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Matt Norlander

Cinderellas can't escape midnight in Sweet 16

The Dagger

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So much for Cinderella.

Northern Iowa's 59-52 loss to Michigan State Friday night was the final result that sent home a non-major long-shot for the Final Four. (Sorry, Butler, but you proudly don't factor into this equation.)

The Panthers failed to reach the Elite Eight, primarily, because they didn't make a field goal in the final 10 minutes of the second half. Credit that to Michigan State if you will (and Northern Iowa did many times after the game), but when a team can't put the ball in the hoop for 10 minutes, that's as much about them as it is the opponent.

The magic that existed in UNI's game against Kansas? Gone.

The killer instinct that allowed the Panthers to hold back the top overall seed in the tournament? It never arrived.

Tom Izzo's going back to another Elite Eight, and that's a great story we'll get to here at The Dagger later on. What we want to know is why didn't at least one of the three Cinderella teams (and you could throw in Xavier if you really wanted to) manage to stay alive for at least one more day.

There is no grand or common theme running through these games that can be pointed to as The Definitive Reason for a loss.

The obvious reason people will point to: talent disparity. We agree with that notion; that these larger schools recruit better talent and often times that talent wins out. With three or four days to prepare, John Calipari, Scott Drew and Tom Izzo scouted their upset-minded opponents quite well. They had the better players, so they won.

It's why we cherish the upsets, because these kind of results are the norm. They happen the majority of the time. When a lower-seeded team reaches the Elite Eight, it's usually a Tennessee or a Michigan State; a BCS school.

Individually, here are some reasons and quotes why we were withheld from a George Mason situation this weekend.

• The Panthers were hampered early by foul trouble in the second half, which took away from their seven-point lead at halftime. UNI was outscored 37-23 in the second half and Izzo looked like he finally figured out the Panthers for all the other coaches who couldn't do it.

"It's disappointing to pick up your third foul so quickly in the second half," Adam Koch said. "You gotta come out. Then you kind of -- it's in your head a little bit, you've got that foul trouble. I don't know. It's just disappointing, I guess."

• Cornell failed to slow Kentucky down. It was a battle of DNA, and the Big Red couldn't strategize their way to a W.

"They've got a lot of length on defense, obviously," Ryan Wittman said. "Something we had to get a little bit adjusted to. I don't think Temple and Wisconsin quite had the length on the perimeter that they do.

• Saint Mary's just didn't show up. In about 30 different facets, the Gaels were outplayed and outclassed by the buff Bears.

"At the end of that half -- I mean, everything in the first half, we just didn't handle it very well," head coach Randy Bennett said. "At the end of the half, we fouled on a three, didn't have it. You never know. Little things make a difference. We had a chance to go in down 20 in the last couple of minutes. Down 20, you can win that game. You can come back and win that. But instead it extended to 29.
Yeah, we weren't -- we shot ourselves in the foot the first half by not handling the situations right as far as getting down, getting busted in the mouth a little bit and not handling it right."

A storyline or two many were hoping for fell short again. Makes you appreciate George Mason all that much more, doesn't it? These teams only got half as far as GMU did in 2006.

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