NCAA Tournament: How Saturday's Final Four Games Might Have Played Out

Jake Curtis

Our imaginary NCAA tournament is reaching a crescendo with the Final Four being played on Saturday, April 4, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Only teams with established elite-level basketball programs remain: Kansas, Gonzaga, Michigan State and Virginia. No Cinderellas are hanging around in this Final Four, and each of the four remaining teams was considered a title contender when the tournament began nearly four weeks ago.

Top-flight players such as Kansas' Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, Gonzaga's Filip Petrusev and Michigan State's Cassius Winston have been outstanding in leading their clubs this far. Virginia is the only remaining team without a recognized star, but the Cavaliers are the defending national champions and play defense like no other team in America.

(Click here to see Pat Forde's picks for the best Final Four games ever.)

We have provided scenarios for the previous rounds on the days they were scheduled to be played.   We used the bracket provided by Jerry Palm of CBS Sports on March 12 as the basis for our matchups.

Our mythical NCAA tournament started March 17 with the preliminary-round games on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Then began the tournament in earnest with the first-round games on the first Thursday of the event, followed by first-round games scheduled for that Friday. On the first Saturday of the tournament we gave suggestions of how the first eight games of the second round might have played out, then on that Sunday we noted how the remaining second-round games might have gone.

On Thursday, March 26, we had the first four Sweet 16 games.  A day later, on Friday, March 27, we gave you the Sweet 16 games that would have been played that day.

The first two games of the Elite Eight were "played" on Saturday, March 28, and the next day the last two games of the Elite Eight were featured. All were played on the day those games were scheduled to be played before the coronavirus caused the tournament to be canceled.

No March Madness was a blow to many of us, as Pat Forde notes in the video below. So we are providing a substitute.

Today (Saturday, April 4) we give you a sense of what might have happened in the two national semifinal games in Atlanta on the day they were scheduled to be played:


Day 11, Game 1

No. 1 Kansas (32-3) vs. No. 3 Michigan State (26-9) in Atlanta

Earlier tournament results: Kansas defeated Robert Morris 79-57, Arizona State 68-59, East Tennessee State 71-64 and Duke 74-72; Michigan State eliminated North Texas 79-59, Rutgers 76-68, USC 60-56 and Dayton 74-71. 

The setup: Michigan State began the regular season as the No. 1-ranked team, and Kansas ended the regular season as the No. 1 team.  Michigan State struggled at times this season but is playing its best basketball of the season right now, having won nine games in a row, including five against ranked teams. Kansas has been outtanding the entire season and has won 20 games in a row, its last loss coming on December 21 when Villanova won by a point on the Wildcats' homecourt in Philadelphia. Kansas' only other loss was in the season opener, a two-point defeat against Duke in New York.

***Michigan State guard Cassius Winston helps his team get off to a fast start

Photo by Tommy Gilligan - USA TODAY Sports

The game: Cassius Winston gets off to a fast start, scoring six quick points and assisting on two other baskets to help the Spartans to a 20-12 lead in the first 10 minutes. But Kansas, which ranks third in the country in field-goal percentage defense, clamps down on Michigan State at that point.

Kansas begins going inside to Udoka Azubuike, and Michigan State's 6-foot-8 Xavier Tillman Sr. picks up two fouls trying to defend him. The Spartans' leading rebounder goes to the bench with six minutes left in the first half and does not return until after halftime.

The Jayhawks close the gap to 30-27 with two minutes left in the half and go into halftime trailing by a point.

Devon Dotson scored just four points in the first half, but he scores eight in the first 10 minutes of the second half to push the Jayhawks to a 47-43 lead. Winston hits a three-pointer to start a 10-4 Michigan State run that gives the lead back to the Spartans at 53-51 at the four-minute mark.

Tillman is getting help defending Azubuike, whose effectiveness is limited in the seond half, but Dotson continutes to carry the Jayhawks offensively. His driving layup with 53.4 seconds left puts Kansas on top 62-59, but Winston replies with a drive through the lane for a score that reduces the Spartans' deficit to one point with 38.2 seconds to play.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji lets a pass slip through his hands and out of bounds with 15.4 seconds remaining, giving the Spartans a final chance. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo does not call a timeout at first, but when he sees the Spartans struggling to get an open look, he calls timeout with 6.7 seconds to go.

He puts the ball in Winston's hands at the top of the key, and he drives to his left with Dotson defending. Winston gets within five feet and puts up a left-handed shot over the outstretched hand of the 7-foot Azubuike, who has come over to help. 

