Oh, the places Obi Toppin was going to go!
Cleveland in the first two rounds, according to a computer model, then Madison Square Garden in New York, and then on to the Final Four in Atlanta, where Toppin and Dayton would have beaten Gonzaga for the championship by a point.
Forevermore, Toppin would have been considered royalty in Dayton, whose sole trip to an NCAA title game was a 15-point loss to UCLA in Louisville in 1967. Toppin gathered NBA information after an excellent freshman season, and he returned to college as a one-man latter-day Phi Slama Jama.
The fabulous Flyers had rattled off 20 consecutive victories and were ranked third when the curtain came down on nearly all of the sports world, including the first cancellation of the NCAA Tournament since its inception in 1939, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Oregon beat Ohio State, 46-33, in that first championship game in Evanston, Ill., on March 27, 1939. Hours later, in a critical event for the rat up the street a bit in Milwaukee, his father was born. Another story. No, another book.
On the distaff side, Oregon senior Sabrina Ionescu became a sight to behold, ponytail flopping about as she flummoxed poor foes with her deft passing and precise shooting. “Pistol” would be an appropriate nickname.
Her highlight, however, was the eloquence she delivered in an impassioned speech at Kobe Bryant’s memorial. Hours later, she became the first NCAA hoopster, male or female, to amass 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in her career with a fitting 26-12-12 triple-double in the No. 3 Ducks’ victory at No. 4 Stanford.
Alas, neither the men nor women would have brackets produced for their respective NCAA Tournaments, no waiting in a conference room with teammates and coaches to hear their program called, no buzzer-beating 3-point shots to survive and advance.
The coronavirus put a profound spin on surviving and advancing.
The first college hoops season without an ending should be recalled for something more than the imminent blank space, save the asterisks for John Calipari, that will follow “2020” in future record books.
The season tipped off, at 3 p.m. PT, back on Tuesday, Nov. 5. As a six-point home favorite, Duquesne defeated Princeton, 94-67. College basketball was back!
The Merrimack Warriors, who went to the Division-II national tournament three consecutive years before transitioning to D-I status, defied convention under fourth-year boss Joe Gallo by winning the Northeast Conference. They will be eligible for the league and NCAA tourneys in 2024.
San Diego State became the last undefeated team in the country. The Aztecs, of all people, then toyed with the karma gods by raising a league banner with league games yet to be played. They lost that home game, to UNLV, and lost their conference tournament title game to Sam Merrill and Utah State.
Attention, coach Brian Dutcher: Of “malicious magics,” the online Desert Witch recommends burning a batch of black pepper, cinnamon, dragon’s blood, patchouli (from the mint family) and vetiver (bunchgrass native to India) on hot charcoal and standing within the smoke as a jinx cure. “I consider jinxes,” she wrote, “to be just plain cruel.”
Evansville’s titanic upset, as a 25-point dog, at Kentucky should have been a catalyst to an epic season for the Purple Aces. Instead, coach Walter McCarty, a former Kentucky star, got the sack as the Aces were dropping all 18 of their Missouri Valley games.
As a cap to the campaign, the preference here will not be to review those waves of tournament cancellations, the final act arriving at the hallowed Garden, where St. John’s and Creighton walked off the court at halftime and would not return.
It will be Cleveland, inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Ohio and Akron were preparing to play in the Mid-American Conference tournament. The game would be called, on account of something wicked spreading across the globe.
The Bobcats huddled. First-year coach Jeff Boals nodded. As a junior forward for 12th-seeded Ohio in 1994, Boals had participated in an NCAA Tournament, a first-round 84-72 defeat to fifth-seeded Indiana in Landover, Md.
So on an NBA court that had been scheduled for first- and second-round action this week, which will instead be dark, 10 Bobcats split into two groups and played pickup ball for 10 minutes. Boals told the Associated Press, “Kind of cool. They wanted to have some fun.”
Shining moments for every single one of them.
Last week: 0-1
Final season record: 43-40