If they had played the thing, the ending would have been Peak 21st Century College Basketball:
Kansas defeats Gonzaga for the men's NCAA tournament championship on a tip-in by Silvio De Sousa, while NCAA Enforcement reps (and much of the rest of the nation) tries not to hurl.
Instead of putting on the NCAA-licensed championship gear postgame, the Jayhawks are given hats and T-shirts that read, “Beat The Posse.”
Snoop Dogg appears courtside with a money cannon.
Bill Self ascends the Werner Ladder to cut the last strand of Mercedes-Benz Stadium net, then defers all investigation-related questions to his attorneys.
And somewhere in New England, T.J. Gassnola smiles and dashes off a text to Self: “In my mind, it’s KU, Bill Self. Everyone else fall into line.”
Ah, what could have been.
That postgame scenario may stray into the fanciful, but two elements of what’s above are serious: Kansas was the best team of the 2019-20 season and most of the country would have been rooting against the Jayhawks, who are beak-deep in the NCAA crime-and-punishment process.
A theoretical title doesn’t mean the Jayhawks should raise a banner—that would be as bogus as the school claiming it was victimized by Adidas in the college basketball corruption scandal. Kansas has been the overall No. 1 tourney seed twice before under Self (2010 and ’16) and failed to make the Final Four either time. So you never know.
But a chaotic season that was all over the map distilled itself to a clear favorite before the basketball world stopped functioning on March 12. This was Kansas’s tourney to lose. By March the Jayhawks arguably had the nation’s best guard (Devon Dotson), best big man (Udoka Azubuike) and best defensive player (Marcus Garrett).
(At least there is some uniformity here. I picked Kansas before the season began, too.)
Using the last 68-team tourney field produced by our Sports Illustrated bracket partners, Three Man Weave, I finally got around to picking how it would have played out. (Would have done it last week, but I was surprisingly slammed with other stories at a time when no sports were being played. A theoretical bracket for a fictitious tournament seemed like it could wait a few days.)
Going in, I had five teams that I believed could win it all. In order, they were: Kansas, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Florida State and Dayton. There were another seven I thought were Final Four caliber. In order: Creighton, Villanova, Baylor, Kentucky, Seton Hall, BYU, Oregon. The long shots that intrigued me: East Tennessee State, Stephen F. Austin, Akron, Vermont, Utah State, Hofstra and Liberty.
Then I looked at the Three Man Weave bracket, and there were a lot of hard choices to make. Having Kansas, Florida State and Creighton in the same region was a problem. I was thinking about picking Virginia to at least the Sweet 16—but a first-round matchup with ETSU changed that thought. And I hated the idea of a BYU-Seton Hall game in the round of 32, matching a pair of teams I thought could make the Final Four under better circumstances.
Best first-round matchup the bracket produced: No. 7 Illinois and No. 10 Texas Tech. Definitely intrigued by the Illini, but also cognizant of the fact that Chris Beard is 9–3 as an NCAA tournament coach. Went with the Illini.
Best second-round matchup: The previously mentioned BYU-Seton Hall game. A lot of indecision there. (And, frankly, Hofstra wouldn’t have been an easy first-round game for the Pirates.)
Best Sweet 16 matchup: Florida State-Creighton, narrowly over Kentucky-Villanova.
Best Elite Eight matchup: Dayton-Michigan State. As much fun as it would have been to see the Flyers in their first Final Four since 1967, a Tom Izzo team peaking at the right time is a formidable roadblock.
Best Final Four matchup: Kansas-Michigan State would be the de facto national championship game.
Provided the Jayhawks escaped that semifinal showdown without being mentally and physically spent (a la Wisconsin in 2015 or Houston in 1983), they would be able to withstand Gonzaga in the title game. The idea of a winning tip by De Sousa—one of the focal points of Gassnola payola, not to mention a chair-wielding brawler—is just a flourish of tourney whimsy that would perfectly complete the season.
And if it Kansas really had won the title, they would have been well-advised to hang the banner with buttons like the snap-off sweat pants the players wear. Easier to remove that way.
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