By David Schoenfield
Page 2

In an alternate universe, Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon returned to Connecticut for their senior years.

In an alternate universe, Carmelo Anthony is a junior All-American at Syracuse.

In an alternate universe, Amare Stoudemire and Dajuan Wagner are a lethal one-two scoring punch for Memphis.

In an alternate universe, Luol Deng is still at Duke and he's been joined by freshmen Dwight Howard and Shaun Livingston.

In an alternate universe, the NBA has an age restriction and all high school phenoms go to college – and stay for four years.

In an alternate universe, this is what happens ...

No. 1 seed Syracuse vs. No. 5 seed Akron
Syracuse lineup: Josh Pace (Sr.), Gerry McNamara (Jr.), Carmelo Anthony (Jr.), Hakim Warrick (Sr.), Craig Forth (Sr.)

Akron lineup: LeBron James (So.) and four other guys

LeBron's college eligibility was in question following his Hummer incident in high school, which scared off all the big schools. But he enrolled at hometown Akron and led the Zips to an undefeated season. Angry at getting a No. 5 seed, the Zips take it out on the Orange with a 76-71 upset, as LeBron scores 36 points, just below his season average, and holds Anthony to just 12.

No. 2 seed Illinois vs. No. 3 seed Arizona
Illinois lineup: Deron Williams (Jr.), Dee Brown (Jr.), Luther Head (Sr.), Roger Powell (Sr.), James Augustine (Jr.)

Arizona lineup: Salim Stoudamire (Sr.), Hassan Adams (Jr.), Andre Iguodala (Jr.), Ndudi Ebi (So.), Channing Frye (Sr.)

Despite playing before a raucous home crowd in Chicago, the Illini fall behind by 15 points with four minutes left. However, Arizona coach Lute Olson keeps a fatigued Salim Stoudamire on Deron Williams, who suddenly nails three 3-pointers as the Illini miraculously send the game into OT. With Illinois clinging to a 90-89 lead, Arizona gets the last possession. The Wildcats clear it out for Hassan Adams, but he can't find his way to the hoop, and throws up a desperation shot ... which is grabbed out of the air by a skywalking Andre Iguodala, who slams it home at the buzzer for the game-winner.

No. 1 seed Connecticut vs. No. 4 seed UCLA
UConn lineup: Ben Gordon (Sr.), Marcus Williams (So.), Charlie Villanueva (So.), Josh Boone (So.), Emeka Okafor (Sr.)

UCLA lineup: Jordan Farmar (Fr.), Arron Afflalo (Fr.), Trevor Ariza (So.), Dijon Thompson (Sr.), Tyson Chandler (Sr.)

Billed as a battle of UConn's big frontcourt vs. UCLA's 7-1 senior star Tyson Chandler, who led the Pac-10 in scoring, Ben Gordon steals the show, schooling the young UCLA backcourt for 32 points as UConn rolls 83-70.

No. 2 seed Georgia Tech vs. No. 3 seed DePaul
Georgia Tech lineup: Will Bynum (Sr.), BJ Elder (Sr.), Jarrett Jack (Jr.), Chris Bosh (Jr.), Luke Schenscher (So.)

DePaul lineup: Sammy Mejia (So.), Drake Diener (Sr.), Dorell Wright (Fr.), Quemont Greer (Sr.), Eddy Curry (Sr.)

DePaul's senior man-child, Eddy Curry, was unstoppable during the season, recording eight 20-20 games, and he and Tech's big guy, Chris Bosh, go at it in a memorable one-on-one scoring duel. Bosh is quicker and finishes with 41, while Curry bulls his way to 36. But it's not enough and when Curry fouls out, Tech's guard play proves the difference in an 83-79 victory.

No. 1 seed North Carolina vs. No. 4 seed Wisconsin
North Carolina lineup: Raymond Felton (Jr.), Rashad McCants (Jr.), J.R. Smith (Fr.), Jawad Williams (Sr.), Sean May (Jr.)

Wisconsin lineup: Devin Harris (Sr.), Sharif Chambliss (Sr.), Zach Morley (Sr.), Alando Tucker (So.), Mike Wilkinson (Sr.)

The Tar Heels lost only three games all year – all to the mighty, undefeated Duke Blue Devils – and enter as 14-point favorites over the Badgers. Wisconsin slows the game down and neither team gets into an offensive rhythm, as it's tied 16-16 at halftime. Carolina scoots out to a second-half lead, but after Raymond Felton fouls out, Devin Harris starts heating up and the Badgers take a 39-38 lead. Sean May's last-second shot rims out and the Badgers head to the Elite Eight. After the game, Roy Williams resigns to take over the head coaching job at T.C. Robertson High School in Asheville, N.C., saying, "I've always wanted to coach at the school I graduated from."

No. 2 seed Memphis vs. No. 3 seed Mississippi State
Memphis lineup: Darius Washington (Fr.), Dajuan Wagner (Sr.), Rodney Carney (Jr.), Kendrick Perkins (So.), Amare Stoudemire (Jr.)

Mississippi State lineup: Gary Ervin (So.), Winsome Frazier (Sr.), Travis Outlaw (So.), Lawrence Roberts (Sr.), James Long (So.)

Led by Dajuan Wagner and Amare Stoudemire, who each averaged over 30 points per game, the high-flying Tigers led the nation in scoring. This game brings back memories of the infamous Houston-Louisville game from the 1983 Final Four, with huge dunks all over the place. Stoudemire goes for 47, including an alley-oop slam at the buzzer, his 15th dunk of the night, as Memphis advances 105-103.

No. 1 seed Duke vs. No. 5 seed Michigan State
Duke lineup: Shaun Livingston (Fr.), J.J. Redick (Jr.), Luol Deng (So.), Shelden Williams (Jr.), Dwight Howard (Fr.)

