NCAA Tournament: How Championship Game of March Madness Might Have Played Out

Jake Curtis

March Madness ends tonight, Monday, April 6 -- even though it's not March anymore and even though this is only a mythical NCAA tournament.

But we have two standout teams competing for the national championship -- Kansas, with its star players and a spectacular season that put the Jayhawks at or near the top of the rankings all season, against Virginia, which is seeking to become the first team since Florida in 2006 and 2007 to win consecutive NCAA championships and is on a late-season roll.

SI's Pat Forde picks the best Final Four games in history:

In our mythical tournament, we used the bracket provided by Jerry Palm of CBS Sports on March 12 as the basis for our matchups.

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

The craziness began with the first-round games on the first Thursday of the event, which were followed by first-round games scheduled for that Friday. 

The first Saturday of the tournament featured results of the first eight games of the second round, and on Sunday we gave you possible results of the remaining second-round games might have gone.

On Thursday, March 26, we had the first four Sweet 16 games, and 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 on Sunday, March 29, the last two games of the Elite Eight were "played."

On Saturday, April 4, we presented the national semifinals.

Results of all those games were posted on the day those games were scheduled to be played before the coronavirus caused the tournament to be canceled.

It leaves only the championship game, which was scheduled for Monday night, April 6, at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Here is how it might have gone:


No. 1 Kansas (33-3) vs. No. 6 Virginia (28-7)

Earlier tournament results: Kansas defeated Robert Morris 79-57, Arizona State 68-59, East Tennessee State 71-64, Duke 74-72 and Michigan State 62-61; Virginia defeated Richmond 52-47, Maryland 58-49, Florida State 55-54, Baylor 51-46 and Gonzaga 53-51.

The setup: This will be a defensive game. Virginia ranks second in the country in field-goal percentage defense (36.9%) and Kansas is third (37.75).  Kansas has a first-team AP All-American (Udoka Azubuike) and a second-team AP All-American (Devon Dotson), while Virginia does not have any players who were even first-team All-ACC selections. Kansas coach Bill Self and Virginia coach Tony Bennett each has won one NCAA championship previously.

Kansas has been outstanding the entire season and has won 21 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. The Jayhawks have been ranked among the top six every week of the season, and they were No. 1 each of the final four weeks.

***Bill Self

bill self
Photo by Jay Biggerstaff - USA TODAY Sports

Virginia was unranked for six consecutive weeks from January 13 to February 24, and it appeared the Cavaliers might not make the NCAA tournament. But the Cavaliers came on strong in the final four weeks and enter this game on a 13-game win streak, with six of those victims ranked among the top 15 in the final AP poll.

***Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett
Photo by Melina Myers - USA TODAY Sports

The game: The title contest gets off to a rough start, as both teams show the nerves of playing in a championship game in the huge Mercedes-Benz Stadium.  Kansas makes only three of its first 10 shots with three turnovers, while Virginia is even worse, going 2-for-9 with a four turnovers. Officials are calling the game close, leading to a lot of free throws. It leaves the Jayhawks with a 10-7 lead 10 minutes into a game that is not very exciting.

Udoka Azubuike gets the crowd and his teammates excited with a thunderous dunk, and Virginia's Kihei Clark follows with Virginia's first three-point bucket. Both teams start finding the range, and the first half ends with Kansas holding a 28-25 lead. 

Virginia's best player, Mamadi Diakite, scored only two points in the first half, but he comes out of halftime with increased intensity. He scores six straight Cavaliers points and Azubuike picks up his third foul trying to guard him. The Jayhawks' 7-foot center goes to the bench with Kansas holding a 37-34 lead five minutes into the second half.

Kansas struggles offensively with its key inside player off the court, and Virginia takes a 41-40 lead when Jay Huff hits a three-point shot at the 11:10 mark.

Azubuike returns at this point, and that opens things up for Devon Dotson, who scores eight points over the next eight minutes to put Kansas ahead 52-47 with 3:46 left.

However, Virginia's stout defense limits the Jayhawks to just one field goal over the next three minutes, and a basket by Diakite puts the Cavaliers back on top 56-54 with 45.6 seconds remaining.

Azubuike lets a pass slip through his fingers on Kansas' ensuing possession, and Diakite grabs the loose ball for a turnover that gives Virginia the ball with 30.2 seconds to play. Kansas players seem confused about what they should do, with Bill Self yelling at them to foul No. 2 if he touches the ball. A trap of Clark forces him to get the ball to No. 2, which is worn by guard Braxton Key, and two Kansas players immediately foul him with 15.7 seconds left.

braxton key
Photo by Michael Thomas Shroyer - USA TODAY Sports

Key, who missed four weeks early in the season following wrist surgery, made just 58.4 percent of his free throws during the regular season. He misses the first shot of a one-and-one situation, and Kansas calls timeout with 14.9 seconds to go, trailing by two.

Self pleads with his players to get the ball into Azubuike, and they do just that. Azubuike whirls inside but his seven-foot jump hook bounds off the front rim as the clock ticks under five seconds. Jayhawks guard Marcus Garrett has sneaked under the basket, and though he can't grab the rebound amid the trees, the 6-foot-5 guard is able to tap the ball back to the perimeter. Dotson catches the ball above the top of the key and lets loose with a three-pointer just as the buzzer sounds.

The ball swishes through, and the Jayhawks begin to jump around and celebrate what appears to be a 57-56 win, but Tony Bennett and Clark wildly signal to officials that they need to check a replay to see if the shot was released in time.

Officials do check the replay, and the crowd groans as the replay shown to the crowd on the big screen indicates the red light comes on at the exact moment Dotson releases the ball.

Officials continue to look at replays, and the three take turns looking at the monitor. After 10 minutes, no decision is reached, as the officials ask for -- and receive -- an enlarged image of the shot clock, the red light and Dotson's hand as he releases the ball.

The officials play it back and forth for another three minutes, then the three of them step onto the court and huddle for another minute of discussion.

Finally, nearly 20 minutes after the shot was taken, referee Terry Wymer walks to the center of the court amid silence and tension, and signals that the shot counts.

Jayhawks players begin jumping and screaming; Virginia players bow their heads, some sinking to the floor.

Final score: Kansas 57, Virginia 56

***Devon Dotson celebrates after his shot is ruled to be good

Devon Dotson
Photo by Jay Biggerstaff - USA TODAY Sports