It’s no secret that every year during March Madness, there is a lot on the line.
There are 68 teams thrown into a single-elimination tournament that will ultimately decide a national title. Dramatic moments and pressure-filled situations are prevalent. Some teams rise to meet the moment while others falter. It is what makes it so much fun to watch as a fan, but also what makes it gut-wrenching for those involved.
A national title is not the only thing that this tournament decides. There are NBA draft stakes for players, and for some coaches, their jobs are even on the line.
Here is a look at which player, coach and program has the most to lose heading into March Madness.
Player: Ben McLemore, Kansas
Ben McLemore is at or near the top of every NBA draft board. Chad Ford at ESPN.com has McLemore ranked No. 1 on his list of prospects for this year’s draft, as does Chris Mannix at SI.com. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com has McLemore going second in his mock draft behind Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel.
McLemore has burst onto the scene this year, averaging 16.4 points per game while shooting 50.7 percent from the field. He is an elite athlete who is fantastic in transition, and McLemore does not force the issue.
However, he has had a tendency to disappear in games. McLemore scored seven points in each of the Jayhawks’ overtime wins over Oklahoma State (in double overtime) and Iowa State. He had just five points in the Big 12 title game against Kansas State. The good news is Kansas won all those games.
Still, despite these inconsistent performances, McLemore has remained at the top of these draft boards. Would that still be the case if he no-shows in an NCAA tournament game, resulting in an early exit for Kansas?
Coach: Ben Howland, UCLA
Ben Howland’s future at UCLA seems up in the air. If it were up to Bill Walton, the Bruins would be looking for a new coach after the season. How UCLA performs in the NCAA tournament could go a long way in deciding if Howland will be back in Westwood next year.
There are a few things working against the Bruins. Jordan Adams, the team’s second-leading scorer, broke his foot in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament against Arizona, and he is out for the year.
UCLA also drew a tricky round of 64 matchup against Minnesota. The Gophers have lost 11 of their last 16 games, but they have wins over Memphis, Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana this year.
Howland brought in a monster freshman class this season, and if he only has a brief NCAA tournament appearance to show for it, that could mean the end of his tenure at UCLA.
Gonzaga has been in the NCAA tournament every season since 1999. However, the Zags have not had the same success in March as they did when they first burst onto the college basketball scene.
They made the Elite Eight in 1999 and the Sweet 16 in 2000-01. Since then, Gonzaga has not made it to another Elite Eight, and it has made just two Sweet 16 appearances.
Now, Gonzaga has its first No. 1 seed in program history, and the Bulldogs have, arguably, the easiest path to a Final Four of any top seed. They have talent inside in Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris that few teams in college basketball can match.
If Mark Few and his program do not make it to their first Final Four this year, it will feel like a big missed opportunity, and at that point, one couldn’t help but to wonder if the Zags will ever get there.