This was going to be the March Madness when your 5-year-old won the bracket picking teams based on his or her favorite colors.
Or the time, after all these years, when you finally won your office pool and bragging rights for another 365 days at the water cooler.
Or even the time when your school — yes, your school — survived and advanced on a buzzer-beating shot.
Good news: Nobody has to worry about lighting their brackets on fire this year. We can all be perfect.
Hard to believe, though, we’re going to miss bingeing on hours of college hoops coverage from the opening round through “One Shining Moment.” Hard to believe how different it will be on Thursday alone.
Safety came first in canceling the NCAA tournament over coronavirus concerns. Still, we can imagine how much fun this year’s Big Dance could’ve been.
Rock Chalk Jayhawk. That’s the tune the majority of fans would’ve been singing about their brackets all the way to watching Kansas cut down the nets in Atlanta.
How often does the favorite go all the way? Last year’s three teams with the best odds to win the national championship were Duke, Gonzaga and North Carolina. None made the Final Four in Minneapolis.
The next team up on that list did reach U.S. Bank Stadium, though. Virginia coach Tony Bennett hoisting the trophy with Luther Vandross’ vocals blaring on the jumbo screen above will be a lasting memory.
This season, Michigan State went from preseason No. 1 to out of the Top 25 before gaining traction again. The Spartans looked like a possible Final Four team.
The Big Ten was set to get 10 teams into the NCAA tournament, another record. But the Spartans were the only one worthy of an Elite Eight pick on my bracket. Sorry, Mark Turgeon.
Four missed sightings
• Kansas vs. Wisconsin — They’ve surprisingly never met in NCAA tournament play. Let’s fix that. How about the No. 1 ranked team in the final polls vs. the Big Ten tournament’s No. 1 seed, which won the simulated 2020 national crown based on ESPN’s Basketball Power Index.
• Dayton vs. blue bloods — Dayton finished with the No. 3 ranking and national coach of the year Anthony Grant. The Flyers didn’t get to beat a blue-blood program. The closest came when they crushed Virginia Tech 89-62 and lost to Kansas 90-84 in overtime in the Maul Invitational. The Hokies upset then-No. 3 Michigan State 71-66. Well, what if Izzo and Grant faced off in the Elite Eight?
• Minnesotans keep dancing — Colorado’s McKinley Wright (Champlin Park) and Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji (Hopkins) would have made sure those two Pac-12 teams avoided early exits. Utah State coach Craig Smith (Stephen, Minn.) lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year. But his senior guard, Sam Merrill, is just the type of sharpshooter that could have fans posting flaming GIFs and emojis all the way to the Sweet 16.
• Top coaches vs. their old teams — The selection committee never sets up story lines like these. Wink, wink. Houston coach Kelvin Sampson against Indiana, where he was fired earlier in his career for sending too many text messages to recruits (something that’s now allowed). Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger against Florida, the team he took to its first Final Four. West Virginia’s Bob Huggins against Cincinnati, a program he coached in the Final Four as well.
Five players we’ll miss watching
• Obi Toppin, Dayton — The closest thing college hoops had this season to a walking YouTube-highlight athlete such as Zion Williamson. Who else would do a between-the-legs dunk during a game?
• Payton Pritchard, Oregon — How cool was the 73-72 overtime victory vs. Arizona last month, when he put up 38 points and six three-pointers?
• Yoeli Childs, BYU — Scored 28 points in a 91-78 upset over then-No. 2 Gonzaga, but the senior big man likely had more dominant performances to come for the Cougars in the tournament.
• Freddie Gillespie, Baylor — The former East Ridge big man’s story has movie potential. He’s gone from unrecruited Minnesota prep to Division III reserve at Carleton to starter on the one-time No. 1 team in Division I hoops. Sad to see his unlikely journey end prematurely.
• Tre Jones, Duke — Team of destiny like his brother and fellow Apple Valley product Tyus’ 2014 NCAA title squad? That nail-biting 98-96 overtime victory against North Carolina — Jones had 28 points and six assists — certainly made the Blue Devils look that way at times.
• Lamar Stevens, Penn State — Nittany Lions star returned to school to help get coach Pat Chambers to his first NCAA tournament and the program’s first since 2011. He also came seven points short of the school’s career scoring record.
• Rutgers and Hofstra — The two longest NCAA tournament droughts in the projected field were supposed to end with the Scarlet Knights (1991) and the Pride (2001). What if they can’t get back there next year?
• Markus Howard, Marquette — The Big East’s career leading scorer probably had a couple 40-point games in him for the NCAAs, making us flash back to Steph Curry’s magical performances at Davidson.
• Myles Powell, Seton Hall — All-America who returned for his senior year and overcame early injuries trying to lead his program to a Final Four. He could have started his tournament run in Albany, N.Y., a few hours from where he grew up in Trenton, New Jersey.
• Brian Dutcher, San Diego State — Dutcher, the son of former Gophers coach Jim Dutcher, waited decades to be a head coach and he might never have a team this talented again. The Aztecs started the season with a 26-game winning streak.
Woulda been a peach
Baylor clobbered Kansas on the road in January. Kansas got revenge over a month later at Baylor to help secure an outright Big 12 regular-season title and No. 1 overall NCAA seed. Why not have a rematch in the Final Four?
Two former No. 1 teams also have a showdown in the other national semifinal, with Gonzaga’s depth being too much for Izzo’s tandem of Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman. In the end, the Jayhawks’ All-America tandem of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike lead Self to his second national title and first since 2008. Self celebrates with Snoop Dogg at the victory parade back in Lawrence, Kan.
Already looking forward to 2021
• Bears and Zags here to stay — Gonzaga coach Mark Few can start thinking about next season, when his top-10 recruiting class includes five-star Minnehaha Academy guard Jalen Suggs and two four-star prospects. Baylor coach Scott Drew loses Gillespie, but he could return four starters from a Final Four-caliber team.
• Duke/Kentucky and NBA draft — How hard will the Blue Devils and Wildcats be hit by the 2020 NBA draft? They always find ways to reload but could be even more stacked if All-Americas return such as Duke’s Jones and Vernon Carey Jr. and Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley.
• Looming NCAA infractions cases — How long would Kansas get to celebrate if it won a title with Self’s program already hit with major violations charges? The Jayhawks are fighting the NCAA, but which schools are next to be in the line of fire?
We’re looking forward to a chance to find out.