Though most of us already assume basketball to be fundamentally awesome, it's always nice to have some confirmation.
The 2012-13 NCAA tournament Round of 32 was just such a reminder.
Giants fell, heroes rose and madness unfolded according to its reliably unreliable whims. Good gracious was it fun to watch.
Ahead we'll whipsaw you through all the weekend's happenings, keeping an eye out for those who over- and underwhelmed on college basketball's biggest stage.
Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.
Everywhere you looked this weekend, mid-major darlings were going belly up: Butler, Gonzaga, Temple, Colorado State, Saint Louis and, of course, VCU.
Sweet, sweet VCU—everyone's favorite Lil' Engine that Could, the happy assassins who were supposed to run circles 'round the big guys with their mutant brand of bracket-busting basketball.
And then Michigan happened.
The Wolverines shoulder-brushed VCU's press packages and proceeded to pound Shaka Smart's Rams from every angle. Freshman forward Mitch McGary scored 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting. Tim Hardaway Jr. stroked 3-of-5 from beyond. And despite Trey Burke's occasional struggles, Michigan committed just 12 turnovers.
It was a striking tableau, watching a legit excellent mid-major program get handled by the Big Ten's fifth-place team. So much for parity.
This year's Sweet Sixteen will have just three teams from outside the Power Six, two of which (Wichita State and Florida Gulf Coast) beat other mid-major teams in the Round of 32.
Memphis' blowout loss to Michigan State was yet another low point for Conference USA, the one league that seems to have fallen furthest over the past decade (and yes, that includes Ye Olde Big East).
Just nine years ago, C-USA was a six-bid league that featured the likes of Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, DePaul and Memphis.
These days the Tigers are the only notable basketball program still in the fold, and even they seem to think that the Old Big East provides a better way forward than C-USA.
Most embarrassing of all is the fact that Memphis went 16-0 in league play this year, won the conference tournament and then looked thoroughly over-matched against the first Power Six team it saw.
I would imagine there's been less talented conference champions in C-USA history, but I'm not sure there's been one that was simultaneously so bad and so dominant within the league.
I'm not sure there's a penetrating explanation for Wichita State's win over top-seeded Gonzaga other than "they went freaking nuts from three."
The Shockers hit 14-of-28 from beyond, including five straight to end the game. The valedictory dagger came from reserve guard Fred Van Vleet, a freshman from Rockford, Illinois who had hit just 16 three-point shots in his collegiate career prior to Saturday night.
It was that kind of magical evening for Wichita State, a team that ranks just 174th in three-point shooting percentage
The story of Wesley Saunders is the story of Harvard basketball over the past four days.
On Thursday, Saunders shot 5-of-8, scored 18 points and generally ran amok during the Crimson's upset win over third-seed New Mexico.
Two days later, Saunders went a miserable 1-of-11 in Harvard's blowout loss to Arizona.
The upset fairy giveth, and the upset fairy taketh away.
It'd be foolish to blame Saunders for the loss, or even really to disparage Harvard for its efforts against the Wildcats. Tommy Amaker's team simply didn't have the horses to keep pace against an athletic Arizona team, and it showed early.
Nevertheless, it was a memorable tournament for a program on the rise, one that should continue to make March headlines as long as Amaker helms the ship.
Louisville is so silly with athletes you can lose track of a guy like Montrezl Harrell.
And in case you did, here's a primer courtesy of legendary CBS color commentator Bill Raftery:
"The 'l' is silent, but he's not."
Indeed Harrell made noise aplenty in the Cardinals' 82-56 win over Colorado State, scoring 11 points and grabbing three offensive rebounds in just 20 minutes of run.
Together with Luke Hancock and Kevin Ware, Harrell forms the backbone of a Louisville bench that ranked fourth among all Big East teams in aggregate minutes.
Russ Smith, Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng are Rick Pitino's headliners, but Louisville wouldn't be able to play its avalanche defensive style or score nearly as efficiently as it does without depth. You're seeing that early in this tournament. And if things play out as most prognosticators expect, you'll see it late in this tournament, too.
Long is the list of slashing guards who've been swallowed up by Syracuse's 2-3 zone.
Allen Crabbe, welcome to the club.
The Pac-12's leading scorer managed only eight points in Cal's 66-60 loss to the Orange, his second-worst single-game scoring performance of the season.
More remarkable still was the fact that Crabbe didn't attempt a single free-throw for just the third time in his last 35 games.
