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

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The 2010s are coming to an end, which should make you feel incredibly old.

We’ve now gone a full decade with John Calipari in charge of the Kentucky Wildcats. We’re more than a decade removed from the existence of Psycho T on a college basketball campus. In the last ten years, we’ve seen Kentucky and Duke win titles by playing as young as possible, Virginia win by playing as slow as possible, Villanova win by shooting as many threes as possible and UConn win a pair of titles by hoping a star point guard can carry them through a six-game tournament.

We’ve experienced Jimmermania. We survived Zion Williamson’s Shoegate. We watch Louisville win a national title and then had the NCAA erase it from our collective memory because an assistant coach like to turn dorm rooms into the Champagne Room.

It’s been a wild ride.

And over the course of the next two weeks, we will be taking a look back at some of the best parts of the decade.

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 here.

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Robbie Hummel (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

10. WHAT IF ROBBIE HUMMEL NEVER TEARS HIS ACL?

I think everyone in the state of Indiana, or at least in West Lafayette, remembers the exact moment that this happened.

There were just over seven minutes left in the first half of Purdue’s game at Minnesota. It was something of a look-ahead game, a Wednesday night fixture before a massive Sunday afternoon tip against Michigan State that would put the Boilermakers two wins from clinching their first outright Big Ten title in 14 years. Hummel drove into the middle of the paint, came to a jump-stop and had his right knee buckle.

ACL gone.

At the time, Purdue was the No. 3 team in the country, a stifling defense that relied on their three-headed monster of E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Hummel to put enough points on the board to get them wins. With Hummel, they looked like one of the few teams that would have a shot at winning the title. Without him, they lost that game to Michigan State, got dropped in the second round of the Big Ten tournament and ended up with a No. 4 seed, getting drubbed by Duke in the Sweet 16.

But the story gets worse.

Just eight months after he initially tore the ACL, he tore it again, in his first practice back. So not only did Purdue miss out on a chance to win a title in 2010, they never got to see what Hummel could have done playing alongside Johnson and Moore in their senior seasons.

Purdue has not been to the Final Four since 1980. Last year’s Elite Eight run was their first since 2000 and just their second since 1994. I have a feeling those numbers would be different had Hummel’s right ACL been less disagreeable.

9. WHAT IF JOHN WALL GOES PRO INSTEAD OF GOING TO KENTUCKY, OR IF JODIE MEEKS RETURNS TO KENTUCKY INSTEAD OF GOING PRO?

I’m not quite sure how many people are actually going to remember this, but there was a time where it was unclear if John Wall would actually end up in college. In was in April after his senior season in high school and before he committed to Kentucky to play his college ball. There was a chance that Wall was eligible to go straight to the NBA draft like Anfernee Simons did and Hamidou Diallo tried to do.

You see, Wall had spent five years in high school. He spent two years at Garner Magnet school before transferring to Broughton High as a junior. Midway through that school year, he again transferred, this time to Word Of God Christian Academy, where he enrolled as a sophomore. Combine that with the fact that he was 19 years old at the time, and he could have made a pretty compelling case.

Ultimately, it never came to that because he never declared, instead enrolling at Kentucky.

But what if he didn’t?

What if Wall had been determined to be eligible for the 2009 NBA Draft and went straight to the pros out of high school? Where would the Kentucky program be? Would the Wildcats have still been in a position to send five players to the first round of the NCAA tournament? Would Coach Cal still have been posted at the NBA draft talking about the most important day in the history of their program? Would Kentucky still have been able to change the way that college basketball programs built super teams with recruiting arms races?

But that’s not the only interesting ‘What if?’ surrounding the 2010 Kentucky team.

Hell, it might not be the most significant one.

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Jodie Meeks (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

What if Jodie Meeks returned to school for his senior season?

When Billy Gillispie was fired following the 2008-09 season, there were two key players who had their future up in the air. One was Patrick Patterson, who opted to return to school and play alongside Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe for a season. Meeks, who averaged 23.7 points as a junior, did not. He went pro, was picked 41st and found a way to carve out a 10-year NBA career.

So it worked out for him.

But that Kentucky team had one fatal flaw, and it was their ability to shoot. I don’t need to remind Kentucky fans this, but those Wildcats, as a team, shot 33.1 percent from three. They were 4-for-32 from beyond the arc in the Elite Eight loss to West Virginia. What would have happened if they had an All-American that, the year before, had shot 40.6 percent from three on eight attempts per game on the floor? Do you think there’s any chance that a team with a starting five of Wall, Bledsoe, Meeks, Patterson and Cousins loses?

With Meeks back, does 2010 Kentucky become the first 40-0 team in college basketball history? Does John Calipari actually get an NBA job after he wins a second title in three seasons? Is there an alternate reality where Cal gets hired by the Celtics and it’s actually Brad Stevens that is currently coaching the Wildcats and winning national titles with nothing but three-star prospects from Kentuckiana? I like to think there is.

8. WHAT JALEN BRUNSON WENT TO TEMPLE?

There are so many ‘What ifs?’ surrounding this Villanova dynasty that would be fun to dive into.

What if Kris Jenkins missed that buzzer-beating three? You know the one that I’m talking about. Does Villanova hang on to win that game in overtime? If they don’t, if the Tar Heels take home the 2016 national title, do they bring back everyone and become the first team to win back-to-back titles in 2017, or do the likes of Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and Kennedy Meeks turn pro?

