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PITTSBURGH -- Did you see the NCAA tournament last weekend? Seriously, did you?

I know you saw those rim-rattling dunks and those crunch-time three pointers. I'm sure you watched in joy as your sleeper pick advanced or helplessly shredded your bracket to pieces as your Final Four team got knocked out.

But did you really see the NCAA tournament? Behind the massive celebration at center-court or the confident smiles of the winning team, did you see the guys who slowly trudged off the court for the last time? Behind the glory, did you see the dismay?

Do you know what it feels like to end your season -- and your college career -- in a gut-wrenching defeat? Holy Cross senior Ryan Serravalle does. "It feels like someone ripped out our hearts," he said, after his team nearly shocked No. 1 Kansas Thursday night, a year after taking Kentucky to the limit.

You probably didn't hear about Billy Collins, the Boston University forward who went for 13 points and 11 rebounds against top seed Cincinnati despite a fractured wrist in a game that was over before it even started. "In my years as a coach, I've never seen anything so courageous," BU coach Dennis Wolff said.

You were probably watching SportsCenter when the only senior on Mississippi trudged off the court, hugged his coach and took a seat on the bench. Jason Harrison, somewhere between the heights of Gary Coleman and Spud Webb, beat the odds to become arguably the best point guard in Ole Miss history, but in his final game on Friday the senior didn't even hit a shot. Pure dismay.

Friday in Pittsburgh, there were four games and everything held to form. While top seeds were falling around the country, Pittsburgh, California, Cincinatti and UCLA all avoided upset to make it past the Round of 64. Nothing that would make you raise your eyes.

But for the four losers, Friday marked the last day of the 2001-2002 season. For Collins and Boston, for Harrison and Ole Miss, for Central Connecticut State, and, of course, for the Penn Quakers, Friday meant complete and utter disappointment.

Going into the tournament, Penn was a fashionable upset pick, a team many thought had the potential to make some noise in the NCAAs.

The Quakers, too, were confident in themselves. They had beaten Cal two years ago, they had defeated big-conference schools earlier in the season, they had won the Big 5, they were coming off a 10-game winning streak that got them to this point. They were battle-tested and hungry. They were ready to shock the world.

But California was just too tough, and at 4:47 on Friday afternoon, the final buzzer sounded on Penn's season.

The scene in Penn's Mellon Center locker room following Cal's 82-75 victory was bleak. Players were huddled in the corner, their voices barely grew above a whisper.

Sure, as the lower seed the Quakers were expected to lose. But there's just something about losing in the NCAA tournament...

Penn women's basketball coach Kelly Greenberg told me a story once. After the Quakers were blown out by Texas Tech in the first round of last year's women's NCAA tournament, many of Greenberg's family members wondered why her team was so distraught. After all, the team had to expect to lose to Texas Tech, one of the best teams in the nation. Throw that all out the window, Greenberg said. If you had worked so hard to get to this point, and then just like that it's over, you too would shed a tear.

When all is said and done, 64 NCAA teams will end their season in a loss. Countless of seniors around the nation will never again don their school's uniform. It's already happened for Dan Solomito, the Red and Blue's cheesesteak king with a heart of gold.

But then there are the players who have that chance to return, and while this final loss will break a team's heart, the promise of next season will always mend it back together.

For the Quakers, who are returning the core of their team, the future is certainly bright. Moments after the loss to Cal, the Quakers were already fielding questions about next season.

Penn stars Ugonna Onyekwe and Andrew Toole both seemed anxious, hoping and praying that their recent success will carry the team even further next season.

Only 12 more months until March Madness. There is always that promise.

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