Photo: Paul Sancya/AP

Northern Kentucky spent a good chunk of the 1990s and 2000s as a strong D-II power, making the D-II NCAA Tournament 12 times in 15 years, winning a bunch of conference and division titles, and playing for two national championships. The Norse started the transition to D-I during the 2012-13 season, when they joined the Atlantic Sun Conference (home of Florida Gulf Coast) and won an average of 11 games over three seasons.

They swapped their southern digs for the Horizon League before last season, and swapped longtime coach Dave Bezold for John Brannen. Last season was the final campaign of the transition period, and they were not allowed to compete in postseason play, an unnecessary formality seeing as how they won nine games. But Brannen turned it around this year, and after a truly bonkers Horizon League tournament, the Norse are going dancing.

Northern Kentucky somehow drew tenth-seeded Milwaukee in the tournament final. The three highest seeded teams in the Horizon League crashed out in the first round of the tournament and two of the lowest three seeds made it to the semifinal. Northern Kentucky entered as the four seed, and they played the fifth, ninth, and tenth seeded teams on their way to conference tournament glory. Milwaukee is ranked 286th out of 351 teams in ESPN’s BPI, yet the Panthers put up a stiff challenge in the final. The Norse never trailed after the second basket of the game, but they also never led by double digits. Had Milwaukee won, they would have eclipsed the record for most losses by a team that made the NCAA Tournament.

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