The 10 Most Intriguing ‘What ifs…?’ In College Hoops History

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Throughout March Madness, we have been counting down the greatest What ifs? in college basketball history.

We started with Hank Gathers’ tragic death, worked all the way down to Texas Western’s victory over Kentucky in 1966 at #2, and then discussed what is easily the greatest What if? in college basketball history.

What is #1?  Read on to find out.

What if…


This picture shows legendary UCLA coach John Wooden...who was a snow storm away from creating his dynasty at Minnesota. Seriously. (By Associated Students, University of California, Los Angeles via Wikimedia Commons)

Just remember, these are hypotheticals, so they are supposed to get a little ridiculous.  Since we really have no idea what would have happened, we can only speculate.  We tried to keep things mostly reasonable, but no hypothetical is complete without one far-out idea, right?

Without further ado, here is a quick recap of each What if? as well as a link to the full post where we carried each scenario out to its furthest potential conclusion had reality been altered.

10. What if Hank Gathers hadn’t died in the middle of a game?

First, had Gathers not died, LMU’s season would have obviously ended differently.

LMU had been knocked out of the Dance the year before as a 12-seed but had been gaining credibility as the 1990 season progressed.  They had given UNLV all that they could handle in a breathtaking season-opener.  Kimble and Gathers were both seniors, and Gathers was being projected as a sure-fire lottery pick.

hank gathers

How could basketball history be different if Hank Gathers had not tragically passed away while at LMU?

Let’s say LMU’s season DID end with a trip to the Final Four.  What happens to Paul Westhead?

Remember, Westhead had already won an NBA Championship with the Magic Johnson-led Lakers in 1980.  After being forced out by Mr. Buss, he struggled with the pre-Jordan Bulls before heading to LMU where he had success.

Did his system work?  Could you be successful by playing this new style of basketball?  Was Westhead a good coach?

All signs pointed to yes, so long as he had the right players.

But even further than Paul Westhead, what about the system?

Westhead’s teams famously strove to shoot the ball in the first ten seconds of the shot clock.  His teams also thrived on shooting the three ball.

Does that sound at all similar to another coach who ended up making his bones in the same portion of the country?

As Mike D’Antoni proved, with the right players, “Seven Seconds or Less” can work.  Unfortunately for basketball, especially the NBA, we had to wait ten years to see it.

Click here to read the full article


9. What if Christian Laettner had been suspended for stomping on Aminu Timberlake?

A quick refresher…


First and foremost, Duke would not be Duke.

Let’s say Laettner was ejected, and Duke ended up losing to Kentucky that evening.

What would have happened to Duke over the next few years? Consider the six years that actually followed the 1992 season, with the hypothetical context of Laettner being ejected and Duke losing to Kentucky.

  • 1992 – Duke loses while having the two best players in college basketball on the same team (Laettner and Grant Hill).
  • 1993 – Duke stumbles to 24-8 and loses in the second round of the dance by #6 seed California.
  • 1994 – Duke reaches the finals where Coach K is out-coached by Nolan Richardson and his “40 minutes of Hell.”
  • 1995 – Duke goes 13-18 and misses the tournament when Coach had to miss much of the season.
  • 1996 – Duke goes 18-13 and is bounced in the first round.
  • 1997 – Duke improves, but is once again bounced in the second round by #10 seed Providence.
  • 1998 – Duke gets a one-seed, but is again bounced by #2 Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

When you take time to consider that arch-rival UNC happened to make five Final Fours over the same span, would Coach K have been given the same long leash and benefit of the doubt he received without that second title in 1992?

What would have happened to Kentucky?

It’s clear that the Wildcats, led by Jamal Mashburn, were one of the best teams in the country in 1992.  To say that they would have had a good chance at winning the whole thing would be an understatement of epic proportions.

And if Kentucky won it all in 1992, how does Rick Pitino’s career change?

Click here to read the full article


8. What if Houston hadn’t been upset by NC State?

First, the NCAA Tournament may not have the same feel that it does today.

As I mentioned before, there had been upsets in the tourney but none of this magnitude, and definitely not an upset for the National Championship. When NC State won in 1983, the world was shocked.  All of the sudden, everyone realized that the impossible could happen.

No longer did underdogs go into the tournament fighting for respect.  No longer would they go in just hoping to win one game. Now they could go in with hopes of winning it all.

Second, not only would March Madness be different, so too might our view of Jim Valvano be different.

If you take out the upset victory over Houston, here are Jim Valvano’s final stats at NC State:

  • Ten years, seven tournament appearances, four trips to the Sweet Sixteen or better.
  • Overall record of 208-115; 71-69 in the ACC.
  • Two ACC Championships.
  • No season with fewer than 8 losses.
  • No season under .500.
  • Left NC State in 1990 amidst recruiting controversy.

Wow.  Those are some pretty mediocre numbers, aren’t they?

Jim Valvano

NC State's National Championship solidified Jimmy V's coaching legacy...which needed some solidifying.

The renown and respect Valvano gained from being a championship coach helped him inspire the entire world at the ESPYs and raise millions for Cancer Research.

The crazy thing about the upset over Houston is that I 100% believe it helped Jimmy V to use his fame in order to accomplish something much greater.  Since 1993, the Jimmy V Foundation has raised over $100 million for cancer research.

Think about that number again.  $100,000,000.

Think about the number of lives that have been saved because of the research that has been done.  Think about the number of families that have been impacted.  Think about the number of moments that have been treasured.  All because a guy chose to be unselfish with his last few weeks on earth and share his struggles with the world.

Click here to read the full article


Can you imagine if Pete Maravich played with today’s rules? What if Chris Webber hadn’t called that timeout?

And what if – gasp – Coach K had been fired after three seasons? It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds now.

Continue reading to explore these hypotheticals and more…

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About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.


  1. Don Shebib says:

    I can’t believe someone would have written this article and not come up with, what was hands down the single most important ‘What If” in NCAA history.  A ‘What if’ should not be “What if  Kentucky had beaten Texas Western (I saw that game)  or if NC STate had not beaten Houston, because THEY DID!!!!  

    Now asking what if Hank Gaither had not died, then that is a legitmate what if.  But the biggest WI of all is WI  in the 1970 Final Four, BOB LANIER  had not stepped on a Villanova players foot, then tore up his knee., the game before their first FF game with Jacksonville.  That is a BIG WHAT IF!!!!    Because little old St. BOANVENUTRE  with a 2500 student body, would have stopped UCLA’s run.  They were clearly the class of the final four, but without Lanier in the  opeing game of the FF, they did not have a chance.  .  TEXAS WESTERN and NC STATE DESERVED their wins, UCLA and JACKSONVILLE did not!!!!!  A very sad turn of events.

  2. Coachwoody21 says:

    What if you find another program other than Duke to do your whif if’s about. I’m not a Duke fan but enough is enough. Fins something else to write about.

  3. Karlfmeyer says:

    I watched Pete Maravich destroy my beloved Crimson Tide 3 times when I was a teenager growing up in Tuscaloosa.  Near the end of one game, he stopped at half-court, smiled the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on a basketball court, shut his eyes, turned his head away from the basket and sank an old-fashioned set shot… nothing but net. 

    Without a doubt, he was the most remarkable basketball player I’ve ever seen in person and I’ve seen a few: the great Phil Smith, Bill Cartwright & Quintin Daley teams at USF (my alma mater); and of course, pro icons from the Golden State Warriors and its opponents.

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