'Year of the Upset' continues with Penn State's stunning win over No. 4 Michigan

USA TODAY Sports

Penn State notching its first Big Ten win over No. 4 Michigan is just the latest example of a college basketball regular season that has been impossible to figure out.

In terms of college basketball's defining characteristics, stunning upsets are right up there with crazy student sections and the March Madness brand itself. While there's no way to know if the NCAA Tournament will follow suit, the 2012-13 regular season has seen an unprecedented number of next-level stunners.

For a sport that some have labeled as "on life support," it's certainly delivered in the drama department.

Just how wild have things been? There are three from the power six conferences that have just one league win, and the moment of glory for all three came at the hands of a team that is either at or near the top of their respective league standings.

Georgetown has tasted defeat just once since Jan. 8, and sits alone atop the Big East standings with only three games left to play. Their lone setback over a nearly two-month period is a 61-58 loss on Jan. 19 at South Florida. The Bulls have won just twice since the calendar flipped to 2013 and are 1-14 in conference play. Only two of those losses have come by less than eight points.

Madness.

Kansas, which currently sits in a tie for first place in the Big 12, was so impressed with what Georgetown did that they felt the need to top it. It shouldn't be a surprise that a program as tradition-rich as KU went a little overboard, as the Jayhawks went out and achieved the biggest upset loss in the 20-year history of Ken Pomeroy's computer rankings. The benefactor of Bill Self's generosity was TCU, which has lost Big 12 games by 26 (twice), 27 and 34 points so far this season. None of that mattered on Feb. 6 when the Horned Frogs held one of the nation's most talented teams to 30.0 perent from the field and its lowest point total in nearly six years.

Insanity.

This leads us to what we saw Wednesday night in Happy Valley, where an 0-14 Penn State squad that saw its season all but end when star Tim Frazier ruptured his left Achilles tendon in November somehow found a way to better a Michigan team playing for both a Big Ten title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan had everything in the world to play for on Wednesday night, and simply got beat ... by a team that hadn't beaten anyone since Dec. 29.

That's the thing about Wednesday's loss that I think separates it from the other two: You can't chalk it up as a case of a team still trying to find itself in January (Georgetown) or one dragging from the grind of the middle of the conference season (Kansas). Michigan had everything in the world to play for on Wednesday night, and simply got beat ... by a team that hadn't beaten anyone since Dec. 29.

What makes the loss all the more unfathomable is the fact that Michigan shot 51.7 percent from the field, got to the free-throw line 20 times and, most shockingly of all, led by as many as 15 points in the second half. None of those things ordinarily figure into the recipe for one of the biggest upsets of the year. I suppose it's fitting that the upsets this season are unusual, even for their standards.

It would be easy to point to any one of these three games and dismiss it as the product of an overhyped team that didn't have a real shot at winning a national championship to begin with, but doing so would force you to cast the same aspersion on nearly every title contender in the country.

Miami's lone ACC loss came at the hands of a lowly Wake Forest team that entered the evening one game out of last place in the league. The Hurricanes were also dealt non-conference losses by Indiana State and Florida Gulf-Coast, a pair of mid-major squads that will have to win their conference tournaments to make the field of 68. Florida was destroyed by Arkansas, Indiana absolutely collapsed in the final minute at Illinois, Duke lost by 27 (which would match the worst regular-season loss ever for an eventual national champion) at The BankUnited Center; the list goes on and on.

Basically, there are no heroes this season. It's why we're almost certainly going to see Gonzaga, champions of the mid-major ranks for just about as long as any of us can remember, reign as the No. 1 team in the country when the new polls are released on Monday.

It's impossible to make sense any of this, but it's also an indication that we're all in for one hell of a March.

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