For whatever reason, the suits decided that Craig Sager, sideline reporter par excellence, would best be deployed on Sunday as a weatherman.
This largely entailed Sager standing outside Kansas City's Sprint Center and providing semi-regular demonstrations of how much snow had fallen.
And I have to give the suits credit: I liked it.
Sager for his part seemed to embrace the assignment, the undisputed highlight of which was him using a bulldozer to deposit one mound of (curiously yellowed) snow onto an even larger mound of (suitably white) snow.
The levity of the moment wasn't lost on Sager, who seemed to acknowledge the utter ridiculousness of his task by chortling back and forth with play-by-play man Marv Albert.
The whole set up was ticklishly bizarre, and when the bit was over, I'll admit: I kind of wanted to see Sager rev the engine up and do it again.
Live television, baby.
Rotnei Clarke had a heroic senior season for Butler, overcoming a ghastly midseason neck injury to lead the Bulldogs in points per game and three-point shooting.
And for the most part, the Arkansas transfer played just as well in his second NCAA tournament appearance, dropping 17 on opening-round opponent Bucknell and racking up 24 against Marquette on Saturday.
But 27 sure would have been nice.
With his team trailing by two in the closing seconds, Clarke launched a deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep three that found nothing but air. Five game-seconds later, Butler's season was through.
If basketball were a just game, Clarke's breakout year wouldn't have ended such a sour note. Certainly the senior sharpshooter deserved better.
Of course if basketball were just game we probably wouldn't watch it either. So I guess this is what we get.
Clarke and the rest of his Butler backcourt mates also share responsibility for letting Marquette guard Vander Blue score 29 in the Golden Eagles' 74-72 win.
Oregon basketball doesn't get much national love playing on the west coast in a city (Eugene) where track, football and avant garde sportswear reign supreme, which is perhaps why you've never heard of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson, Dana Altman's outstanding freshman duo.
But make no mistake, the Baby Ducks can ball.
Artis, the team's starting point, guard was fantastic in Oregon's opening-round win over fifth-seeded Oklahoma State, scoring 13 points on seven shots and bottling up his counterpart, Cowboys star Marcus Smart.
And when Artis went cold in the Round of 32, Dotson was there to pick up the slack. The 6'5" guard went 5-of-6 from three and scored 23 points in Oregon's upset of A-10 champion Saint Louis.
For the tournament, the Houston native is averaging 20 points a contest, nearly nine above his season average.
So that was fast.
After dominating Round 2 to the tune of a 5-0 record, A-10 teams combined to go 1-4 in the Round of 32.
Even more striking were the visuals.
VCU and Saint Louis (the consensus top two teams in the conference) both looked over matched against Power Six opponents while Butler and Temple blew winnable games late.
And just like that, what once looked like a breakout tournament now feels like a stomach-churning missed possibility. Worse yet, this might be the last relevant opportunity the A-10 has the privilege of missing.
The conference did well over the past decade to nab schools like VCU, Butler, Saint Louis and Charlotte, and the move to secure Brooklyn's Barclay's Center as the conference tournament host site was an obvious win.
Unfortunately, the raiders have been raided. Butler and Xavier are off to the new Big East, Saint Louis might not be far behind, Temple will soon head to the Old Big East and Charlotte is set to rejoin Conference USA in 2013.
That doesn't leave the A-10 cupboard completely bare, but it mean the five-bid days are likely over for one of America's better mid-major conferences.
For a moment there, I had Aaron Craft all teed up for the "goat" column.
In the last six minutes of his team's 78-75 win over Iowa State, the Ohio State point guard committed two turnovers, missed a layup, clanked the front-end of two one-and-ones and missed a jump shot that could have given the Buckeyes a late lead.
Then he went and made the shot of the tournament and blew my precious little legwork straight to hell.
Freaking Aaron Craft.
The sequence that launched Craft into Buckeye lore began when he bricked the aforementioned jump shot. The miss careened out of bounds off an Iowa State player, allowing Ohio State to retain possession with 29 seconds left and the shot clock disabled.
Craft whittled the possession away by dribbling on the right wing, springing into action only with about six seconds left. After accepting a screen, Craft rose up against Iowa State's Georges Niang (with whom he'd a small confrontation earlier in the game) and swished a three-pointer.
Game over. Ohio State wins. Craft out.
It's not just that Georges Niang allowed Aaron Craft to sink the game-winning shot against his Iowa State Cyclones—a somewhat excusable letdown considering Niang was guarding a much quicker player on the perimeter—it's that he did it after provoking Craft earlier in the game.
