By Dan Bernstein– senior columnist

(CBS) The “Brain Bowl,” this was not.

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Two of the four best private academic institutions in the power conferences combined for an NCAA Tournament first-round outcome that was as boneheaded as it was thrilling. Northwestern beat Vanderbilt, 68-66, primarily due to an opponent that made one bad decision after another and repeatedly looked lost.

The Wildcats had a 15-point second-half lead, only to then be outscored 28-12. Three of those points came after Scottie Lindsey fouled Matthew Fisher-Davis behind the line, handing him three free throws for no good reason. But Fisher-Davis more than made up for that mental error by intentionally fouling Bryant McIntosh with 14.6 seconds left and Vanderbilt leading 66-65. McIntosh would make both, effectively deciding the game.

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What’s more, the Vanderbilt offense devolved into turn-taking and contested low-percentage shots on critical late possessions. Coach Bryce Drew has already heard his name attached to current job openings even after just one season in Nashville, but any athletic director watching this meltdown would be given pause. Even the final opportunity for a desperation heave was messy and chaotic, an irony that a coach famous for hitting a perfectly-designed game-winner was unable to design and implement something to get a more reasonable look.

Exciting and dumb aren’t mutually exclusive, as these schools are intelligent enough to understand.

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Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s “Bernstein and Goff Show” in afternoon drive. You can follow him on Twitter  @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.