This is the 16th and final installment of The First 68 for the 2013-14 season. We have been following college basketball non-stop for the past four months, an endeavor which has led us to precisely two truths: Florida looks like they're pretty good and Wichita State is probably pretty good, too.
Was the whole thing worth it? I like to think so.
Seriously though, we are spiraling out-of-control towards the most unpredictable postseason in recent memory, which is saying something. It's especially remarkable considering this was supposed to be the year we knew everything (or as close as possible) by March. Perennial powerhouses and a freshman class loaded with future NBA All-Stars were going to dominate the college hoops landscape, making the Elite 8 somewhat of a foregone conclusion.
That has not happened.
A team from the Missouri Valley is undefeated, Virginia is the outright champion of the ACC for the first time in 33 years, and San Diego State, Creighton, Saint Louis and SMU are all ranked in the top 20. This is insanity, even for a sport whose primary alias has the word "madness" in its title.
Here's the deal though, your friends (as well as at least one national writer) are going to declare that this year's NCAA Tournament is "the worst in recent memory"...or some variation of that. How do I know? Because it happens every single year.
The hype for the NCAA Tournament has become so great that it can't possibly be met. If the top seeds have their way in the opening couple of rounds, people complain that there haven't been enough upsets. If there are a handful of huge upsets, people complain that there aren't enough quality showdowns between powerhouse programs in the round of 32 and beyond. If there's a healthy mixture of both of those things, people complain that there haven't been enough buzzer-beaters.
Don't believe me? Run a Google or Twitter search with the words "worst tournament" at any point after the first Friday of the big dance and see what you come up with.
The tourney isn't going to be 100 percent stimulation for three weeks straight, but it's going to be about as close as possible. That still won't be enough for some people, but it will be more than enough for you and me, which is all that really matters anyway. I mean I like those other guys, but you know what I'm talking about, we get each other on a different level.
I'm excited to spend the rest of March and the first week of April together.
Our first major controversy of the postseason comes via the Horizon League, where Oakland outlasted Youngstown State in the first round despite trailing by a bucket with less than a second to play.
How did this happen? Well, Oakland coach Greg Kampe pulled out the classic desperation "screen the inbounds defender and fall down" play, which earns a whistle approximately 1.33 percent of the time it's attempted. This was one of those times.
That's Travis Bader, who happens to be the all-time Division-I leader in made three-pointers, drawing the foul. He buried both free-throws with 0.6 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime. The Golden Grizzlies then rallied from a four-point deficit in the extra period to earn a 96-92 victory.
Oakland gets No. 3 seed Wright State in the quarterfinals on Friday, while Youngstown State gets an extremely bitter taster in their mouths for the next seven months.
This is the time of the year where you're most likely to hear talk about teams "needing to lose" -- usually only after a loss has occurred. It's always been my belief that if you need a loss to wake you up this late in the season, you're probably not mentally strong enough to win six straight in the big dance, but that's me. I also still eat Nutty Bars and can't understand why Primary Colors got such a bad rap.
Every national champion since Indiana in 1976 has had at least one loss before starting its NCAA Tournament run, but has it mattered when those teams have lost? A season ago, Louisville fell at Notre Dame on Feb. 9 and then went on to win its final seven games of the regular season and the Big East Tournament before cutting down the nets in Atlanta. Conversely, the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats fell to Vanderbilt in the SEC championship game before their six-game streak to end the season.
Whether or not Louisville losing or Kentucky winning would have prevented either from hoisting the national championship trophy is an interesting, and un-winnable debate. It's also one that comes with a predictably inconclusive bag of data (thanks to Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal for the heavy lifting).
SEASON-ENDING WINNING STREAKS BY NCAA CHAMPIONS
* Streak entering the NCAA Tournament in parentheses
1977 - Marquette 5 (0)
1978 - Kentucky 13 (8)
1979 - Michigan State 5 (0)
1980 - Louisville 8 (3)
1981 - Indiana 10 (5)
1982 - North Carolina 16 (11)
1983 - North Carolina State 10 (4)
1984 - Georgetown 11 (6)
1985 - Villanova 6 (0)
1986 - Louisville 17 (11)
1987 - Indiana 7 (1)
1988 - Kansas 6 (0)
1989 - Michigan 6 (0)
1990 - UNLV 11 (5)
1991 - Duke 6 (0)
1992 - Duke 13 (7)
1993 - North Carolina 6 (0)
1994 - Arkansas 6 (0)
1995 - UCLA 19 (13)
1996 - Kentucky 6 (0)
1997 - Arizona 6 (0)
1998 - Kentucky 13 (7)
1999 - Connecticut 11 (5)
2000 - Michigan State 11 (5)
2001 - Duke 10 (4)
2002 - Maryland 6 (0)
2003 - Syracuse 6 (0)
2004 - Connecticut 9 (3)
2005 - North Carolina 6 (0)
2006 - Florida 11 (5)
2007 - Florida 10 (4)
2008 - Kansas 13 (7)
2009 - North Carolina 6 (0)
2010 - Duke 10 (4)
2011 - Connecticut 11 (5)
2012 - Kentucky 6 (0)
2013 - Louisville 16 (10)
It's also worth pointing out again that the national champion is almost always either a conference regular season or tournament champion. The statistics and the motivational tactics are all well and good, but college basketball's last team standing is typically one that has been winning pretty consistently since at least February.
