The College Basketball Crystal Ball – Predicting the next 20 Champs of College Basketball

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College basketball fans asked the question as soon as the buzzer sounded in Indianapolis and the Duke Blue Devils won the championship, giving Mike Krzyzewski his fifth title. What was the question? “Alright, who is going to cut down the nets next year?” 

Well, let’s take a look at who might win the 2016 NCAA Tournament…and the 2017…and the 2018…and the 2035.

2016 –  1 North Carolina Tar Heels

Houston, TX

Defeats 1 Duke 90-88

Final Four – 1 UNC, 1 Kansas, 1 Duke, 2 Maryland

After finally beating his former school in the National Semifinal amid crucial NCAA allegations, Roy Williams is able to overcome the scrutiny and win his third and final title. Williams defeats Krzyzewski, in an overtime, game-of-the-century, be-all, end-all championship game. In North Carolina and Duke’s first ever match-up in the NCAA Tournament, Marcus Paige scores 41 points for the Tar Heels, including a three-pointer over Grayson Allen as the buzzer sounds, denying Allen and the Blue Devils back-to-back championships. During the postgame, when asked about the allegations, Williams announces “I haven’t thought about that for one second. The guy in your ear that told you you have to ask that question, as a journalist, that’s fine. But, as a human being, that’s not very nice because it’s not very sensitive. I could give a sh*t about those allegations right now. I’ve got thirteen kids in that locker room that I love.”

2017 – 1 Michigan State Spartans

Glendale, AZ

Defeats 1 Indiana 68-62

Final Four – 1 Michigan State, 1 Arizona, 1 Indiana, 1 Kentucky

With the strong backcourt of Junior Point Guard Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. and Freshman Shooting Guard Josh Langford, Michigan State wins their first title since 2000. The 2017 Final Four features all No. 1 seeds for only the second time in history and is talked about as the most prestigious Final Four ever. In addition to Michigan State and Indiana, Arizona and Kentucky round out the last four teams remaining and the four squads feature an incredible combined record of 143-9, a 94% winning percentage. Arizona Head Coach, Sean Miller, finally reaches his first Final Four, erasing the “best-coach-to-never-reach-the-Final-Four” title from his name. Fans are happy in Tucson…until losing to Michigan State in the semifinal by 24 points in front of an Arizona-dominated crowd.

2018 – 1 Kentucky Wildcats

San Antonio, TX

Defeats 2 Maryland 71-48

Final Four – 1 Kentucky, 4 Wichita State, 2 Maryland, 2 Virginia

Tying the record for the second-largest margin of victory in a title game ever, John Calipari gets to climb the ladder and cut down the nets for the second time. Kentucky gets over the hump, after reaching the Final Four six of the last eight years since 2011, but failing to win the final game all but one time. After a disappointing freshman year, the 2017 No. 1 recruit, DeAndre Dyton returns to Lexington, leading the Wildcats to a dominant 39-1 season, losing only once in a triple-overtime thriller against Louisville, Rick Pitino’s final game against Kentucky, due to retirement. Dyton averages 24 points, 10 rebounds per game, winning National Player of the Year as well as Final Four MOP, scoring 36 in the semifinal and then 33 in the final. Feeling he has accomplished all he wants at the college level, Calipari makes the jump to the NBA to coach LeBron James in his final run in the NBA, leaving both Louisville and Kentucky without coaches at the end of the season. Gregg Marshall reaches another Final Four, but falls short again. Marshall realizes he has done all he can do at Wichita State and darts for Pasadena to take over for the fired Steve Alford.

2019 – 2 Louisville Cardinals

Would Billy Donovan be willing to rock Rick Pitino's old white suit? (Photo by Bryan Gottula)
Would Billy Donovan be willing to rock Rick Pitino’s old white suit? (Photo by Bryan Gottula)

Minneapolis, MN

Defeats 2 Kansas 75-68

Final Four – 2 Kansas, 1 Texas, 2 Louisville, 1 Villanova

For the second time in six years, the Bluegrass State wins back-to-back titles. After an unsuccessful tenure in the NBA, former Florida coach Billy Donovan takes over for the retired Rick Pitino and wins his third title in his first season at Louisville. Despite Seniors LaGerald Vick and Carlton Bragg combining for 58 points in the title game, Kansas comes up short, eleven years after Mario’s Miracle. Meanwhile, in the NBA, Quin Snyder, after being fired by the Utah Jazz, is the next coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, replacing Donovan. Snyder’s team goes 17-65 in his first and only season, as Kevin Durant seems uninterested and makes the move back home to Washington D.C. With the Kansas faithful beginning to become a frustrated with Bill Self for focusing too strongly on conference championships (the streak now at 15), Self becomes bitter towards the fans and strongly considers leaving. A last-minute call from close friend Larry Brown persuades him to stay in Lawrence and return to Kansas.

