Yes, we don’t have March Madness, but because of great minds like Joe Lunardi at ESPN, we can have a glimpse at what the bracket may have looked like. In the State News' latest series, we analyze and project what the NCAA tournament may have looked like, round by round, region by region.
Here is our projection of the first Final Four matchup:
#1 Kansas (Midwest) vs. #1 Dayton (East)
Preview: It is early April, and after a gauntlet of upsets and adversity, only four stand among the ashes. The four travel to Atlanta in hopes to be crowned this years’ 2020 National Champions. In the first matchup, we have the Dayton Flyers and the Kansas Jayhawks. As Obi Toppin and Udoka Azubuike tip off and Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery are taking their seats, we have to travel back to November, a much simpler time, to understand what is about to transpire between these two surging squads.
When the lineup was announced for the 2019 Maui Invitational, all anyone discussed was the possible matchup between Kansas and Michigan State. After Virginia Tech played spoiler to that, many were disappointed. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Dayton filled that void for the Spartans.
This game was arguably the best beginning to end game of the regular season as the stars of each team shined bright. Kansas’ stars of Azubuike, Devon Dotson, and Marcus Garrett combined for 78 of the Jayhawks' 90 points as Dayton’s Toppin, Ryan Mikesell, and Jalen Crutcher all had double-digit outings for the Flyers.
After a back and forth affair in the first two halves with neither team gaining real momentum over the other, the Flyers began to roll late in the second half, as back-to-back-to-back three pointers gave them an eight point lead with under eight minutes left to go. Kansas battled back, gaining a three-point lead on the back of its star backcourt in Dotson and Garrett, before Crutcher nailed a shot from beyond the arc to send the game into overtime as the game clock dwindled down to zero.
Kansas would go onto win the game in overtime, as the Flyers could not overcome the Jayhawks' talent, but proved to the world that the Flyers were not to be trifled with.
The key in this one for each team was foul trouble as the Flyers had six players in foul trouble, including their star Obi Toppin. If the Flyers want to win, they have to ensure their normal rotation can stay on the floor as long as possible. In addition, they were able to force Azubuike out of the game with five fouls, despite an efficient 12-15, 29-point outing from the senior. If they can find a way to limit his minutes, it will go a long way.
Kansas will need to ensure its guys stay out of foul trouble, because their three guys are as good as anyone in the nation when they can be on the floor together, and if they can get some other guys going off the bench, Dayton will need a large effort to take down this Big 12 behemoth.
Right as Bill Raftery announces the Jayhawks are lined up in man-to-man defense, we travel back into the present for some basketball.
Prediction: The Mercedes-Benz stadium crowd will be shielded in blue and red for this Final Four matchup. The Kansas fans are comfortable, they’re familiar with deep play in March. Dayton fans, on the other hand, will win the fan battle, making themselves known for their first Final Four appearance since 1967.
This energy will transcend onto the court, and Dayton will win the jump ball. The Flyers will bring it back, finding Trey Landers under the hoop, who will work through the Kansas traffic to put down the first field goal of the game.
Kansas will look to mimick the score on their side, until Toppin swats the Jayhawk’s shot away, forcing a turnover that he converts back to a slam dunk on the Flyers’ side.
Kansas’ big men will start to emerge and cut into Dayton’s early lead now. Garrett will become a more pivotal ball handler that will feed Azubuike a shot up the center. Azubuike will slam it down, bringing the Jayhawks fans back to their feet.
Dayton’s defense will slow down following Azubuike’s 13 first-half points. The Flyers will find some relief at halftime, trailing 30-26 due to Kansas’ late scoring run.
Out of the locker room, Dayton will have gathered some much-needed energy. The Flyers will start working from the outside, realizing they hold the outside shooting advantage even against Kansas’ defensive bigs.
Crutcher will start to find a rhythm from the behind the arc as the Flyer’s begin to set him up in the corner. He’ll hit two threes in a row to open the half and give Dayton back the lead.
Noticing that the Flyers are starting to figure out their strategy from behind the arc, Kansas' Ochai Agbaji will try to mimick the strategy. Agbaji will put two threes up from the top of the key, but they won’t fall and Dayton will extend their lead.
With 3 minutes remaining, Kansas will be down by 8. Dayton fans are starting to blow through the roof as the Flyers seem to be just minutes away from being in National Championship contention.
After a pretty quiet night, Kansas’ Dotson will make an alarming wake-up call from the corner, sinking just his first three of the second half, but one that gave him lots of momentum as the teams enter the final minutes.
Kansas’ defense will hold Dayton to a 2-minute scoring drought, bringing the game within just one with 50 seconds to go.
Azubuike will find another lob up the paint that he’ll slam through to give Kansas the lead back, 82-81.
The Jayhawks will force a turnover on the Flyers' next possession and Azubuike will bring it back for an easy jumper to extend the lead to three.
Dayton will rely on one more possession to sink a three in crunch time. Crutcher will find Toppin on the outside, he’ll put it up as the entire arena holds their breathe, but this time, the Jayhawks and Flyers won’t be going into overtime.
Kansas will win 87-84 and advantage to compete for their fourth program championship.
National Championship game.
#1 Kansas vs. #3 Michigan State.