The ten wildest ‘What ifs?’ in college basketball this decade

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Today, we are talking about the wildest ‘What ifs?’ in college basketball this decade. The first five are in this story, and the top five can be found below.


5. WHAT IF FAB MELO IS ELIGIBLE FOR SYRACUSE IN 2012?

Syracuse played 30 games with Fab Melo in the lineup during the 2011-12 season. They lost one, falling by three points to a good Cincinnati team in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.

That’s it.

That was their only loss when Melo, a 7-foot anchor that led the program in rebounds and blocks as a sophomore, actually took the court.

In the seven games he did not play, the Orange were 5-2, and one of those losses came in the Elite Eight against Ohio State, the No. 2 seed in their region. The other came in a loss at Notre Dame on January 21st, when the Orange were one of only two undefeated teams left in America. They had received 60 of a possible 65 first-place votes.

North Carolina may have been the second-most talented team in the country that season – more on that below – but the Orange were a top two team in the AP Poll for every week except one from Dec. 12th through the end of the season.

If they had the anchor to their zone in the fold in for the NCAA tournament, would John Calipari have a national title on his resume right now?

Kendall Marshall (Getty Images)

4. WHAT IF KENDALL MARSHALL DOESN’T BREAK HIS WRIST IN THE SECOND ROUND IN 2012?

The way that the 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket broke down was absolutely perfect from a neutral’s perspective.

Kentucky was a No. 1 seed on one side of the bracket. North Carolina was a No. 1 seed on the other side of the bracket. They were, arguably, the two best and, inarguably, the two most talented teams in college basketball that season. They had played an absolute thriller in Rupp Arena in December that season, a game that was decided when Anthony Davis blocked John Henson with six seconds left in a one-point game.

We all wanted that rematch because we all knew that the Tar Heels were one of the handful of teams that actually had a chance to beat a Kentucky team that had the first two picks in the 2012 NBA Draft on their roster, including the National Player of the Year.

But that all went up in smoke when Marshall was knocked to the floor by Creighton’s Ethan Wragge late in the second half of a second round win. He landed on his right, non-shooting hand and fractured his scaphoid bone, meaning that Stillman White, a walk-on, was the only point guard left on the roster.

The Tar Heels were able to get past Ohio, a No. 13 seed, in the Sweet 16 in overtime, but they were beaten by Kansas, the eventual national runners-up, in the Elite Eight.

If Marshall never gets hurt, if he plays and he leads UNC to the Final Four, there’s no guarantee that they would have had enough to beat the Wildcats that season. Kentucky was peaking by the end of the year. Davis was playing his best ball, the Wildcats smothered any kind of offense in the paint and the Tar Heels were a team that thrived on getting the ball inside.

But it would have been a matchup everyone wanted to see.

And if there is a world where a healthy UNC team picked off Kentucky in the title game, than I can only imagine how much fans and media alike would be losing their collective minds over whether or not Coach Cal will ever win a national title.

Mamadi Diakite (Getty Images)

3. WHAT IF MAMADI DIAKITE MISSES THE SHOT AGAINST PURDUE?

Just like Villanova, there are plenty of moments that could have derailed Virginia’s run from becoming the first No. 1 seed that ever lost to a No. 16 seed to becoming the National Champion the following season.

In a way, that run felt a little like destiny. Virginia trailed Gardner-Webb by 14 points in the first round of the tournament. What if that comeback never happened? What if Kihei Clark doesn’t hit that three with five minutes left in the second half that ended a 13-2 Oregon run in the Sweet 16 and tied the game again? What if Kyle Guy doesn’t draw a foul while shooting a three against Auburn and the officials call Ty Jerome for a double-dribble instead? What if De’Andre Hunter’s game-tying three doesn’t go down? What if that loose ball that went off Davide Moretti doesn’t get overruled?

Hell, ‘What if De’Andre Hunter never fractures his wrist?’ works as well as anything.

But the moment that stands out more than anything else is Diakite’s shot.

Because that was it.

There was no coming back from a miss.

If you’ve forgotten, here’s what happened:

A miss and it’s over.