2020 – 2 Kansas Jayhawks

Atlanta, GA

Defeats 6 SMU 81-78

Final Four – 1 Virginia, 2 Kansas, 6 SMU, 4 UCLA

In an ironic change of events, the man who Larry Brown encouraged to keep his job a year earlier ends up defeating him in Brown’s final game as a basketball coach. 32 years after Brown leads Kansas to their amazing championship, the Jayhawks defeat Brown. The game features an exciting, up-and-down first half and the teams are tied, 50-50 at halftime. The pace slows in the second half and Kansas is able to come out on top, winning their sixth National Championship. An emotional Brown announces his retirement during the post-game press conference, saying how much fun he has had coaching “every team I could’ve possibly coached” for the past four decades and how happy he is for Self and the Kansas fans. The moment is extremely bittersweet for those in Lawrence, Kansas.

2021 – 3 Indiana Hoosiers

Indianapolis, IN

Defeats 2 Kentucky 100-95

Final Four – 1 Indiana, 5 Oklahoma, 1 Maryland, 2 Kentucky

In the first season the NCAA adopts the 24-second-shot-clock, scoring is at an all-time high. The Wildcats and Hoosiers compete in the highest scoring title game ever. In his third season at Kentucky, former Gonzaga coach, Mark Few, cools his seat off after back-to-back 11-loss seasons, missing the tournament one year, but can’t finish the season with a win. After losing in the 2017 NCAA Championship game, Indiana boosters tell the athletic department they will not handle Crean any longer. Crean is fired and returns to Marquette, hoping to find the next Dwayne Wade. During Indiana’s search for the next head coach, the faithful is split 50/50 on hiring Tony Bennett or former Butler Head Coach, Brad Stevens, who has mentioned he wants to return to the college game. A last-second phone call wins Stevens the job with him telling Indiana AD Fred Glass “I want to bring Glass a championship – not lose a championship because of glass.”, referring to Gordon Hayward’s missed half-court buzzer-beater ten years prior. Stevens returns to Indianapolis, in the same arena he lost his last championship game, and wins Indiana a title.

2022 – 1 Duke Blue Devils

Mike Kryzewski wins his final game he ever coaches in, giving him his sixth championship. (Photo by Danny Troutman)
Mike Kryzewski wins his final game he ever coaches in, giving him his sixth championship. (Photo by Danny Troutman)

New Orleans, LA

Defeats 3 UNLV 103-73

Final Four – 1 Duke, 2 Mississippi State, 3 Ohio State, 3 UNLV

Mike Krzyzewski announces before the 2022 season that it will be his last. It was a magical year for Krzyzewski, coaching his grandson, Michael during his senior season. Michael averages 18 points and 9 assists per game, winning SEC Player of the Year (Conference Realignment has sent Duke to the 16-school SEC, while the ACC is no longer). Coaching his final game against his former player Jeff Capel, who has made a successful return to head coaching, Krzyzewski doesn’t hold back. Michael scores 37 points in Duke’s 30-point victory, winning by the same score of the 1991 National Final. Capel greets a crying Kryzyzewski in the middle of his press conference after the game and is heard whispering over the microphone “I will take care of the Duke program now that you are gone.” 

2023 – 2 UCLA Bruins

New York, NY

Defeats 1 UCONN 80-77

Final Four – 1 Louisville, 2 UCLA, 1 UCONN, 4 Michigan

In the first season of the Power Four Conferences, the Big 12 is no longer a conference, along with the ACC, which was demolished a year ago, UCLA (Pac-16), Louisville (Big East), UCONN (AAC), Michigan (Big Eighteen) make it to the Final Four in New York City at Madison Square Garden. Michigan reaches the Final Four for the first time since 2013, but John Beilein fails to get his team the trophy again. Gregg Marshall, after reaching his fourth career Final Four, gets over the hump and cuts down the nets. UCLA extends their record number of titles to twelve and Marshall is the new Wizard of Westwood in Pasadena.