The ball bounces off the front rim, but Tillman, left alone, tips the ball in as the buzzer sounds. Michigan State players begin to celebrate, but officials make no call as to whether the shot came before the buzzer. The officials hundle around the monitor to watch replays, and the TV announcers disagree with each other as to whether the ball left Tillman's fingers before the red light went on.

After an 11-minute delay, referee Terry Wymer walks to center court amid a silent Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He blows his whistle and signals the shot is no good. The three officials sprint off the floor as Dotson hugs Azubuike and Winston falls to the floor in tears.

Final score: Kansas 62, Michigan State 61


***Kansas center Udoka Azubuike and the Jayhawks are into the title game

Photo by Kevin Jairaj- USA TODAY Sports


Day 11, Game 2

No. 1 Gonzaga (35-2) vs. No. 6 Virginia (27-7) in Atlanta

Earlier tournament games: Gonzaga ousted Prairie View A&M 88-65, Houston 85-74, Stephen F. Austin 80-74 and Iowa 76-69; Virginia defeated Richmond 52-47, Maryland 58-49, Florida State 55-54 and Baylor 51-46.

The setup: This is a classic matchup of the best offensive team in Gonzaga, which leads the nation in scoring and is second in field-goal percentage (51.5%), against the best defensive team in Virginia, which is first in the country in scoring defense and second in field-goal percentage defense (36.9%). Gonzaga, the 2017 NCAA tournament runnerup, has won eight games in a row but none of those eight opponents was ranked among the top 20 in the final AP poll. Virginia enters the game on a 12-game win streak, with five of those victims ranked among the top 15 in the final AP poll.

***Gonzaga guard Corey Kispert had some gripes.

Photo by James Snook - USA TODAY Sports

The game: Virginia's stingy defense stymies Gonzaga at the outset. The Zags' top three scorers -- Filip Petruzev, Corey Kispert and Killian Tillie -- are a combined 4-for-21 from the field over the first 12 minutes, helping the Cavaliers take a 28-20 lead with 7:52 left in the first half.

But Gonzaga has six players averaging double figures in scoring, and a three-point bucket by Ryan Woolridge starts the Bulldogs on a 10-2 run that helps Gonzaga tie the game with a minute left in the half. A 15-foot shot by Virginia's Braxton Key at the buzzer gives the Cavaliers a 32-30 lead at the break.

Petrusev scores two baskets early in the second half, the second coming on a put-back, as Gonzaga takes its first lead of the game, 38-36, five minutes into the second half.

Virginia is not much of an offensive team, ranking 348th of 350 Division I schools in scoring. The Cavaliers are just ahead of Kennesaw State and right behind Maryland-Eastern Shore in scoring, but they stay close in the national semifinals thanks to their defense. 

Mamadi Diakite has scored in double figures in 16 straight games, which is more impressive than it sounds considering the slow pace at which Virginia plays. He works his way inside for six points in a six-minute span that ties the game with 8:47 to play.

Neither team can do much offensively down the stretch, and the score is tied 48-48 with 1:07 left. Petrusev makes one of two free throws with 53.3 seconds remaining, but Kihei Clark counters with a huge three-point shot just before the shot clock expires, giving the Cavaliers a 51-49 lead with  23.1 seconds to go.

Virginia's defense surprisingly breaks down on Gonzaga's next possession, allowing Tillie to tie the score with an uncontested layup with 8.4 seconds to play.

During a timeout, Virginia coach Tony Bennett calmly maps out a play in which Clark hurries the ball upcourt and attempts to drive the lane. Clark carries out the assignment perfectly, and when Tillie comes over to help out on the driving Clark, the Cavaliers guard dishes to Diakite, standing 10 feet from the basket. Diakite spins left, then spins right, never using a dribble, but cannot elude Petrusev. Duakite then forces up a tough fallaway 12-foot shot over Petrusev. The ball banks in with 1.1 seconds left.

With no timeouts left, Gonzaga cannot get off a decent shot. Clark and Diakte hug each other as Bennett joins the celebration huddle. Petrusev and Kispert stand on the court, hands on hips, then look up at the scoreboard before dropping their heads.

Final score:Virginia 53, Gonzaga 51


***Kihei Clark scores on this play, and later set up the game-winning play

Photo by Michael Thomas Shroyer - USA TODAY Sports


The championship game will be played Monday night, which is when we will provide a scenario of how it might play out.


Here is the way our tournament began:

first four
first round
first round 2