A miss and Virginia is still the program that cannot win games that matter. They’re still the program that play at a pace that is untenable for winning in March. They’re still the choke artists that will always find a way to lose. The narratives would have taken over.

And honestly, I don’t even want to know where we would be right now if Virginia hadn’t validated their style of play by winning last year’s national title, because the unfortunate truth is that this year’s Virginia team actually is everything that everyone said Virginia was over the course of Tony Bennett’s tenure in Charlottesville. Last year, the Wahoos had three pros, two of whom were first round picks and one of whom was the best player in college basketball not named Zion. They actually ranked higher in KenPom’s offensive efficiency metric than in his defensive efficiency metric. They were patient and played at the tempo they wanted to play at, but they were absolutely lethal offensively.

This year?

They are still slow, but they don’t have all that much talent and they just cannot score. Maybe that changes if Kyle Guy comes back to school – and if UVA gets dropped in the Elite Eight, that might have been the case – but that’s just speculation. And frankly, simply adding one shooter isn’t going to fix what’s wrong with this year’s team.

Would good players still want to play for a program that wins ugly, but never wins in March?

2. WHAT IF NIGEL HAYES HAD HIS SHOT CLOCK VIOLATION CALLED?

Look away, Kentucky fans.

Please.

For the sake of yourselves, just skip this part.

Trust me.

With under three minutes left in regulation and Kentucky clinging to a 60-58 lead, Wisconsin took the ball out of bounds under their own basket with just three seconds on the shot clock. They got it in to Nigel Hayes in the deep corner, who drove baseline and forced up a shot over Willie Cauley-Stein that drew nothing but air. He grabbed his own missed and laid it back in but, but that was clearly after the buzzer had sounded.

It was a shot clock violation.

Wasn’t it?

According to the replay, it was. Clearly. According to the officials on the floor, it was not.

It was also not reviewable.

Which meant that instead of getting the ball back with 2:39 left and a 60-58 lead, Kentucky was in a tie game. Aaron Harrison missed a jumper on the ensuing possession, and that was followed by Sam Dekker burying a three with 1:44 on the clock, giving the Badgers a lead that they would never relinquish.

The implication here is obvious.

Kentucky, at the time, was sitting at 38-0. They were two wins away from becoming the first team since 1976 to finish a season undefeated and the first team in college basketball history to go 40-0. They were a win away from becoming, unequivocally, the best team in the history of college basketball.

Can we blame all of that crumbling down on one missed shot clock violation?

… maybe?

Look, Wisconsin still had to go out and win the final two minutes of this game. They got the stops. They made the shots. They hit seven of their eight free throws. They won this game, and then they got beaten by a very, very good Duke team.

There were more great teams in college basketball in 2015 than in any season I can remember. Duke included. It would not have been an easy road for the Wildcats to get to 40-0.

But it is impossible to say that things wouldn’t be different without those two points. Does Kentucky need to burn a timeout to get settled after Hayes’ bucket if the violation is called? Do they execute better down the stretch without that frustration in the back of their mind? Hell, even if you want to pretend like things would have gone down the exact same way, that’s not possible. With 17 seconds left, Karl-Anthony Towns missed a free throw with the score at 66-64. Kentucky was forced to foul because there wasn’t enough time left on the clock. That was the best defensive team that I’ve ever seen at the college level. At the very least, we can say there would have been a good chance that this game ended up in overtime, no?

I think the most diplomatic way to say this is that the failure to correctly rule that a shot clock violation cost Kentucky a fair shot at getting to 39-0 and to the national title game.

And that sucks.

Because that team was legitimately great and deserved a chance to prove it.

1. WHAT IF GORDON HAYWARD MAKES THAT SHOT?

I was torn on where to put this on this list, because it’s unlike some of the other ‘What ifs?’.

On the one hand, yes, if this shot goes in, it’s the greatest moment in the history of college basketball. A team from the Horizon League, playing in the national title game in their hometown, beats the Big Bad Duke Blue Devils on a banked in half-court shot at the buzzer? Kris Jenkins’ shot in 2016 might not have even made SportsCenter. Am I supposed to be impressed with a regular old three at the buzzer when Gordon Hayward banked in a halfcourt shot to beat Duke?