2024 – 4 Syracuse Orangemen

Dallas, TX

Defeats 3 Oklahoma 68-67

Final Four – 4 Syracuse, 2 Georgetown, 3 Oklahoma, 3 Wake Forest

The 2024 NCAA Tournament is arguably the wildest tournament ever. A 16-seed finally defeats a one-seed when Tubby Smith, the Head Coach at Norfolk State, defeats his former school, Kentucky on a buzzer-beating three-point shot. Mark Few is fired from Kentucky the next day. In addition, Bruce Pearl, still at Auburn, takes his team, a 12-seed, all the way to the Elite Eight before losing to Danny Manning’s Wake Forest squad. The Final Four, taking place at Jerry World (the first of three consecutive Final Fours at AT&T Stadium in Arlington), features four first-time Final Four coaches. Mike Hopkins (sixth year at Syracuse), Tim Miles (second year at Georgetown), Andy Enfield (second year at Oklahoma) and Danny Manning (tenth year at Wake Forest), all arrive in Arlington and at the Final Four as coaches for the very first time. Oklahoma takes revenge from the 1988 National Championship game, this time beating Danny Manning and advances to the National Final. Syracuse defeats their old-friend, Georgetown, in a classic semifinal, setting up a Syracuse v. Oklahoma final. Oklahoma’s furious, too-little, too-late comeback comes up one point short, after being down by 19 points with seven minutes to go. The Orange win their first title in 21 years.

2025 – 1 Ohio State Buckeyes

Dallas, TX

Defeats 1 Arizona 85-71

Final Four – 1 Arizona, 1 Kansas, 3 Mississippi State, 1 Ohio State

Two former Xavier coaches face each other in the National Final when the Buckeyes defeat the Wildcats in a game that was never really in doubt. While Thad Matta brings a basketball championship to a school that has won four College Football Playoffs in the last ten years, Sean Miller’s seat doesn’t cool off after reaching the final game. While some Arizona fans love what Miller has brought to the program, others believe that only two Final Four appearances in 16 years is not enough. Arizona Athletic Director, Steve Kerr, becomes incredibly close to firing Miller but decides to give him another year with a loaded roster coming back in 2026. Meanwhile, Ben Howland’s Mississippi State squad reaches the Final Four for the second time in four years, but Howland moves to 0-5 all-time as a coach in the Final Four.

2026 – 1 Arizona Wildcats

Dallas, TX

Defeats Oklahoma State 80-62

Final Four – 1 Arizona, 6 Michigan State, 10 Oklahoma State, 8 Illinois

Steve Kerr’s “one-more-year” to Sean Miller pays off. Arizona wins their first championship in 30 years. While Arizona dominates the Final Four (still at Jerry World), many call this the worst Final Four ever. Arizona, the number one overall seed of the tournament, is paired against a six-seed Michigan State (Tom Izzo never changes) in the semifinal. On the other side of the bracket, an 8-seed Illinois and a 10-seed Oklahoma State, coached by Doug Gottlieb, face off against each other. The Cowboys become to first double-digit seed to ever reach the final, but the game isn’t close. Jerry Jones is severely disappointed in the conclusion of the Final Four (and upset a team from Texas was never apart of the three events in Dallas) and offers to pay the city of San Diego $500 Million for the 2027 Final Four. San Diego declines.

2027 – 2 Florida Gators

San Diego, CA

Defeats 1 Arizona 71-66 OT

Buffalo Wild Wings Final Four – 2 Florida, 1 Kentucky, 1 Duke, 2 Arizona

The first year Buffalo Wild Wings is the title sponsor of the Final Four, held in San Diego for the first time since 1975, all three Final Four games go into overtime. Florida, now coached by Frank Martin, furiously (literally, furiously) wins their third championship, denying Arizona of back-to-back titles. Two bluebloods, Kentucky and Duke, make their return to the Final Four after a brief absence. Kentucky, who was finally able to convince Jay Wright to leave Villanova after firing Mark Few, comes up just short in the semifinal, losing a triple overtime game to their SEC rival, 120-119. After making an assumption and telling Mike Krzyzewski that he will take care of the Duke program five years prior, Jeff Capel never gets the Duke job like he thought he would. Duke hires “out-of-the-family” when they bring Shaka Smart on-board. Smart made one Final Four appearance at Texas and also ended Kansas’ Big XII Title run at 17.

