Simulation Sunday: March Madness would have had more than One Shining Moment, SportsLine simulation shows

The One Shining moment video following Dayton’s national championship in Atlanta on April 6 might have shown Richmond players rushing the court after the No. 11 seed Spiders knocked off defending national champion Virginia in a first-round NCAA Tournament game.

It might have featured footage of Penn State football coach James Franklin tackling the Nittany Lions’ mascot in celebration as the school’s basketball program won its first NCAA Tournament game since 2001 over a feisty Stephen F. Austin team.

And can you imagine the type of play that BYU coach Mark Pope would have gotten as he led the Cougars to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011? Pope had already become a fan favorite in his first season at BYU.

But he may have become a national star — alongside his best player Yoeli Childs — if the NCAA Tournament had gone according to a Sportsline simulation conducted using the teams who made the field in CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm’s projection.

Even without the incalculable randomness that contributes to upsets and many of the things that make March Madness great, the bracket simulation still revealed potential Cinderallas and some storylines that might have captivated college basketball over the coming weeks if the tournament had continued as scheduled.

Among them was No. 6 seed BYU beating No. 3 seed Seton Hall to make the Sweet 16. But topping the list would have been a national championship for Dayton, a team that began the season unranked and picked to finish third in the Atlantic 10. The Flyers, led by Obi Toppin, tore through the simulated bracket, beating blue-bloods such as Louisville, Michigan State, Duke and Gonzaga on their way to the hypothetical title.

But they were not the only A-10 team that fared well in the simulation. Richmond, led by 15th-year coach Chris Moore, upset Virginia in a simulated first-round game played in the South Region. Can you imagine the jubilation the Spiders would have felt to win a game after sneaking into the 68-team field as one of Palm’s Last Four In?

On the flip side, such a loss would have been crushing for the Cavaliers, who closed the regular season with 11 wins in 12 games to emerge as a sleeper candidate to make another Final Four. Instead, the simulated bracket left UVA nursing the wounds of an upset loss in the first-round for the second time in three years.

Thankfully for coach Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers, the reality is that UVA will remain the last team to hoist a national championship trophy in college basketball until the 2021 NCAA Tournament concludes over a year from now.

Among last season’s Final Four teams, the Cavaliers were not alone in their struggles in the simulated bracket. Texas Tech did not make the simulated field, Auburn lost in the second round as a No. 5 seed and Michigan State came a game short of returning to the Final Four. 


The Spartans did beat higher-seeded Villanova in the Sweet 16 of the simulation, however, and it’s a good thing for the Big Ten that they did. A league that was praised all season for its depth and competitiveness landed 10 teams in the simulated field. But only Michigan State was left by the Elite Eight, even with Maryland joining the Spartans as a No. 3 seed.

Penn State would have come away from the Big Dance with a special moment, though. The Nittany Lions, a projected No. 5 seed, have gone 19 years without an NCAA Tournament win. That streak would have ended in the simulation with the Nittany Lions knocking off Stephen F. Austin and advancing to play Oregon in the second round.

The upsets did not come in abundance with the simulation, and perhaps that should be a reminder of what things might have been like if the NCAA had stuck with its short-lived plan to play the tournament without fans. How could a lower-seeded team with less depth be expected to maintain the energy required to knock off an elite team for an entire game without a crowd involved? Maybe it would have happened occasionally. But aside from Richmond’s win over Virginia, the only other first-round upsets were No. 10 seed LSU beating Providence and No. 9 seeds Florida, Arizona and Colorado winning their first-round games.

Those results would have been regarded as a positive for the Pac-12, which put just three teams in the NCAA Tournament field each of the last two years. In the simulation, the league got six bids this season with four teams still standing in the second round and Oregon advancing to the Sweet 16.

Ultimately, the simulation projected a Final Four consisting of two No. 1 seeds (Dayton and Gonzaga), a No. 2 seed (Florida State) and a No. 3 seed (Duke). For the ACC, landing two teams in the Final Four would have been a coup after a down season that saw just four teams from the league make the projected field.

But in the end, the simulation projected Dayton would have been the first national champion from a mid-major league since UNLV in 1990.

And the footage from that run would have made for a great rendition of One Shining Moment.

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