NCAA Tournament 2012: The Top 10 Stories

Sean BafaroContributor IIApril 3, 2012

NCAA Tournament 2012: The Top 10 Stories

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    The Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 67-59 in the national championship game Monday night to bring a close to the 2012 edition of the NCAA Tournament.

    The win marked the school's eighth national championship, which ranks second to the UCLA Bruins' 11.

    Like all NCAA Tournaments, the 2012 edition was filled with fantastic matchups, gigantic upsets, dramatic moments, thrilling finishes and marquee moments that fans have come to expect from March Madness. Every year something happens that is simply unfathomable and results in pure jubilation for one team and heartbreak for another.

    All tournaments feature so many compelling stories that it is nearly impossible to narrow it down to just 10.

    Despite that, here is my best effort to bring you what I believe were the top 10 stories of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

10. Gorgui Dieng's Seven Blocks Lead Lousiville Past Michigan State

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    The West Regional semifinals saw Louisville face Michigan State in a battle of two of the best defenses in the nation.

    The game would see Louisville's defensive anchor, Gorgui Dieng, put on a shot-blocking clinic against the No. 1 seed Spartans. Dieng would finish with seven blocks and altered countless other attempts. He was a one-man defensive wrecking crew and single-handedly struck fear into the entire Spartan team.

    With Dieng swatting shots left and right, the Spartans shot a meager 27 percent from the floor and fell to the fourth-seeded Cardinals 57-44.

9. Baylor's Brady Heslip Hits Nine Three-Pointers Against Colorado

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    In a third-round game between the Baylor Bears and the Colorado Buffaloes, Baylor shooting guard Brady Heslip had the the kind of hot shooting streak that we are rarely privileged to see.

    Heslip would make 9-of-12 three-point field goals, becoming the ninth player in NCAA Tournament history to make nine or more three-pointers in a game and the third to convert those nine threes by shooting 75 percent or better.

    Heslip would finish with 27 points as Baylor cruised to an 80-63 victory behind the Burlington, Ontario, native's torrid shooting.

8. Indiana Returns to the National Stage

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    Indiana is one of college basketball's most storied programs, but the Hoosiers had fallen on hard times of late. After former coach Kelvin Sampson was found guilty of multiple violations, new coach Tom Crean entered into a program in shambles. And in his first three seasons as coach, the Hoosiers went 28-56.

    But this season, Indiana, led by Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, finished 27-9 and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. The Hoosiers also managed to pick up their first tournament win since 2007.

    They would make it to the Sweet Sixteen before falling 102-90 to eventual champion Kentucky. Despite the loss, it was a great season for the Hoosiers who returned to the national spotlight after some of the worst seasons in the school's history.

7. March 13th Play-in Comebacks

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    Most people don't pay much attention to the play-in games. After all, they usually feature mediocre teams that have no chance of making any noise when the "real" tournament begins.

    However, those people who tuned in on March 13th were treated to some historic comebacks.

    In the tournament's first game, Western Kentucky found itself trailing Mississippi Valley State by 16 points with 4:51 remaining. The game looked to be over, but Western Kentucky would go on a furious rally and come away with a 59-58 comeback win.

    This was the largest comeback in the final five minutes in NCAA Tournament history.

    In the second game of the night, Brigham Young found itself facing a 25-point deficit against Iona. But BYU would fight back and eventually come away with a 78-72 victory. Like the game before, this would also set a record. This time it was for the largest comeback in NCAA Tournament history.

    Neither team would advance past the second round, but both etched their names in the history books.

6. Ohio Makes Up 25 Percent of Sweet Sixteen

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    The Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Cincinnati Bearcats and Xavier Musketeers were the four teams that represented the state of Ohio in this year's tournament. All four would manage to advance to the round of 16, marking the first time in the tournament's history that four teams from a single state made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

    However, they didn't fare well once they got there. Ohio lost in overtime to North Carolina. Xavier's comeback fell short in a 75-70 loss to Baylor. And Ohio State eliminated Cincinnati in a physical affair, becoming the only Ohio team to advance to the Elite Eight.

    But with its teams making up 25 percent of the Sweet Sixteen, the state of Ohio proved that it is quickly becoming a basketball power.

5. Kendall Marshall's Wrist Injury Kills UNC's Championship Aspirations

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    The North Carolina Tar Heels were considered one of the favorites to reach the Final Four and win it all. They boasted a prolific offense, spearheaded by Cousy Award-winning point guard Kendall Marshall.

    Marshall set a single-season ACC assist record and was UNC's most indispensable player. Not only was he the best playmaker in college basketball, he was the Heels' unquestioned leader.

    When he broke his wrist in UNC's third-round game against Creighton, it crushed the Tar Heels' chances.

