My favorite college basketball stories of 2012

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Back-to-Back Shockers: The NCAA tournament is the ultimate sporting event for upsets, but a No. 1 seed has never lost its opening game, and it had been 11 years since a No. 2 had lost to a No. 15. So it was doubly shocking when Norfolk State defeated Missouri and Lehigh knocked off Duke on the same day. Only in March can lightning strike twice within a few hours.

The Shot Heard Round Tobacco Road: There are few bankable certainties in sports, but one of them is that when Duke and North Carolina get together, the outcome is memorable. That was never more true than on Feb. 8, when freshman Austin Rivers capped a furious comeback by Duke from 10 points down in the final two-and-a-half minutes by drilling a buzzer-beating three-pointer that delivered the Blue Devils to an 85-84 win. Rivers could win a dozen NBA titles, but he'll forever be remembered in the Piedmont for sinking that dagger.

The Butler Does It: 2012 went out with a bang as Butler, the perennial little Bulldog who could, knocks off undefeated, top-ranked Indiana in overtime. Fittingly, the game took place in Indianapolis, which only added to the Hoosierific flavor. In that state they never have to ask, where have you gone, Bobby Plump?

Border War Comebacks: This year marked the end of one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports, so it's fitting that Kansas and Missouri gave us not one but two memorable sendoffs. On Feb. 4, Missouri scored the game's final 11 points to eke out a 74-71 win in Columbus. The Jayhawks surpassed those theatrics on Feb. 28, when they overcame a 19-point deficit at home with 16 minutes to play to prevail, 87-86, in overtime. The rivalry between these two states dates literally back to the Civil War, but it ended with Missouri's defection to the SEC.

Hail to the Racers: Little Murray State made it all the way to Feb. 9 without losing a game, and it reached the Sweet Sixteen before it lost another. In between, the Racers played exciting, outstanding team basketball featuring one of the most dynamic players in the country, point guard Isaiah Canaan. Murray State's emergence as a powerhouse program served as further evidence that in college basketball, the world is flat.

Rick Majerus' Final Press Conference: We didn't know at the time that Majerus' press conference following St. Louis' loss to Michigan State in the NCAA tournament would be the last he would ever give, but given how eloquent, elegiac and emotional Majerus was that day, it is somehow fitting. Majerus, who died of heart failure on Dec. 2, was one of the game's true characters. He was literally larger-than-life, and he died way too soon.

Jolly Good Comeback: We don't usually pay much attention to the so-called "First Four" games, but it turned out that the first game of the 2012 NCAA tournament was also its most memorable. With President Obama squiring his invited guest, British Prime Minister David Cameron, to their courtside seats, Western Kentucky showed a little revolutionary spirit by erasing a 16-point deficit with 4:51 to play to escape with a 59-58 win over Mississippi Valley State. That set a new NCAA tournament record for largest comeback in the last five minutes.

Jim Calhoun Retires: By the time Calhoun decided to step down at UConn, it was not a huge surprise. But it was a moment wrought with significance. Calhoun spearheaded one of the most remarkable program-building jobs in the history of college sports. His Hall of Fame resume included three NCAA titles (out of four trips to the Final Four; the man was at his best in the big games) as well as an NCAA-mandated suspension and a postseason ban because of academic shortcomings. Along the way, Calhoun charmed and mystified friends and foes alike with his stubbornness and irascibility, but he was unquestionably one of the game's greatest coaches, and one of its more engaging personalities.

Michigan State and Connecticut Play in Germany: Last season, the Spartans celebrated Veterans Day -- and the opening of the college basketball season -- by playing North Carolina aboard the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego. This time, they took their show across the pond to Ramstein Air Base, which is one of the United States' most important military installations. The game was played in an airplane hangar, and it provided a memorable outcome. With Kevin Ollie making his head coaching debut, UConn upset the 14th-ranked Spartans, 66-62.

Bye Bye, Big East: It is sadly fitting that this year closed with the announcement that the seven Catholic, non-football schools in the Big East would soon be departing to form their own league. It was a full-circle moment, returning the league to its roots as a basketball conference that was formed in 1979 at the dawn of the cable television age. It was also the final verdict on the greed and hypocrisy that has been evinced by university presidents as their realignment frenzy erodes the core of what fans love about college sports.