The Morning After Recap: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 18: Cashmere Wright #1 of the Cincinnati Bearcats is congratulated by the Bearcats mascot after defeating the Florida State Seminoles during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

... the safe, smart AM read for college basketball fans

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Just when we think we've seen it all, a day like Friday happens to remind us just how amazing the college basketball postseason actually is. The improbable ascensions of 15-seeds Norfolk State and Lehigh into the history books offered up one of the craziest four-hour spans in tournament history, and proved again that literally anything is possible in a 40-minute game on a neutral court.

So even as reality set in on Sunday and the two Cinderellas were each bounced from the field by higher-profile schools, the memories this unlikely duo gave us will truly last a lifetime. So often there comes a point in most David vs. Goliath matchups when the inevitable feels like it will take over and the underdog will be swallowed up by its more talented competitor. But with Norfolk and Lehigh, that just didn't end up happening.

The resolve and unwavering confidence shown by these two mid-major schools really cannot be overstated, and considering the circumstances, this is something that might be just as impressive as the wins themselves. Playing against a unanimous top ten team with aspirations for a title on the biggest stage in the sport has a way of rattling even the most seasoned of college-aged kid. And yet the players from Norfolk and Lehigh stepped on the court with an immediate swagger that said, "we belong here, and we aren't planning going home right away," and it flat-out showed in their play.

Bracket-crumbling upsets don't materialize without the underdog having an overwhelming amount of confidence that it can get the job done. The Mountain Hawks and Spartans each slayed their respective dragons because they believed they could, not because of some fluke or miracle shot. And regardless whether some blueprint for future No. 15 and No. 16 seeds has been revealed here, hats off to both Lehigh and Norfolk State for capping off their seasons in grand style.

Who Won It Best

Syracuse - Anybody out there starting to feel a little foolish for writing Jim Boeheim off so soon? Or is the punishing blow of not having Melo going to strengthen exponentially as 'Cuse continues its quest? Plenty of questions about this team remain, to be sure, but the results are pretty tough to argue with.

North Carolina State - The second-lowest seed still alive, Mark Gottfried might deserve a 200-foot statue on NCSU's campus if he can pull off a Sweet 16 win over Kansas. Beating an elite defensive squad like the Hoyas speaks volumes for how much North Carolina State has improved over the last month.

Ohio - MAC-tastic! The Bobcats are headed to their first Sweet 16 since way back in 1964, and represent one of the coolest stories of the season. Seriously people, how can you not root for D.J. Cooper in a mankini?

Who Lost it Worst

Purdue - Matt Painter's crew gave No. 2 Kansas a smack in the face early, and a serious battle throughout, but poor execution late, notably THIS, ended Robbie Hummel's brilliant career on a sour note.

Florida State - It was a sloppy game on both sides, but the Seminoles saw their bench turn in a brutal 1-for-13 shooting performance in a season-ending loss to Mick Cronin's Cincinnati Bearcats on Sunday night. Despite the loss, head coach Leonard Hamilton took his program to new heights in 2011-12, and deserves a great deal of praise.

Vanderbilt - A benchmark of respectability remains elusive for Kevin Stallings and company, and failing to reach the Sweet 16 with this type of talent should be viewed as a colossal failure for his program. And since Jeffrey Taylor, Lance Goulbourne, Brad Tinsley, Festus Ezeli, and Steve Tchiengang are all seniors, combined with the fact that junior John Jenkins is likely to declare for the NBA, it's back to the drawing board for Stallings.

MVP

Aaron Craft-Ohio State - The talented defensive stopper never left the floor in No. 2 OSU's third round win over Gonzaga, and racked up 17 points, three rebounds, and three steals in addition to a season-high 10 assists.

By The Numbers

13 - Games won by higher seeds (i.e. favorites) this weekend

26.9% - Difference between Norfolk State's field goal percentage against opening round opponent Missouri (54.2%) and third round foe Florida (27.3%)

11 - Offensive rebounds grabbed by Kansas State seven-footer Jordan Henriquez against Syracuse on Saturday

22 - Points Purdue senior Robbie Hummel poured on Kansas in the first half of his career finale

25.9 - Average KenPom Def. Efficiency ranking of the 16 teams that advanced this weekend

51.5 - Average KenPom Def. Efficiency ranking of the 16 teams eliminated this weekend

This Really Happened

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Lurking behind Chris Mack and Brett Reed's end of game handshake, was this nightmare-inducing sequence (SB Nation)



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