The NCAA basketball tournament was canceled last week in an effort to stem the flow of coronavirus, but college hoops fans need not despair.
No, the games will not be played, nets will not be cut down, and everyone’s favorite annual sports montage — set to the iconic “One Shining Moment” theme of March Madness — will not air. But diehard fans still have a chance to see how things might have gone.
Moderators for the Reddit community r/collegebasketball — teamed with the bracket predictor website Bracket Matrix — will be running a simulation of an entire 64-team tournament on the NCAA basketball video game College Hoops 2K8.
The games will be livestreamed on YouTube, and can be followed at the YouTube channel CollegeBasketball.
The tournament kicked off on Thursday, and the first few days of the event have already yielded plenty of upsets and tight finishes. It’s not quite like the real thing, but the electronic madness at least provides some slight relief to the sadness college basketball fans have been feeling while wallowing in hoopsless quarantine.
Here are some of the highlights of the first two days of the virtual tournament:
MARKUS HOWARD GOES OFF AGAINST ARIZONA
No. 7-seeded Arizona was supposed to be the better team in Friday’s game against No. 10 seed Marquette, but the Golden Eagles senior Markus Howard was far and away the best player on the court.
Howard poured in a tournament high (to this point) 37 points, connecting on 6 of 7 attempts from 3-point range. Less than a week after the real life version of Howard was named as a first team All-American, the virtual version proved just how justified that honor was.
TRENT FRAZIER POWERS ILLINOIS PAST UTAH STATE
The No. 7-seeded Fighting Illini looked ready to roll through the No. 10 seed Utah state early, jumping out to a 16-point lead at halftime.
But the Aggies fought back, getting 27 points from Utah State senior Sam Merrill to tie things up with less than a minute left to play. Despite the complete loss of momentum, Illinois’ Trent Frazier connected on back-to-back 3s — one from the corner and a second from the top of the key with 15 seconds left to go — to lead the Illini into the second round.
EASTERN WASHINGTON UPSETS SAN DIEGO STATE
San Diego State came into the tournament with big expectations following a 30-2 finish in the regular season from the real life Aztecs, but the virtual version of the team did not live up to the bill, falling in the first round as a No. 2 seed to the No. 15-seeded Eagles.
San Diego State led big early, and carried a 6-point advantage into halftime, but Eastern Washington jumped all over the Aztecs in the second half. Eagles freshman Casson Rouse scored 18 points — going 7 for 10 from the field and 4 for 5 from 3 — to lead Eastern Washington to the biggest upset of the tournament so far.