The 10 Biggest CBB Stories of 2012 — #3: Norfolk State and Lehigh Shock the WorldPosted by Chris Johnson on December 30th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
College basketball gave us plenty of memorable moments and stories in 2012. After sorting through the main headlines, we’ve come up with the 10 most consequential items and, for the sake of maintaining publishing sequence symmetry, releasing two per-day over the next five days to lead into the New Year. It was an excellent year for the sport, though I can’t promise you won’t regret reliving at least one or two of the choices. In any case, here’s to summing up a great year and to hoping that 2013 is better than the 365 days that preceded it.
The ocean of opportunity that awaits mid and low-major programs in the NCAA Tournament is typically stifled by the superior talent, resources and coaching acumen of high-major powerhouses. Upsets do happen – you can usually bank at least one 7-10 or 8-9 or 5-12 shocker each year, and it feels like we’re seeing more and more close games in putatively uneven first-round draws – but the gap between a #15 seed and a #2 seed is so far as to draw into question the fairness of even playing the game in the first place. You usually get a national contender from a power six conference going up against a minuscule hoops entity from a lesser league, many of which just happened to get hot enough at the right time to barrel through a conference tournament and into the Big Dance.
In last year’s NCAA Tournament, the 2-15 match-ups stacked up just like any other year. In the South and Midwest regions, Ohio State and Kansas laid waste to Loyola (MD) and Detroit, respectively, in decisive and mostly expected fashion. The two other #15 seeds, massive underdogs though they were, had other plans. Big plans. It started with Norfolk State’s shocker over Missouri, where Spartans’ big man Kyle O’Quinn exposed the Tigers’ inside presence with 26 points and 14 rebounds, halting Frank Haith’s prolific uptempo offense and vaulting himself into the NBA Draft conversation. O’Quinn left us with this indelible image.
If Norfolk State could topple Missouri, then surely the conditions were ripe for another giant slaying. It felt like a more realistic possibility when Lehigh took the floor against Duke soon thereafter, if only because Mountain Hawks guard C.J. McCollum had led his team in hard-fought contests against Iowa State and Michigan State earlier in the season. McCollum and his teammates weren’t scared of the mighty Blue Devils, so once the junior guard found his groove, momentum carried them to tourney glory. It was a coming-out party for a future pro who has only grown his game and reputation during his final year on campus.
It may be true that a #16 seed has never beaten a #1 seed, and we may not see that happen for quite a while. More unlikely is a repeat of that Friday last March – the day we saw two power programs hell bent on championship runs bite the dust against the lowest members of the D-I hoops food chain. The back-to-back upsets exemplified the popular Cinderella motif unlike any other sequence of games in recent Tournament history.