Michigan State lineup: Maurice Ager (Jr.), Chris Hill (Sr.), Shannon Brown (So.), Alan Anderson (Sr.), Paul Davis (Jr.)

Many college hoops experts are calling this Duke squad one of the greatest of all time, after the Blue Devils completed a perfect regular season and routed Carolina by 17 in the ACC Tournament title game. With Shaun Livingston running the point, J.J. Redick nailing long-range 3's, Shelden Williams and Dwight Howard dominating the paint and Luol Deng running the wing, the Devils rout the Spartans, 104-67. Duke is so dominant that Coach K leaves during halftime to film a Burger King commercial with Hootie and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.

No. 2 seed Louisville vs. No. 3 seed Texas
Louisville lineup: Sebastian Telfair (Fr.), Taquan Dean (Jr.), Francisco Garcia (Jr.), Ellis Myles (Sr.), Juan Palacios (Fr.)

Texas lineup: T.J. Ford (Sr.), Daniel Gibson (Fr.), P.J. Tucker (So.), Brad Buckman (Jr.), Jason Klotz (Sr.)

Before the game, Texas senior guard T.J. Ford claims he's "quicker and faster" than his freshman counterpart Sebastian Telfair, who laughs and says, "I play against quicker guys than Ford every day back at Coney Island." Ford schools the rookie for 27 points and 13 assists while Louisville hoists 52 3-pointers. The Longhorns hold on, 93-91, when Rick Pitino calls for the Cardinals to dump it inside on the final play and the Cardinals fail to get a shot off. "That play always worked when I was with the Celtics," Pitino claims afterwards.

No. 5 seed Akron vs. No. 3 seed Arizona
The magical Akron ride continues to the Final Four as Arizona plays another OT thriller, but comes up on the short end this time. Lute Olson keeps the smaller Salim Stoudamire on LeBron the entire game and LeBron goes for 49 points and 16 rebounds. After LeBron drives the lane for a 85-84 lead, Arizona has a final possession and the Wildcats clear out for Adams, even though Channing Frye has dominated the paint all game. Adams seems surprised when LeBron shifts to him and can do nothing but throw up a desperation shot that falls short.

No. 1 seed Connecticut vs. No. 2 seed Georgia Tech
Okafor and Bosh duel in the paint to 29 points apiece, but the Huskies advance to the Final Four as Gordon drains seven 3-pointers, including two in the final minute as UConn survives 76-73. After the game, Jim Calhoun says his team was motivated after seeing the UConn women lose in their tournament. "We really wanted to stick it to Geno and rub it in his face by making the Final Four while his team choked."

No. 4 seed Wisconsin vs. No. 2 seed Memphis
Amare Stoudemire is unstoppable inside, going for 35 points and seven dunks. Dajuan Wagner is unstoppable on the break, scoring 26. Kendrick Perkins clogs up the middle on D. The Tigers cruise, 86-61, despite the Badgers' attempts to slow the game down. columnist Pat Forde writes, "Good thing Wisconsin lost. That would have been the worst thing for college basketball since they outlawed the dunk."

No. 1 seed Duke vs. No. 3 seed Texas
Coach K misses the game while filming another commercial (something about how "a coach is like a McGriddle," but he's not needed as the Devils roll, 98-75. Redick scores 30 points on 10 3-pointers while Howard scores 22 and grabs 19 boards.

No. 5 seed Akron vs. No. 1 seed Connecticut
The underdog Zips are the fan favorite, but UConn jumps to a 16-point halftime lead. But when Okafor picks up his fourth foul early in the second half, Calhoun sits him and Akron slowly claws back, behind LeBron, of course. By the time Okafor re-enters with four minutes left, Akron leads 76-68. The Zips hit their free throws, LeBron finishes with 52 points and Akron wins 86-83 when Gordon's 3-pointer falls short at the buzzer.

No. 2 seed Memphis vs. No. 1 seed Duke
In a battle of big men, Stoudemire goes for 43 points and 24 rebounds, while Howard scores 26 points and grabs 25 boards. Wagner drains eight 3-pointers, but Redick matches him. Luol Deng is the one guy Memphis can't match as he goes 12 for 12 from the floor, including a 15-footer at the buzzer as Duke wins 114-112. Coach K thanks Deng for his "senior leadership" after the game. When reminded that Deng is just a sophomore, Coach K admits, "Maybe I need to spend more time with the team."

No. 5 seed Akron vs. No. 1 seed Duke
The country hasn't been this hyped for a title game since Larry Bird's Indiana State squad met Magic Johnson's Michigan State team in 1979. Both teams are undefeated. Duke is being billed as the greatest team of all time, while LeBron is drawing comparisons to Bird himself. The game doesn't disappoint. LeBron throws down four monster jams in the opening three minutes. Freshmen sensations Livingston and Howard match that with four alley-oop jams of their own. LeBron nails four 3-pointers early in the second half. Redick matches that with four of his own.

The game goes back and forth, with neither team leading by more than four points. Deng hits a running jumper in the key with 14 seconds left to give Duke a 93-92 lead. Akron inbounds the ball to LeBron. The Zips clear out. Livingston and Deng double-team the sophomore. He spins away at the top of the key as the clock winds down. Howard and Shelden Williams converge, LeBron takes off from just inside the free-throw line, Howard goes up for the block ... and LeBron dishes an amazing behind-the-back pass to his old high school teammate, Romeo Travis, who lays it in at the buzzer. Akron wins! Mighty Duke goes down! LeBron finishes with 61 points. Dick Vitale calls it the greatest individual performance of all time.

Yes, it was quite a tournament in the alternate universe. But you know what? The NBA can have LeBron and Amare and all the rest. I'll take the real universe. Because it's been something to watch.

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