INDIANAPOLIS -- West Virginia's locker room had been filled for the past month with people asking the players questions. It was different Saturday night, beyond the way despair had replaced delight, and the Mountaineers were the ones left wondering.
What if they had played better defense? What if they had made more shots? What if a few players had done a few more things?
Quite clearly in the minds of the Mountaineers, it would have been their team and not Duke's playing here Monday night for the national championship.
But what if WVU was to play the school's biggest game in 51 years amid the tragedy that occurred in that Raleigh County coal mine earlier in the day?
The story at the Final Four to crown the 72nd national champion was of Duke's Goliath against Butler's David, of prestige versus underdog, of the ghosts of Villanova in 1985 and North Carolina State in 1983 rising to spook the Blue Devils back to Tobacco Road.
In reality, Butler was wonderfully worthy, but Duke was just good enough and won its fourth national title, all since 1991, with a 61-59 victory.
What if it was different and WVU was on the other side of Butler? The Bulldogs would have had their crowd, what with the campus six miles down the road and a slice of the college basketball fan base that loves the mid-major and what it does for March Madness.
WVU, though, would have had its entire state, and while that would have been plenty inspiring, it would have had America, too.
For the previous 11 games, dating back to the Feb. 22 loss at Connecticut after which Coach Bob Huggins challenged his players to be special and do something special for the state, the Mountaineers had been everything to almost everyone in the state. The exception, Huggins said late last month, was "that little pocket over there by Ashland."
Whoever was covering this tournament, be it the cub reporter at the newspaper on the opponent's campus or the national name who found the story to be too much to resist, was asking about what the championship would mean to the state.
In one reply, Huggins would talk about boarding a bus with the trophy and touring the state "just so people could see it and touch it and share it." In another, he was telling an eerie story about how Gov. Joe Manchin pulled him aside before the Sweet Sixteen game against Washington to share a secret about the game.
"They piped in to all the factories and all the mines and everything the play-by-play because otherwise guys were trying to get off their shift because they wanted to watch the game," Huggins said. "So they piped it in. It's piped in everywhere in the state of West Virginia. Everybody in West Virginia is listening to the game or watching the game. That's how much it means to our state."