Louisville's Montrezl Harrell or Nevada's Deonte Burton?
That's not a Dunk of the Year competition, that's a Dunk of Wednesday Night competition.
We've talked a handful of times already about the group of teams that have never been to the NCAA Tournament, but what about the teams poised to make the big dance for the first time in over a decade? Well I'll tell you about them. They are very real and they are listed below.
Toledo - The Rockets are tied for first with Western Michigan in the MAC's East Division, and will have an opportunity to play their way into the field of 68 for the first time since 1980 next week.
Mercer - The Bears shared the regular season crown with Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun, and after beating Jacksonville in Tuesday night's league tournament quarterfinal, they're two victories away from going dancing for the first time since 1985.
Louisiana Tech - Conference USA is pure insanity at the moment, with Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee and Tulsa all tied atop the league standings at 12-3 (also, UTEP is just one game back at 11-4). There's only one bid to go around for these teams, and if the Bulldogs get it, it'll be their first since 1991.
Towson - The First 68's adopted son went 1-31 two seasons ago and hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991. The second-seeded Tigers will start their CAA tournament run on Saturday against James Madison.
SMU - Despite Wednesday night's loss to Louisville, Larry Brown's Mustangs are a virtual lock to make the dance for the first time 1993.
Green Bay - So long as they don't stumble in the Horizon League tourney, the Phoenix are going to be everybody's (EVERYBODY'S) upset special in the round of 64. They haven't even been an option as an upset pick since Jeff Nordgard was patrolling the paint in '96.
UMass - Probably the most notable name on the list. Believe it or not, the Minutemen haven't danced since 1998.
Nebraska - Tim Miles has Nebrasketball planted squarely on the bubble following the Huskers' huge road victory over Indiana Wednesday night. Like UMass, they haven't heard their names called on Selection Sunday since 1998.
Delaware - The regular season champions of the CAA, the Fighing Blue Hens wouldn't feel too bad about denying Towson a trip to the tournament since they haven't been there themselves since 1999.
Georgia State - Ryan Harrow and the Panthers have run away with the Sun Belt crown and are now looking to run into the field of 68 for the first time since 2001.
Tulsa - The program which rose to prominence thanks to the likes of Tubby Smith, Bill Self, She Seals and Michael Ruffin hasn't been back to the tournament since throttling fourth-seeded Dayton in 2003. Danny Manning has the Golden Hurricane in a position to make it happen.
Providence - The fighting Bryce Cottons (he's averaging 40.2 minutes per game now...that's more than the allotted time for a standard college basketball contest) seem to be on everyone's first four in or first four out lists at the moment. If they can flip that to the "in" side 10 days from now, they will have done so for the first time since 2004.
One final look at the national scoring race, which will come to a close in just 10 short days.
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton (25.9 ppg)
2. Antoine Mason, Niagara (25.2 ppg)
3. Billy Baron, Canisius (24.4 ppg)
4. T.J. Warren, NC State (24.2 ppg)
5. Patrick MIller, Tennessee State (23.7 ppg)
Your recommended reading for this week comes from Land Grant Holy Land, SB Nation's Ohio State site. LGHL takes an extensive look at which programs may have made a mistake by making the ever-enticing jump to Division-I. While there have been some noted success stories -- FGCU, South Dakota State and Oakland -- the move has been an absolute disaster for programs like NJIT, Morris Brown and Longwood.
Just read it, it's very good.
I originally wanted to do a collage of all the previous Creepy Mascot of the Week award winners, but the early results were over-the-top gross and borderline indistinguishable.
So here's Will D. Cat, the Villanova mascot, bidding you all a fond farewell for the season.
You can make it creepy if you really want to. Try harder.