What a wild way to finish a madcap year of college basketball.

In 24 action-packed hours brimming with highlight-reel footage, hoops enthusiasts witnessed a bevy of desperation efforts by bubble contenders, numerous photo finishes from the mid-major ranks and enough falling titans to rend any bracketologist’s well-laid plans asunder.

Sunday morning, overrated Kentucky still held favor for a No. 1 tournament seed. Sunday morning, Kansas, despite its recent failings, clenched the outright Big 12 title in the palm of its hand. And, last but foremost, Sunday morning, Illinois remained on the verge of an undefeated season.

By Sunday night, everything had changed. Now even the fledgling Missouri Valley Conference might post more tournament bids than both the Big Ten and the Pac-10. Who’d a thunk it?

Indeed, no dramatist could have scripted a more fitting finale to the regular season than the events that transpired just four days ago.

Yet, in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, which of the day’s feats provided the most appetizing water-cooler fodder?

Sadly enough, it wasn’t a performance forged by Florida’s Anthony Roberson, Mizzou’s Thomas Gardner or Ohio State’s Matt Sylvester, but a pair of shots landed by Wake Forest guard Chris Paul. One through the net from 10 feet out, and the other on N.C. State standout Julius Hodge roughly three feet from the ground.

With the clock winding down in the second half, Paul drained a buzzer-beating runner to ice a quick comeback and give the Demon Deacons a 55-53 victory. After struggling all night from the floor and suffering through the ceaseless — often callous — barrage of insults from the Raleigh crowd, Paul spoke last by securing the No. 2 seed for his squad in the upcoming ACC tournament.

The question is: why was Paul even on the floor after the low blow on Hodge?

Forty-two minutes and 47 seconds before that jaw-dropping jump shot came the Hodge-dropping junk shot. Following a paint melee between the Pack and Deacons for a loose-ball rebound, Paul snuck up behind the alpha wolf, reached around and popped him square in the groin. Hodge crumpled to the floor, prompting his brother, Steve, to charge the court and accuse Paul of the low blow.

The officials ejected Steve Hodge from the game, but not Paul. No heave-ho, no technical, no warning — nothing. After committing one of the dastardliest acts in all maledom, Paul acted like he tossed an unintentional elbow in the post rather than a malicious jab.

Even after the game, Paul denied the attack, claiming he harbored “too much respect” for Hodge to ever willingly punch the swingman below the belt. Hodge, on the other hand, maintained the attack was volitional. Unsurprisingly, replay of the incident confirmed the impact was indeed not made by an errant appendage during a glass-crashing scuffle. Rather, Paul threw the punch deliberately, and now the one-guard was lying about it.

In the wake of the incident, head coach Skip Prosser and athletic director Ron Wellman suspended Paul for a single game in a preemptive action àla Andy Gieger.

What a deal for the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest will forfeit the services of Paul during Friday’s quarterfinal game, to be played against either the Wolfpack or the 10th-seeded Seminoles.

And even though N.C. State nearly staged an upset over the Deacons just days ago with Paul in the lineup, the momentum, motivation of Senior Day and home-court advantage held by the Wolfpack on Bloody Sunday have entirely dissipated. As if conference tourneys mean anything to top-seed shoe-ins anyway.

Seriously, Wellman should consider changing his occupation to celebrity defense attorney. After all, this is the plea bargain of the year.

“The Atlantic Coast Conference fully supports the decision of Wake Forest University to suspend Chris Paul for one game,” ACC commissioner John Swofford wrote in a prepared statement. “Ron Wellman and Skip Prosser are to be commended for how they have addressed this issue and the league joins Wake Forest in taking a strong stand against this kind of inappropriate behavior.”

A strong stand, huh? When Hodge popped Maryland guard Steve Blake with an elbow to the back of the head in 2003, he received the same penalty.

Show of hands gentlemen — who would rather take a hit to the head than the nether regions? Actually, a one-game benching is typically considered the minimum suspension for purposefully striking another player on the court. Minimum. But that’s not all.

“This is not an easy decision to make because of the type of individual we are dealing with,” Wellman said.

Pray tell, what type of individual, Ron? The kind that runs the point, scores 14.9 points per game and maintains an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.41? Yes, I imagine suspending that type of individual presents a dilemma for any title-hungry program.

In all fairness to Paul, the N.C. State fans picked their villain long before the Hodge incident even took place. In a cruel display of courtside badgering, the crowd hounded Paul from tip-off. At several instances throughout the game, the attacks on the Wake Forest guard became personal.

“I killed your grandfather,” large sections of the crowd chanted at one point.

Five thugs murdered his grandfather, Nathaniel Jones, in a robbery attempt during Chris’ senior year of high school. Even in the state of North Carolina, basketball frenzy needs to stop somewhere.

“Sunday night was emotional for me for many reasons and I let my emotions get the best of me,” Paul said in a statement apologizing for the cheap shot.

Regardless, Hodge personally did nothing to warrant this unmitigated assault. If the crass chanting of the home crowd, in fact, contributed to Paul’s ornery behavior — as it certainly seemed — the attack and subsequent denial still proved cowardly. Thick skin is simply a requirement of players in a hoops-crazy nation, lest it breed more like Ron Artest.

It’s a bit trite to quote Gandhi, but nevertheless appropriate: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” And, might I add in this case, impotent. Personally, I’m looking forward to watching little Hodges tear up the ACC circuit in another 25 years.