Frank Stranzl

California Polytechnic State University of San Luis Obispo will win its first ever men’s basketball national championship this year.

Not only that, but Derek Stockalper will be named the tournament’s most valuable player and coach Kevin Bromley will be selected the Associated Press “Coach of the Year.”

Here’s how the next five weeks will play out:

Cal Poly wins its final two regular season games against University of the Pacific and Cal State Northridge. Cal Poly nearly upset the Tigers earlier this season at Mott Gym and absolutely dismantled the Matadors ” this piece of the puzzle is a cakewalk.

Next, the Mustangs will win games against Cal State Fullerton, Pacific and UC Irvine to conquer the Big West tournament and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Now things get tough.

Entering the tournament with a 14-16 record, Cal Poly will undoubtedly receive the slight of the NCAA seeding committee and will face a No. 1 seed in the first round. That means Duke, UConn, Memphis or Villanova will most likely have to face the might of the Mustangs first.

But here’s the “X” factor: Duke has J.J. Redick, UConn is set with Rudy Gay, Memphis has a star in the making with Rodney Carney and Villanova’s Randy Foye is as good as they come (all are projected lottery picks in ESPN.com’s first 2006 NBA mock draft). However, none of these players can stand up to the intensity of the Cal Poly band ” that’s right, the band is the “X” factor.

Clad in gold and green striped jerseys, their instruments will be their defense and their verbal abuse of opposing players will be their offense en route to the greatest upset in NCAA tournament history. Whichever No. 1 seed faces the Mustangs in round one will surely succumb to the verbal assault of these bandies.

Oh, by the way, it would be the first time a No. 16 seed won a game in men’s tournament history. No small task, but perfectly realistic.

After beating up on whichever No. 1 seed is unfortunate enough to draw Cal Poly, the Mustangs will run the table and claim the national championship and finish with a 20-16 record.

Banners will be hung, nets will be clipped and a chunk of March Madness lore will be recorded.

Not convinced? Just wait and watch, Mustang fans.

OK, my prediction is a bit farfetched. But here’s the truth of the matter: Cal Poly has two regular season games left and would wrap up a first round bye in the Big West tournament with one win.

The first round bye leads to the Mustangs needing three wins to become the first men’s basketball team in Cal Poly history to make the NCAA tournament. Although the Mustangs lack the credentials of a true tournament contender, if not for two poor halves of basketball and two last-minute losses, the Mustangs would be 11-1 in Big West play. Cal Poly has been on the cusp of dominance all season, but inexperience and lack of depth has kept the Mustangs from becoming a top dog in the Big West.

Anybody can say, “What if?” though. My point is this: Cal Poly isn’t overmatched by any team in the Big West. Beating Pacific is a daunting task, no doubt, but the Tigers are beatable. If last place UC Riverside can pull off the upset, Cal Poly can too.

The conference tournament is one week away. Every devout Mustang fan should set aside time from studying for finals to drive to the Anaheim Convention Center Arena on March 11 and see Cal Poly play for a tournament bid ” after all, anything can happen in March.

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