Or how about this one: What if Omari Spellman isn’t ruled ineligible for the 2016-17 season? If he isn’t forced to redshirt, does he ever put in the work he needed to in order to change his body and become a first round draft pick? What if Phil Booth doesn’t miss that season with an injury, either? Might we actually be looking at a situation where the Wildcats win three straight national titles?

And if you want to play the inception game, what if Villanova’s higher-ups decide to fire Jay Wright when he followed up the 2009 trip to the Final Four with a 25-win season, a 21-win season and then a 13-19 season in 2011-12?

But those are not the most interesting ‘What ifs?’ involving this Villanova dynasty. This is: What if Jalen Brunson had actually ended up at Temple?

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Because that’s what the plan was. Brunson’s father, Rick, is a Temple alum. Fran Dunphy was going to use a spot as an assistant coach to hire Rick and bring along his McDonald’s All-American offspring until Rick went and got himself into a bit of legal trouble. Hiring him became untenable, which meant that Brunson had to find elsewhere to play. Just so happens that Philly’s intracity rival needed a point guard, and the rest is history.

Would Villanova have found the same amount of success if Brunson had not ended up on the Main Line? He was a starter for two teams that won national championships, the second of which came in a season where he won National Player of the Year. That’s a pretty big loss to overcome.

At the same time, it is fair to wonder if he would have had the same amount of success had he not ended up playing for Villanova. Brunson has carved out a nice little role for himself in the NBA, operating as a part-time starter for the Dallas Mavericks and averaging 9.0 points and 3.2 assists in two seasons as a pro. He probably gets there either way, but given that he was still a second round pick after three sensational years at Villanova, would he have actually gotten a chance at the NBA if he hadn’t cut down so many nets while a Wildcat?

I think there’s a very real chance that, were it not for the fact that he ended up at Villanova, Brunson ends up being a four-year player at Temple that has to go through Europe to get to the NBA, a la Nigel Williams-Goss.

Brandon Ashley (Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)

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7. WHAT IF BRANDON ASHLEY DOESN’T BREAK HIS FOOT IN 2014?

One of the fun little tools that Ken Pomeroy has added to his website, KenPom.com, is a way to look at archived ratings. If I wanted to go back and see who was considered to be the best team in college basketball on, say, Sat., Feb. 1st, in 2014, I can do that.

On that morning, the Arizona Wildcats were sitting pretty as one of just three undefeated teams left in college basketball. They were the No. 1 team in the country, receiving 63 of a possible 65 first-place votes in the AP poll, and they were No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings. At that moment in time, the gap between Arizona and the team in second (Duke) was only slightly smaller than the gap between 2015 Kentucky and the team that finished second (Wisconsin) on the final day of the season.

Put another way, on February 1st in a season where a No. 7 seed and a No. 8 seed played in the national title game, Arizona was very clearly the best team in college basketball.

And then Brandon Ashley broke his foot.

It happened early in a game at Cal that would go down as Arizona’s first loss of the season. Without Ashley in the lineup, Arizona would go on to lose three of their final 10 regular season games in a watered down Pac-12. They lost in the Pac-12 tournament title game to UCLA. They lost to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight in overtime.

It’s that last loss that I want to discuss.

At the time, Ashley was a sophomore averaging 11.5 points and 5.8 boards while shooting 37.9 percent from three. He was a really good player on a team that had quite a few really good players. But the real value Ashley carried was evident in the game against Wisconsin, when the quicker Frank Kaminsky was able to exploit Kaleb Tarczewski to the tune of 28 points and 11 boards on 11-for-20 shooting. Ashley’s health would have allowed Sean Miller to be able to play a more fleet-a-foot big at the five without going to a small lineup.

That doesn’t sound like much, but in a game that went to overtime when only one guy on the winning team had a good game, slowing him down even a little bit would have been the difference.

Maybe Sean Miller still winds up without a title. Maybe Kentucky’s 2014 team was just a team of destiny that ran into Shabazz Napier and another team of destiny in the title game. Or maybe, with Ashley in the fold, the best team in college basketball goes out and wins themselves a national title in a down year.

We’ll never know, but it may go down in history as Miller’s best chance at a ring.

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Brandon Davies (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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6. WHAT IF BRANDON DAVIES DOESN’T GET AN HONOR CODE VIOLATION?

On the same day that a then-27-2 BYU team was ranked No. 3 in the AP poll for the first time ever, Brandon Davies was in the process of learning that he would no longer be a part of that team.

On Monday, Feb. 28th, just two days removed from beating San Diego State and Kawhi Leonard by 13 points on the road in a top ten showdown, the school was made aware of an honor code violation that was committed by Davies – he reportedly had sexual relations, something that is not allowed by the school. Davies admitted it, and the next morning the school announced that he was suspended for the rest of the season. On that Wednesday, they got blown out at home by New Mexico and would never be the same team.

San Diego State got their revenge in the Mountain West title game with an 18 point win. The Cougars would bow out of the NCAA tournament with an overtime loss to Florida in the Sweet 16. And that was the end of Jimmermania.

Davies was the most athletic member of BYU’s frontcourt that season. He was their third-leading scorer, their leading rebounder and one of just two players on that roster that would go on to play in the NBA. His loss was a devastating blow, one that cost us a chance to see if Jimmer could play his way into the final weekend of the season.

In a year where the Final Four consisted of a three-seed, a four-seed, an eight-seed and an 11-seed, anything could have happened.

Just imagine a national title game that featured Jimmer vs. Kemba.

It definitely would have been more exciting than this.

Continue with the top five here

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College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.