2028 – 4 Michigan State Spartans

Kansas City, MO

Defeats 2 Wisconsin 42-40

Buffalo Wild Wings Final Four – 4 Michigan State, 2 Maryland, 2 Iowa, 2 Wisconsin

For the first time ever, the Final Four has four members all from the same conference. The Big Eighteen has a whopping 13 members in the now 122-team tournament and turns the Final Four into an old-fashioned Big Ten style, slow-it-down, physical, basketball tournament. Michigan State, in Tom Izzo’s final season, defeats Maryland (still coached by Mark Turgeon) 50-45 in the semifinal. Iowa (Fred Hoiberg) loses to Wisconsin (Jerod Haase) on a last-second lay-in, 38-37. It is the lowest scoring Final Four ever. Izzo, just like Krzyzewski, goes out on top, winning his third National Championship in his final game.

2029 – 1 Kentucky Wildcats

Miami, FL

Defeats 5 Syracuse 81-71

Buffalo Wild Wings Final Four – 5 Syracuse, 2 Iowa, 1 Kentucky, 1 UCLA

Fred Hoiberg, who goes from The Mayor in Ames, IA to the Chicago Bulls where he wins the 2022 NBA Finals with a big three of Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Karl Anthony-Towns, to being fired in Chicago six years later after the Bulls win a total of 74 games in three seasons. Hoiberg looks to make a return to the college ranks, but his alma mater is already set with their coach, Jeff Hornacek, who has failed to reach a Final Four, but has reached three Elite Eights and won two Big XII Titles in six seasons. Hoiberg, wanting to stay close to home, does the unthinkable and accepts the job in Iowa City, causing the city of Ames to completely disown him. In his second consecutive Final Four as Iowa’s head coach, Hoiberg comes up short of playing for the title for the second year in a row, losing to Mike Hopkins’ Syracuse squad, led by senior Kiyan Anthony, the son of Carmelo Anthony. In the National Final, Kiyan Anthony, whose father won a title at the same school he is attending, faces off against Kentucky, featuring Nasir Mohammed, son of Nazr Mohammed, whose father also won a title at the same school he is playing for. Mohammed beats Anthony, scoring 33 points and winning MOP. Jay Wright wins his first championship at the age of 66.

2030 – 2 Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Charlotte, NC

Defeats 2 North Carolina 68-65

Buffalo Wild Wings Final Four – 2 Wake Forest, 4 North Carolina State, 2 North Carolina, 1 Duke

“The Tobacco Road Final Four” takes place in, you guessed it, Charlotte, North Carolina for the first time since 1994. It is arguably the most-hyped Final Four ever, featuring the “Big Four” from the state of North Carolina. This also marks a return to the Final Four for North Carolina for the first time since winning the title in 2016. After Roy Williams’ retirement in 2022 (the same year as Krzyzewski), Carolina hires former Duke player, Bobby Hurley, from Arizona State. Hurley, after one season, mentions “it’s heartbreaking for me to have to play against my former school – this job is not for me” and resigns. Next on their list is Archie Miller, who they are able to convince to leave the University of Dayton and come to Chapel Hill. Miller struggles in his first three seasons, losing to Duke five of six times and losing a combined 32 games. A surprise Elite Eight run in his third year saves Miller from being fired. Miller is able to get over the hump three years later and make it to the Final Four. Not only does North Carolina reach the Final Four, they defeat Duke in the semifinal by 23 points. On the other side of the bracket, Danny Manning’s Wake Forest team is able to overcome Ron Hunter’s North Carolina State squad and then defeat the Tar Heels to win the title. A record 2.2 million people attend the event in Charlotte.

2031 – 2 UCLA Bruins

Minneapolis, MN

Defeats 5 Pittsburgh 79-64

Buffalo Wild Wings Final Four – 4 Northern Iowa, 5 Pittsburgh, 2 Kansas State, 2 UCLA

After setting record attendance one year ago, the 2031 has record-lows in attendance due to a freak blizzard that takes place in Minneapolis during the first week of April. The storm releases 18 inches of snow across the city from Friday to Sunday, making travel near impossible. The Final Four also features three first-time coaches. Ben Jacobson, now 60 years old, is still winning conference title after conference title in the Missouri Valley Conference, only to come up short in the NCAA Tournament. Jamie Dixon, still underwhelming fans at Pittsburgh, quiets them a bit when he reaches his first ever Final Four in his 27th year at Pitt. Brad Underwood, in his 13th year at Kansas State, brings his alma mater a Big XII Championship as well as a Final Four birth. Marshall, now in his 13th year at UCLA, wins his second championship. Later on that Spring, Marshall receives a call from the Koch brothers in Wichita, where there is a head coaching opening. The wealthy brothers offer Marshall a staggering eight-year deal worth a total of $150 Million to return to Wichita State. Marshall declines and stays in Pasadena.