Don't poke the damn dragon, Georges.
The Craft-Georges saga started with Georges pretty clearly shoulder-checking Craft when the two were walking to opposite timeout huddles. Craft gave him a "come on man." Georges responded with an extended-hand apology. Craft slapped said hand away.
And that was it...
Until of course Craft rose over the 6'7" Georges with time expiring and consumed his ego on national television.
Don't mess with Aaron Craft.
Temple put forth a valiant effort on Sunday against Indiana, and this slide could easily go to high scorer Khalif Wyatt, who dropped 31 on the Hoosiers despite a gimpy left thumb.
But I'm going with my man Fran Dunphy, a coach whose program-building brilliance has been regularly overshadowed by his 3-15 NCAA tournament record.
Some of that criticism is justified, but I can tell you that loss No. 15 was in spite of Fran, not because of him.
All season long we've known that Indiana's kryptonite—if indeed the Hoosiers have one—has been defensive-oriented teams like Wisconsin that like to play slow and limit transition opportunities.
Temple is not that kind of team.
The Owls played at a fairly quick clip this year (124th in adjusted tempo) and were merely middle-of-the-pack defensively during A-10 play.
So credit Dunphy and his players for adjusting their style of play on short notice, committing to a slow pace against a team that feeds on speed and nearly pulling off a titanic upset in the process.
Around this time of year we always see teams and coaches thump their chests and proclaim that the other team has to stop them and what they do. March, we are told, is no time for compromise.
But Temple knew that kind of hidebound thinking would get them nowhere against Indiana, and Dunphy's team made the sound basketball adjustment. Kudos to the Owls for their bold thinking and steadfast execution.
Damn if that picture already doesn't feel like a poster on some Indiana farm boy's bedroom wall.
Victor Oladipo. Arm raised, Hand arched. Crowd apoplectic.
I guess I should explain this a bit before I go free verse on y'all.
Top-seeded Indiana founds itself in a 40-minute street fight with upset-minded Temple on Sunday, trailing by as many as four late in the second half.
After a bit of back and forth, Oladipo put the Hoosiers up one with a free-throw at the 1:19 mark. Indiana stoned Temple on the ensuing possession, giving Tom Crean's team one last chance to add cushion.
The Hoosiers ran the clock down to 15 seconds with a series of crisp passes before finding Oladipo alone at the top of the arc.
Oladipo's long-range jump shot is easily the most improved facet of his game. After shooting a miserable 20.8 percent from beyond the arc a year ago, the Maryland native has made 43.8 percent of his threes in 2012-13. The addition of an outside game has in turn unleashed Oladipo's offensive potential, transforming him from role pole to POY candidate.
And against Temple, showed why.
Oladipo's three put the Hoosiers up four, and punched Indiana's hard fought ticket to the Sweet Sixteen.
Based on the weekend's evidence, I've concluded that Florida Gulf Coast is the best basketball team in the world right now.
With that unimpeachable truth established, let us then raise a toast to the Maine Black Bears, who defeated this runaway freight train of talent 84-79 on December 22, 2012.
It was a fearless performance by Ted Woodward's team, one that told the world, "We care not for your Giants and your ruder things. For we have arrived, and we shall fight. Come what we may, the Black Bear shall endure."
A person called Alasdair Fraser score 21 points for Maine in the win.
As expected, FGCU rebounded from the shocking loss to win 24 regular season games and obliterate its first two NCAA tournament opponents.
Basketball is the best.
A disappointing North Carolina season came to a fittingly glum conclusion on Sunday, as the Tar Heels dropped a 70-58 decision to The University That Once Employed Roy Williams (aka Kansas).
The game, like the season, started with a good deal of promise.
North Carolina ran circles around Kansas' bigs early on, taking a nine-point lead into the locker room.
Then the second half happened, and it happened hard.
Kansas went to work down low, hanging 49 on the Heels in the second 20 minutes.
This isn't the first time UNC has struggled to maintain its defensive intensity.
Going back to the last three games of the regular season, Roy Williams' team has allowed 35 second-half points or more in five straight contests.
That could be a statistical fluke, or it could be the byproduct of playing a smaller lineup that has to work harder for its stops. It stands to reason that an undersized defender's main advantage is movement. In other words, a little guy can use his quickness and mobility to frustrate a bigger post player and deny entry passes.
After a while, though, the big bodies are bound to wear ya down. And it certainly seemed that way in the Kansas-Carolina match up.