    UNC would manage to pick up an overtime win over Ohio in the Sweet Sixteen, despite committing a season-high 24 turnovers and struggling mightily on offense.

    However, the loss of Marshall was too much to overcome in the Elite Eight. UNC would not score a basket in the final 5:46 as Kansas went on 12-0 run to pick up the 80-67 win.

    There will be no redemption for this unit. Tyler Zeller graduated, and Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Marshall all declared for the 2012 NBA Draft, which leaves UNC fans with the lingering question of "what if?''

4. Kansas Jayhawks: Comeback Kids

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    Kansas had a flair for the dramatic. Normally a powerhouse team that dictates the outcome of games, the Jayhawks found themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum this year.

    In their third-round game against Purdue,  the Jayhawks found themselves trailing by as many as 11 points. But they managed to fight back and pick up a 63-60 win, despite trailing until the final minute.  Luckily for them, that minute was all that they needed.

    In its Sweet Sixteen matchup with the North Carolina State, Kansas would end up facing another double-digit deficit. This time, it was Jeff Withey's defensive dominance that would prove to be the difference. He blocked 10 shots to help Kansas overcome its abysmal offensive effort and pick up yet another three-point comeback win.

    Against Ohio State in the Final Four, Kansas once again found itself in a large hole. The Jayhawks scored the game's first basket, but would not see a lead again until the game had just 2:48 remaining.

    OSU led by as many as 13 points. Kansas led only a grand total of 3:48. Yet, once again, the Jayhawks would squeak out a 64-62 comeback win.

    Unfortunately for Kansas, its  magic ran out when it was unable to complete a fourth double-digit comeback in the finals against Kentucky.

3. Block Party: Jeff Withey and Anthony Davis Set Records

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    Kansas' Jeff Withey was a one-man wrecking crew in the paint. He had 10 blocks against N.C. State in the Sweet Sixteen, one shy of the record for most blocks in an NCAA Tournament game. He also had seven blocks against Ohio State in the Final Four and five against Detroit in the second round.

    Withey would finish the tournament with 31 blocks, an NCAA Tournament record.

    Kentucky's Anthony Davis was also establishing records with his shot-blocking prowess. He set a single-season record for most blocks by a freshman with 183. He would block seven shots against Western Kentucky in the opening round, six against both Baylor in the Elite Eight and Kansas in the Finals, and five against Louisville in the Final Four.

    He would block 29 shots, which tied him with former Florida Gator Joakim Noah for the second-most blocks in tournament history.

    Add in the shot-blocking abilities of guys like Louisville's Gorgui Dieng and UNC's John Henson, and we fans were treated to a block party seemingly every night of this tournament.

2. No. 15 Seeds Lehigh and Norfolk State Pull Engineer Shocking Upsets

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    Very rarely do we see a No. 15 seed pick up a win in the second round of the tournament. Before this year, it had happened only four times.

    What was unheard of? Two No. 15 seeds upsetting two No. 2 seeds in the second round. That is exactly what happened this season when Norfolk State beat Missouri 86-84 and Lehigh beat Duke 75-70.

    While both upsets were complete shocks, the Missouri loss was especially surprising. The Tigers were considered by many to be a Final Four team. Many fans and experts had them going to the Final Four. So when they were knocked out in the second round, it sent a shock wave through a vast majority of brackets.

    Later that day, when Lehigh beat Duke, the sound of brackets being ripped apart and thrown in the trash could be heard around the world.

    While neither Norfolk State nor Lehigh was able to pick up another victory (both lost by double-digits in their third-round games), they will be forever etched in history due to their remarkable upsets.

1. Anthony Davis' Great Season

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    Anthony Davis established himself as a force the minute he stepped on the floor for Kentucky. In his first game, he scored 23 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked five shots in just 23 minutes. After seeing that performance, everybody knew he was going to be an impactful player.

    What they didn't know was that they were about to witness one of the greatest individual seasons in college basketball history.

    I could go on and on about just how great Davis is, but all of his awards speak for themselves. Davis won the following awards:

    • Sporting News Player of the Year
    • CBSSports Player of the Year
    • AP Player of the Year
    • Naismith Player of the Year
    • Freshman of the Year
    • Defensive Player of the Year
    • 2012 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player
    • 2012 NCAA All-Tournament Team
    • Adolf Rupp Trophy winner
    • First Team All-American
    • Pete Newell Big-Man Award
    • SEC Player of the Year
    • SEC Freshman of the Year
    • SEC Defensive Player of the Year
    • First Team All-SEC

    That is all that needs to be said about this young man. You can also add another accomplishment to that list in June when he becomes the first overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.