Like most of you as the weather got cooler, I thought of building a warm, blazing fire and toast marshmallows over my NCAA brackets.

But it sure was exciting, nerve-wracking and fun to watch as pod after pod of NCAA pairings imploded during the fires of March. Last weekend, was one of the wildest, craziest, most exhilarating bracket-times four days probably in tournament history.

As I yearned to go to bed late Sunday night, St. Joseph’s and Oregon engaged in another wire-to-wire contest that hinted of another last-second shot or overtime.

There were multiple Cinderellas on the runway. One by one, they were knocked off the stage in the second round.

Now, breathe.

After all the tumult and the shouting, normalcy has returned.

Going into the Sweet Sixteen, all four No. 1 seeds (Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia) are still standing as well as 2 seeds Oklahoma and Villanova.

The Sweet Sixteen consists of eight teams with coaches who have been to at least one Final Four: Bill Self of Kansas, Lon Kruger of Oklahoma, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, Roy Williams of North Carolina, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, Jay Wright of Villanova, Tom Crean of Indiana and Jim Larranaga of Miami.

Four of them have a collective 11 championship rings: Krzyzewski (5), Boeheim (2), Bill Self (2) and Williams (2).

Also in the Sweet 16 field are veteran teams with new coaches but have been there before: Wisconsin and Iowa State. And, you have Gonzaga, the Rolls Royce of mid-majors that has been to the tournament 18 straight years.

But not among that group are teams coached by Tom Izzo and John Calipari.

Now, that the smoke has cleared, here are some thoughts of what happened and what remains.

* Like everybody, I was dumfounded and dizzy by Texas A&M’s victory over Northern Iowa.

I don’t recall a team (Northern Iowa) so quickly falling through a trap door, blowing a 12-point lead in 44 seconds, turning the ball over four times in 25 seconds.

Northern Iowa’s inbound passer, Matt Bohannon, was on the bench with a knee injury, which produced a Keystone Kops version of how not to handle a press defense.

One of the first things youngsters learn in playing basketball is never try to save the ball under an opponent’s basket and never inbound the ball against a pressure defense to the corners, where the sideline becomes two more defenders.

Northern Iowa’s offense against pressure became trying to play dodgeball with the Aggies.

At the same time, A&M’s Danuel House turned into Superman (or Batman if that’s your preference). It produced an incredible combination of factors that allowed A&M to snatch victory from certain defeat.

* The Atlantic Coast Conference proved, as it often has been, the power league, sending six of its seven tourney teams to the Sweet Sixteen. Also note that one of the ACC’s best teams, Louisville, wasn’t in the field, sitting out because of a self-imposed postseason ban.

* For the first time in tournament history, two teams that played for a conference title, Purdue and Michigan State of the the Whittled Ten (aka Big Ten), were 0 for the tournament.

* Syracuse, which many thought didn’t desire to be in the field, is still alive. But the Orange’s advance was fueled by Middle Tennessee State’s 15-2 upset of Michigan State (possibly the most devastating of bracket-busters). Middle Tennessee wasn’t ill-prepared for Syracuse’s zone defense, which takes veteran teams from major conferences out of rhythm.

* Thomas Walkup of Stephen F. Austin, Mikai Mason of Yale and Josh Hagins of Little Rock were instant stars for lower-seeded teams. But those guys can play for anybody.

* The remaining Big 12 teams (Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State) will be tough outs because they are accustomed to playing close games in a conference that featured a weekly assortment of games to the wire.

* Wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony, after all this first-round madness, that the four No. 1 seeds ended up in the Final Four? Stranger things have already happened.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)