No top-tier national title contender has more tournament experience than Kansas, which starts four seniors alongside freshman standout Ben McLemore.
And while McLemore has struggled mightily so far in this tournament—he went 0-for-9 from the field against Carolina—the veterans have filled the void.
On Sunday, it was uber-efficient 'tweener Travis Releford who provided the extra boost of offense, dropping 22 points on 9-of-13 from the floor.
File this under "NCAA regulations that don't make any sense."
I know, it's a big file.
According to NCAA game rules, an official can spend a small eternity at the replay monitor determining if an elbow to the grill should be deemed flagrant, but he or she is 100 percent forbidden from using video technology to reverse an out-of-bounds call, even if the call might substantially alter the game's outcome.
Take, for example, the end of the Miami-Illinois game.
With Illinois down two and 46 seconds left, Illini guard D.J. Richardson bricked a go-ahead three. A television replay very clearly illustrated that Miami's Kenny Kadji was the last player to touch the ball before it caromed out of bounds.
Officials mistakenly awarded possession to Miami, a missed call that, while frustrating, falls perfectly within the realm of honest human error.
The call would've taken 30 seconds tops to overturn. The officials would have been off the hook and Ilinois would have been given its rightful chance to win the game.
Instead, Miami was able to ice the win with free throws and now we're going to spend the next 24 hours blowing steam at each other.
If you can make any sense of that arrangement, you're a wiser man than I.
Pictured above is a shot that La Salle junior Tyrone Garland calls the "Southwest Philly Floater."
I'm not exactly sure what differentiates it from a contested layup, but when you hit the game-winning shot that sends your team to its first Sweet Sixteen since 1955 you're officially allowed to call said shot whatever the flip you want.
So "Southwest Philly Floater" it is, Mr. Garland. You earned it.
The circumstances that led to the official designation of "The Floater" were as follows:
La Salle and Ole Miss stood tied at 74 with 32 seconds left and the Explorers in possession of the ball. La Salle dutifully killed time for about 20 seconds before swinging the ball to Garland at the top of the key.
Garland hit his defender with a slight hesitation and drove toward the lane. As Ole Miss forward Reginald Buckner closed, Garland, a Virginia Tech transfer, lifted the ball skyward with his right hand and dropped it through.
Or I guess he floated it through.
Again, I'm unclear on exactly makes this shot distinctively floater-ish, and I lived in Southwest Philly for two years.
Whatever it was, it accounted for the two points that sent the Explorers, who began this tournament as a First Four participant, to California. La Salle will meet ninth-seeded Wichita State in the Sweet Sixteen.
We're going to keep the Southwest Philly vibes rolling with a shout out to Duke freshman Amile Jefferson, a Philadelphia native who played important minutes for the Blue Devils in their 66-50 win over Creighton.
Jefferson came to Durham as one of the nation's 30 best recruits, but has struggled for playing time behind senior starters Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee.
Even when Kelly missed time with a foot injury, Jefferson's slap-happy defense and raw offensive game kept him largely glued to the Duke bench. Prior to Sunday, the 6'8" forward had gone six straight games without logging more than four minutes.
But with Kelly in foul trouble on and off against the Bluejays, Coach K turned to Jefferson for some much needed defensive reprieve, and he responded with aplomb.
Playing in front of a hometown crowd at the Wells Fargo Center, the Friends Central grad played a key role in holding Creighton star Doug McDermott to 4-of-16 shooting.
There are no guarantees that we'll see Jefferson for any significant period of time again in this tournament.
But a championship run requires unexpected excellence, and Jefferson provided just that for the Blue Devils in the Round of 32.
In case you missed it, the following people, places and things were named either "winners" or 'heroes" in yesterday's version of this column.
Spike Albrecht, Michigan
The State of Michigan
Adreian Payne, Michigan State
D.J. Stephens, Memphis
Russ Smith, Louisville
Mark Lyons, Arizona
Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon
Davante Gardner, Marquette
Vander Blue, Marquette
Ron Baker, Wichita State
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
In case you missed it, the following people, places and things were named either "losers" or "goats" in yesterday's version of this column.
Shaka Smart, VCU
Chris Crawford, Memphis
Colorado State's Guard Play
Kevin Parrom, Arizona
The Selection Committee
Mike McCall Jr., Saint Louis
Anyone Who Based Their Picks on 2011
Gary Bell Jr., Gonzaga
California's Three Primary Guards