[insert dramatic pause]
... if the NCAA Tournament had been played.
Alas, the tournament -- along with all NCAA competition and nearly all of sports across the country -- has been canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. But in a SportsLine simulation of what would have been the bracket, according to our own Bracketology work done in-house by Jerry Palm, the Flyers emerged as the true champions of college basketball.* As the No. 1 seed in the East, they mounted six wins -- including over a fellow No. 1 seed and also the preseason No. 1 Michigan State Spartans -- to do what they'd never done before.
Now here they are, led by Flyers coach Anthony Grant and likely national player of the year Obi Toppin, cutting down the nets in Atlanta.
*Look away, Dayton fans, I know this stings.
What could have been, huh?
Dayton didn’t lose a game in regulation. Damn.— Adi Joseph (@AdiJoseph) March 14, 2020
Here's how simulations played out and led to Dayton's first national championship. (Note: scores are simulated by SportsLine; individual narratives attached to each game are pulled out of thin air by yours truly. Let's have some fun.)
No. 1 Dayton 85, No. 16 Winthrop 70
Dayton shoots a red-hot 64.9% from the field and holds Winthrop to just 48.9% shooting. Questions nonetheless emerge about Dayton -- "Can a No. 1 seed that only beat a No. 16 seed by 15 in the first round REALLY win it all?!" Meanwhile, Dayton's efficient offense propels it to the second round for the first time since 2015.
No. 1 Dayton 79, No. 8 Saint Mary's 72
A second-round rematch from December when Dayton won 78-68 in the Jerry Colangelo Classic in Phoenix. Our sims say the Flyers cool off by shooting only (only!) 63.7% from the field, but win this one in similar fashion as the first matchup despite losing the turnover battle 11 to 10. The great college career of Gaels guard Jordan Ford comes to an end, but the Flyers are off to New York's Madison Square Garden
Sweet 16 (New York)
No. 1 Dayton 75, No. 4 Louisville 73
Louisville wins the battle on the boards and shoots 37.5% from 3-point range, but Dayton makes up for it by shooting 59.0% from the field to win 75-73. An Obi Toppin windmill dunk just before the final buzzer to serve as the dagger? Why yes, that's how I personally choose to envision this one ending.
Elite Eight (New York)
No. 1 Dayton 75, No. 3 Michigan State 74
Another close one. Another Dayton win. The Flyers this time escape with a win over preseason No. 1 Michigan State, shooting 57.3% from the field and 34.8% from downtown. The college careers of Cassius Winston -- and likely Xavier Tillman -- come to an early end. Tom Izzo praises Toppin after the game, calling him "a rocket shot out of a cannon." Being the legend he is, he weeps in his press conference knowing it's the last game he'll ever coach Winston, the soul of this year's Spartans squad. Dayton wins the East Regional and is off to the Final Four.
Final Four (Atlanta)
No. 1 Dayton 78, No. 3 Duke 77
Anthony Grant, in disbelief of beating the Blue Devils in another one-point victory, attempts to shake hands with Coach K. K instead blows past him in the handshake line, making a beeline to Toppin to give him some words of encouragement in front of the cameras. Dayton shoots 59.4% on the night but 71% in the second half -- and quite literally they torch the net. Burn marks and all, he waves the nylon around in joy from atop the ladder as fans around him chant his name.
NCAA Tournament championship (Atlanta)
No. 1 Dayton 79, No. 1 Gonzaga 78
After Dayton's third consecutive one-point win the red and columbia blue confetti is falling from the rafters at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Obi Toppin falls to the floor in joy. In winning Dayton's first NCAA Tournament championship, the Flyers were both lucky and good, and in this case, it certainly paid to be both. The Zags shoot 38.1% from 3-point range in our sims and nearly 54% from the floor, but come just a single point shy of winning the Big Dance in their second title game appearance in four seasons.
It goes down as one of the most brilliant offensive outings ever in a Final Four game, after which Big Ten fans bemoan the style of play and claim defense and controlling the clock -- not offense and up-tempo -- wins championships. (Meanwhile, every other Big Ten team by this point has been eliminated. You hate to see it.)