March_Madness_Basketball_18743

Official March Madness 2020 tournament basketballs are seen in a store room at the CHI Health Center Arena, in Omaha, Neb., on Monday. Omaha was to host a first and second round in the NCAA college basketball Division I tournament, which was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. AP photo

In a normal year, these next four days are among my favorite ones of the year. The first two rounds of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament have been must-watch television since I was 11. The first two rounds give you the best upsets. The first two rounds provide 12 hours of basketball each day. I’ve planned days off and vacations around watching the first days of the NCAA tournament.

This is not a normal year, though. We all know that. There is no NCAA tournament. For the first time since I was in junior high school, I have no bracket to fill out. On the plus side, it likely saves me 40 or 50 bucks. On the other hand, I like caring about the fortunes of the Norfolk State men’s basketball team for a couple hours.

I had to scratch this itch. Happily, I found a way.

Numerous organizations produced projected brackets in the days before the NCAA called off the tournament. I selected a more recent projection by Dave Ommen of NBC Sports. Then, I went to ncaagamesim.com, a website that allows you to plug in matchups between every college basketball team.

The simulations even provide box scores and running play by play. I went through the bracket created by Ommen, game by game, for the entire tournament.

Here we go.

East Region: A few upsets. No. 13 Yale knocks off No. 4 Maryland, 99-76. No. 14 Hofstra beats No. 3 Duke, 81-79. In the second round, the top two seeds each fall. No. 8 LSU edges top-seed Dayton, 69-66, and No. 7 Michigan slips past No. 2 Villanova, 76-75.

In the regional semifinals, No. 5 Butler ends LSU’s run, 80-66. Michigan beats West Virginia, 69-61. In the regional final, Zavier Simpson and Franz Wagner each score 13 points to lead Michigan to a 67-57 win over Butler. The Wolverines are off to the Final Four.

Midwest Region: More upsets! No. 13 Vermont over No. 4 Louisville, 60-57. No. 14 Bradley stuns No. 3 Kentucky, 72-64. Fans in the Bluegrass State wonder what the heck just happened. In the second round, No. 7 Illinois drops No. 2 Creighton, 100-80.

No. 1 Kansas cruises past No. 5 BYU in the semifinals, 76-66. In the other semifinal, Illinois holds off Big 10 Conference rival, 89-81. In the regional final, Illinois stops the Jayhawks’ run with a 72-70 win. Kansas goes ice cold from three, making just 1 of 18. The Illini are in the Final Four.

South Region: A couple minor first round upsets. No. 9 Indiana beats No. 8 USC, 67-63. No. 12 Cincinnati upsets No. 5 Auburn, 70-53. Even in a simulation, there’s always a 12 over a 5. After winning one of the First Four games, No. 11 Texas keeps it going with a 66-65 win over No. 6 Penn State. No. 10 Rutgers, in the field for the first time in a long time, keeps it going with a 77-57 win over No. 7 Providence.

Indiana upsets No. 1 Baylor in the second round, 70-66, and knocks off Cinderella Cincinnati, 58-51, to advance to the regional final. No. 3 Seton Hall beats No. 2 Florida State, 79-69, to set up a matchup with the Hoosiers. In the final, Justin Smith scores 19 points to lead Indiana to an 82-72 win. And we have three Big 10 teams in the Final Four.

I’m starting to wonder if a Big 10 school graduate put together the simulation algorithm.

West Region: Remember how Virginia became the first one to lose to a 16 a couple years ago, then won it all last season? Well, in my simulation the Cavaliers are one and done again. No. 11 East Tennessee State upsets No. 6 Virginia, 69-60. In the second round, No. 7 Arizona beats No. 2 San Diego State, 77-73.

Top seed Gonzaga gets by No. 4 Oregon, 74-68, in the semifinals. No. 3 Michigan State ekes past Arizona, 69-68. Will Gonzaga crash the Big 10 party at the Final Four?

Ha! Cassius Winston scored 35 points and dishes 11 assists to lead the Spartans rout. Sparty shoots 16 for 27 from three. The Zags shoot just under 40 percent from the field, and Michigan State wins in a runaway, 113-60. Michigan State is in the Final Four.

Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan State. The Final Four is a Big 10 showdown. ACC and SEC fans need to step up their simulation game.

The first game of the Final Four is another rout, Michigan over Illinois, 97-65. Illinois leads early, 12-7, but the Wolverines pull away. Simpson leads Michigan with 24 points and 10 assists. The second game is a little closer, with Michigan State taking a 62-52 win over the Hoosiers. Xavier Tillman leads the Spartans with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

It’s an all-Michigan national championship game! The rest of the nation watches anyway.

Aaron Henry kicks off State’s game-opening 9-0 run with a three. The Wolverines fight back. Brandon Johns hits a three to give the Wolverines a 36-35 lead, and a little later, a Simpson basket gives Michigan a 48-41 lead.

The lead doesn’t hold. Winston makes a 3-pointer midway through the second half, giving the Spartans a 62-60 lead and the lead for good. Michigan State pulls away for an 83-71 win. Sparty cuts down the nets. Cue “One Shining Moment.”

In real life, it wouldn’t have played out this way. But it was fun to watch it unfold, anyway. Of course I’m going to pick another projected bracket, and maybe another after that, and simulate the tournament again.

It’s not real, but for a tournament-loving fool, it’s all I’ve got.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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