On the other hand, what does that shot going in actually change beyond where a banner is hanging and who got rings?

Does missing make the fact that Brad Stevens got Butler to back-to-back national title games any less impressive? Is getting a prayer to go down really going to be what convinces Stevens’ critics, if they exist, that he’s actually a good coach? Would winning a title be enough to keep him in the college ranks, or would the chance to jump to the NBA always be too appealing? If anything, it probably makes an NBA team swoop in sooner.

My point is that the fact that Butler was in that position, that they were a halfcourt shot away from winning the national title, is proof enough of how good that team was. The fact that they made it back the next season despite losing a top ten pick only drives that point home. As weird as this sounds, Hayward’s shot doesn’t prove anything to anyone.

All it does is win Butler the national title.

Anyway, here’s video of that shot, because I never tire of seeing Kyle Singler get de-cleated by a Matt Howard screen:

Alabama coach Nate Oats gets new 6-year, $30 million deal

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nate Oats has agreed to a new six-year, $30 million contract amid the program’s best regular season in decades.

Oats will average $5 million plus incentives over the deal running through the 2028-29 season under a deal approved Friday by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees Compensation Committee.

It makes him the fourth-highest paid basketball coach in the Southeastern Conference and among the Top 10 nationally, athletic director Greg Byrne said.

Oats, who is in his fourth season, will make $4.5 million for the first year with $200,000 annual raises. The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (19-3, 9-0 SEC) has the team’s highest ranking this deep into a season since 1976-77.

“I am honored and humbled to receive a contract extension from the University of Alabama,” Oats said in a statement. “As I have said many times, my family and I love this community, the city of Tuscaloosa and the university.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to build during our time at UA which is a direct reflection of the student-athletes, coaches and staff who have all played a big part in our success. I am excited for what’s happening in the future of our program and the direction we are heading.”

Alabama has gone 80-39 under Oats, winning the 2021 SEC regular season and tournament championships.

“Coach Oats has done an outstanding job leading our men’s basketball program, and we want him to continue doing so for many years to come,” Byrne said in a statement. “He and his staff have lifted the program back to national prominence and built a product that is exciting to be a part of for our team and for our fans.

“We were confident Nate was going to be an outstanding coach for us when we hired him, and he is not only that, but also a great leader of our young men.”

The new contract comes nearly three weeks after Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder following a fatal shooting near campus. Miles, a reserve forward, was removed from the team and suspended from the university following his arrest.

Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson says men’s ball used vs. FSU

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Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team played with a men’s basketball for the first half of a loss to Florida Stated.

The 16th-ranked Blue Devils lost to the Seminoles 70-57 in Tallahassee, Florida – the team’s second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season.

After her team beat Pittsburgh 53-44 , Lawson ended her news conference by speaking animatedly.

“This would never happen in a men’s game. This would never happen. It’s embarrassing for our sport,” she said.

The circumference of a women’s ball is about an inch smaller than a men’s ball and it is typically 2 ounces lighter. While it may not seem like a lot, that’s a big difference.

Lawson said throughout the first half, Duke players were “complaining about the ball.” The Blue Devils were 7 for 34 from the field in the opening 20 minutes of that game. They were 12 for 38 in the second half. Florida State made 10 of its 30 shots in the first two quarters and 14 of 31 in the second half.

“To have a game that, at the end of the season, could be the difference between a seed, between a title, my players don’t deserve that and neither do their players,” Lawson said. “It’s a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I’m talking about that failed the sport and our players and both teams.”

Lawson said assistant coach Winston Gandy went to the scorer’s table at the half to check on the ball when he realized what the problem was. She said the game officials changed the ball to start the second half.

“We have concluded through our investigation that it was a men’s ball,” Lawson said. “The conference and Florida State is saying that it wasn’t.”

The ACC said it did a comprehensive review talking with game officials, administrators, the table crew and both schools.

“Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim,” the conference said in a statement. “Per NCAA playing rules, there is no appeal or protest process.”

