And so this is what we are left with mid-major basketball fans. Barring a major upset Sunday, the last team left standing from an actual mid-major conference will be Wichita State, the team that is so hard to love.
The Shockers used a combination of their unique brand of stringent defense and a 3-points shooting effort so very out of character for the team to down the Gonzaga, 76-70. Yes, yet another highly regarded Gonzaga under Mark Few exits the NCAA Tournament long before its time.
And let's not forget that this loss adds another tic mark to the growing list of No. 1 teams to be upset this season, in a year that was so wide open nothing should surprise us any longer.
To call this an upset of the truest variety would take away from what Wichita State accomplished this season. The Shockers were a win in the final game of the regular season against Creighton from tying for the Missouri Valley title. They made the title game of the MVC Tournament and took Creighton to overtime.
They have had the chops all year, and their bruising style of play -- one that won't win any beauty contests -- kept us all from truly realizing how good they were. They were one of the three mid-major teams we thought could do real damage in the NCAA Tournament, until they got their matchup. But maybe we shouldn't have been so quick to judge. After all, the biggest losing streak of the season came when a run of injuries cost them the depth that was so on display tonight.
Jake White plays nine minutes, and hits one of the biggest 3-pointers of the evening for the Shockers while also giving them three much needed rebounds.
Fred Van Vleet, who has grown up this season from the talented but erratic high school recruit he once was, has emerged as the heir apparent to Malcolm Armstead, and well, he hit the shot that probably buried Gonzaga more than anything.
This is the trouble with the Shockers: they find new and interesting ways to beat you, not at all what you prepared for.
What you would have prepared for would have been Carl Hall. Gonzaga did a very good job of shutting him down: just 10 points and a single rebound. And the Zags would have been content then to see Cleanthony Early get 16 points because they figured they could handle the rest of the team, a team that outside of those two was decent on offense but should have struggled against the size and tenacity of the Bulldog defense.
You wouldn't have guessed that Ron Baker, a 30 percent shooter from 3-point range would suddenly go 4-for-6 in one probably the most important game he has played in his short college career.
But let's not downplay either the role that Wichita State's defense played in this one. Prior to the game, Gregg Marshall outlined the game plan for his team and put Tekele Cotton squarely in Kevin Pangos' face.
"He's going to have an interesting evening," he said.
So Pangos goes out and shoots 6-for-17 from the field, and just 4 of 12 from long range as he struggled to get an open look with Cotton bearing down on him.
Or how about the gaffe of the night? With Gonzaga still within biting distance of the Shockers, Elias Harris inbounded the ball to David Stockton, only to have Stockton walk out of bounds with it, thinking he was supposed to bring it in. Wichita State hits a three -- one of the Baker daggers -- and that pretty much sealed it.
You don't make those mistakes against a normal team. You only make them against Wichita State, a team that gets under your skin and make it crawl.
This is the standard bearer for the mid-major teams now, the only team guaranteed to be playing next round. And here is the scary part: they could easily do it again.
Do we doubt that they could annoy the crap out of Marshall Henderson should Ole Miss advance? Another Cotton special should do the trick.
Or do we doubt they could take on La Salle, a team that has a number of good players, but not the standouts like Gonzaga or even Pittsburgh own?
The Shockers were able to beat a dominant inside team, a team that by all rights had the advantage in the one category where Wichita State is normally the favorite. Gonzaga cleaned up more of its own missed shots than Wichita State did, and the Shockers still managed to beat the Bulldogs.
Yes, we all need to have faith in this flawed, ugly, bruising, infuriating, obnoxious team from Wichita.
Because despite all those flaws, they are one heck of a group of basketball players.