2032 – 1 Louisville Cardinals

Portland, OR

Defeats 1 Florida 88-86

Buffalo Wild Wings Final Four Presented by Verizon – 1 Florida, 6 UCONN, 6 Utah, 1 Louisville

Verizon is able to get its name next to Buffalo Wild Wings on the Final Four after the company buys out Sprint and AT&T following the release of the iPhone 15. On the court, in order to win his fourth National Title as a college basketball coach, Billy Donovan, 67, must beat his former school in the National Championship Game. Florida, still coached by Frank Martin, is looking for their second title in five years. Martin is thrown out of the game after receiving his second technical, while arguing a foul call, with 15:32 to go in the game. Florida assistant, Joakim Noah, takes over and coaches against his former college coach. The Gators force Louisville to turn the ball over 27 times during the game, but shoot 38% from the free throw line, including missing two that could tie the game with 8.8 seconds left. Donovan wins another title.

2033 – 1 Iowa Hawkeyes

Fred Hoiberg will eventually return to the state of Iowa...just not Ames. (Photo by Bryan Gottula)
Fred Hoiberg will eventually return to the state of Iowa…just not Ames. (Photo by Bryan Gottula)

Detroit, MI

Defeats 3 Kansas 67-66

Buffalo Wild Wings Final Four Presented by Verizon – 3 Kansas, 3 Marquette, 1 Wisconsin, 1 Iowa

Fred Hoiberg brings his home-state a title – just not to the school everyone figured he’d bring it to 20 years earlier. The 2033 National Championship Game features Hoiberg v. Bill Self, who is now 71 and approaching retirement. 5th-year Senior, Zachiah A’mario Chalmers, leads the Jayhawks to the final game, averaging 29 points-per-game during the tournament. Chalmers has a fade-away shot at the buzzer that could win the game, but misses, giving Iowa and Hoiberg their first National Championship. Self mentions during the postgame that he is definitely considering retirement and will take time to discuss his decision with his family during the offseason. The 2033 National Championship Game is Self’s final game as a coach – at Kansas. T. Boone Pickens III offers Self a three-year, $100 Million contract to coach at Oklahoma State and retire at his alma mater. Self accepts, leaving Kansas after thirty years as their head coach.

2034 – 1 Villanova Wildcats

Oklahoma City, OK

Defeats 2 Duke 81-79

Buffalo Wild Wings Final Four Presented by Verizon – 1 Villanova, 4 St. John’s, 2 Duke, 1 Syracuse

With St. John’s and Syracuse at the Final Four, many hope for an All-New York Final Four, but get neither. Shaka Smart’s full-court press gives Syracuse all sorts of problems and the Blue Devils win by 19. On the opposite side of the bracket, Villanova, coached by Richard Pitino, is able to overcome a double overtime thriller, defeating Metta World Peace and St. John’s. In the National Championship game, Rick Pitino, 82, is sitting directly behind Villanova’s bench, talking to his son the entire game. With 2.1 seconds to go, the Wildcats are up by two points and Duke is taking the ball out under their own hoop. Rick is overheard yelling at Richard, “Guard the in-bounds man! Guard the in-bounds man!” His son listens, as the ball is deflected on the in-bounds pass away from Duke, giving Villanova the title.

2035 – 2 Michigan Wolverines

New Orleans, LA

Defeats 1 North Carolina 73-70

Snapchat Final Four – 1 North Carolina, 3 Indiana, 7 USC, 2 Michigan

Snapchat, now worth a jaw-dropping $3.2 Trillion, purchases the Final Four naming rights away from Buffalo Wild Wings and Verizon for $250 Billion each. In an era where paper tickets are extinct, Final Four attendees earn their entrance into the game by simply buying a special version of the Snapchat app, the cost of the app dependent on where they want to sit inside the Drew Brees Superdome, now with a retractable roof. The cheapest “ticket” for the first outdoor Final Four goes for $14,500. After their football teams played each other in the Rose Bowl, which has returned to the Big Ten (still eighteen) to Pac-12 (now sixteen) format three months prior, Michigan beats USC in one semifinal. Carolina overcomes an 11-point halftime deficit to beat Indiana. In the final, with the Tar Heels down by a basket with just under twenty seconds to go, North Carolina’s star Power Forward double dribbles while heading down the court, but it is missed by the officials. The player then continues down the court, runs past his bench while coach Archie Miller is attempting to call a timeout. In the age where coaches are no longer allowed to call timeouts, the player ignores Miller, forcing up a contested shot, losing the game. “I cost our team the game”, the player announces in the postgame presser with tears streaming down his face.

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