The ACC has instituted a procedural change that the game ball will be brought to the pregame meeting with the captains for approval.

“It’s very frustrating that (the game) … was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened in women’s basketball. In 2017, the College of Charleston played home games and practiced with men’s balls for most of its season until the error was was discovered.

“Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. They beat us playing with a men’s ball in the first half and a women’s ball in the second half. But I can’t say if we’d have played with a women’s ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won. But they can’t say that either,” Lawson said.

No. 1 South Carolina wins 28th straight 87-69 over ‘Cats

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley’s pleased South Carolina had made its once-lopsided series with UConn more competitive the past few years.

She hopes her top-ranked team can accomplish another milestone when the teams meet for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

“It still stands true that we haven’t won up there,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as South Carolina prepared for the top-five showdown with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) improved to 22-0 and won their 28th straight, a run that included a 64-49 victory over the Huskies in Minneapolis last April to win the national championship.

Staley had lost her first seven games as South Carolina coach against UConn. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four matchups since.

“This particular class committed to each other,” Staley said. “When you have that type of commitment and you just want to win, you find yourself winning some games that you haven’t won before.”

Against Kentucky, reigning AP player of the year Boston extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.

Still, its dominant inside game – South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint – was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.

The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.

That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.

The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.

Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.

Beal thought the team held together well to blunt Kentucky’s runs and regain control. “I think it’s our mental aspect of the game and us believing in each other,” she said.

Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.

Wildcats coach Kyra Elzy said South Carolina is difficult to match up with because of its deep bench. “They have depth after depth after depth,” she said. “They keep coming.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers – and six freshmen – who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.

South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw – or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.

UCONN KARMA

South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.

South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.

Miles, Citron lead No. 9 Irish past Boston College 72-59

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BOSTON — Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron had already scored 10 straight points to put away Boston College when they turned their attention to other things.

“I told Sonia I needed two more assists for the double-double. And she was like, `All right, I’ve got you,”‘ Miles said after helping No. 9 Notre Dame beat BC 72-59 on Thursday night.

“That’s just kind of our communication on the court,” said Miles, who found Citron for baskets on the next two Irish possessions to complete a 14-0 run – with all 14 points from Miles and Citron. “We just really play off each other really well.

Miles scored 22 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Citron scored 23 for the Irish (18-2, 9-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Maria Gakdeng scored 16 points, T’Yana Todd had 13 and Andrea Daly scored 10 with eight rebounds for BC (14-11, 4-8). The Irish beat BC at home 85-48 on New Year’s Day but hadn’t won in Chestnut Hill since 2019.

“This is such a tough place to play,” said Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey, whose team faces No. 16 Duke next. “We’ll celebrate it until about 12:30, and then we’ve got film. Tomorrow we start focusing on Duke.”

BC came within five points, 55-50, before the Irish ran off 14 points in a row – nine by Citron, and five by Miles. That put an end to what had been a back-and-forth game in which the Irish opened big leads and then frittered them away.

“I always feel like we’re close,” BC coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “They’re young; I think consistency comes with experience.

“I think it’s a big improvement from the first time we played Notre Dame,” she said. “I still want to see more, and I want to see us grow up as fast as humanly possible because I think we do have a dangerous team when we going well.”

Notre Dame led by 11 in the first quarter and held a 38-30 lead with two minutes gone in the third. BC scored 13 of the next 18 points, capitalizing on back-to-back Irish turnovers to tie it 43-all with three minutes left in the quarter.

But Natalija Marshall put back the rebound of her own miss, Miles drove to the basket, Maddy Westbeld added a pair of baskets and then Miles stole the ball and found Citron on the fast break to make it 53-43.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame bounced back from their first league loss of the season, a 69-65 defeat at North Carolina State on Sunday. Now they face No. 16 Duke.

The Eagles, who beat Pittsburgh on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, were looking for their second victory over a Top 25 team this season, having also beaten then-No. 10 N.C. State on Jan. 5.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Hosts No. 16 Duke on Sunday.

Boston College: Visits Syracuse on Sunday.

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

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CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.