before falling short to Kansas – who would ultimately go on to be named national runners-up.

Even if Marshall stays healthy and leads UNC to the Final Four, there’s no guarantee they would have had enough talent or momentum to beat Kentucky that season. Kentucky had reached its peak by then; Davis was playing his best ball, the Wildcats were dominating any offense in the paint, and UNC thrived off getting possessions inside.

No doubt, it would have been an exciting matchup to witness.

In a world where UNC was to upset Kentucky in the title game, I can only imagine how much anticipation there would be among fans and media about whether Coach Cal will ever win a national title.

Video: UNC's Kendall Marshall fall and wrist injury PREVENTABLE - Safe Fall, L.L.C.

UNC’s Kendall Marshall fall and wrist injury PREVENTABLE – Safe Fall, L.L.C.

7) Rick Pitino Refuses to Depart Kentucky for the Celtics

My opinion on this decision: it could have radically altered college basketball – especially given what has transpired since. What if Pitino hadn’t left Camelot for the Celtics after two trips to the national title game, winning one and losing to Arizona in overtime? The following year, Kentucky won the title again. Given his recruitment style, he could have been Calipari before Calipari at Kentucky. Will the Wildcats experience downtime with Tubby’s departure and Billy Gillispie’s hire?

Does Calipari still coach, or did Louisville lose that national title due to sanctions? Could Pitino become the all-time leader for wins at the college basketball level? Nothing in college basketball history compares to Pitino leaving for the NBA two decades ago; nothing matches what that move has done for its landscape over the last two decades.

Video: Rick Pitino

Rick Pitino “Not Walking Through That Door” Rant

8) What happens if Dan Dakich accepts the WVU job and they don’t hire John Beilein?

In 2002, Dan Dakich was set to take the head coaching job at West Virginia after coaching at Bowling Green. Unfortunately, during conversations, he discovered recruiting infractions were committed, so he ultimately withdrew.

Instead of Dakich, John Beilein leads them straight to a Sweet 16 and Elite Eight appearance, including an upset over Skip Prosser’s Wake Forest squad. Will Beilein ever end up in Michigan and turn its program into one of Michigan’s most successful programs of recent decades? Will Dakich make West Virginia something similar? Will Huggins ever return? These questions remain underrated by me.

Video: Tom Izzo unloads on Dan Dakich in press conference

Tom Izzo unloads on Dan Dakich in press conference

9) What if Robbie Hummel hadn’t been injured?

Robbie Hummel was among the best and most influential players during the 2009-10 season. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL, leaving Purdue as a No. 4 seed in Duke’s region; there’s an excellent chance they could end up as one or two seed and could play close to home with the Final Four being held in Indianapolis. That Purdue team may get overlooked due to Hummel’s injury, but they were loaded with talent; Hummel, E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Chris Kramer made up their core lineup, 24-3 when Hummel tore his ACL at No. 3 nationally.

Video: The Journey: Robbie Hummel | Big Ten Basketball

The Journey: Robbie Hummel | Big Ten Basketball

10) What if Laettner had missed the shot

If Christian had missed that shot in 1992, it would have led to an Indiana vs Kentucky national semi-final game. Which I think would have been won by Indiana. With that happening, it gives us an Indiana vs Michigan National championship game and if that had happened a sixth Indiana National Championship.

Video: Christian Laettner's shot sinks Kentucky in 1992 Elite Eight

Christian Laettner’s shot sinks Kentucky in 1992 Elite Eight

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