Four of the hottest teams in the country notched victories on Thursday evening to reach the Elite Eight of the 2013 NCAA tournament, but even fewer squads can be considered true national championship contenders.
No top seeds remain in the East and West regions, yet there are clear-cut favorites to reach the national semifinals in Atlanta.
Below is a power ranking of each team's national championship hopes and analysis pertaining to what each March Madness survivor brings to the hardwood.
4. Wichita State Shockers
Just to reach this juncture of the tournament is a phenomenal effort for the upstart Shockers. Check out this anecdote provided by ESPN's John Buccigross:
Bucci Mane @Buccigross
Wichita State: 1st 9 seed in Elite 8 since 1994 (Boston Coll). 1 win shy of 1st MVC team in Final Four since 79 Indiana State (Larry Bird)2013-3-29 11:01:59
Gregg Marshall's bunch has been relatively dominant in every victory, utilizing their size and unusual efficiency from the three-point line to get it done.
A big key behind the team's success is how well the Shockers have shut down the top perimeter scorers from each of their foes.
Pittsburgh's Tray Woodall made just one of his 12 field goal attempts in the opener. In the round of 32, Gonzaga sharpshooter Kevin Pangos dropped just six of 17 shots, including four out of 12 from beyond the arc.
In the most recent victory over fellow mid-major surprise La Salle, the Explorers' leading scorer Ramon Galloway misfired on 11 of his 15 field goals, and a 14-2 run to open the game put the No. 13 seed in too big of a hole to catch Wichita State.
Unfortunately, the ride will likely end in Los Angeles against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Malcolm Armstead and freshman standout Ron Baker will be stifled by OSU's strong perimeter defense, led by Aaron Craft, and the Buckeyes have athletic wing players to create enough matchup problems to advance.
3. Marquette Golden Eagles
Vander Blue has simply been superb for the Golden Eagles, who took down Final Four favorite Miami on Thursday evening, 71-61.
Marquette held the Hurricanes to just 16 points in the first half, as Miami's Shane Larkin had to tread cautiously playing with two fouls. It was a true team victory, as junior forward Jamil Wilson stepped up with a game-high 16 points off the bench.
Had it not been for a rousing comeback to defeat pesky No. 14 seed Davidson in the round of 64, the Golden Eagles would not have been here. They then had to grind out a two-point victory over impending new Big East foe Butler.
The Golden Eagles have a great chance to get to the Final Four but will have to negotiate Syracuse in the Elite Eight. That doesn't bode well for them, as the Orange have a suffocating 2-3 zone defense and have endured as much adversity throughout the season as any team in the country.
Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated documented Williams' comments about the team's impending clash with their conference rival:
Pete Thamel @SIPeteThamel
Buzz Williams: "I don't want to play Syracuse again." He added: "I would rather play someone else."2013-3-29 18:01:19
It should be an extremely close, competitive game, but the Golden Eagles will ultimately fall short of the biggest stage in college basketball's Big Dance.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Big Ten competition has benefited the Buckeyes, who have shown incredible resilience in the past two games. Aaron Craft hit a game-winning three to beat Iowa State in Round 3, and LaQuinton Ross did the same in the waning moments to defeat the dangerous Arizona Wildcats.
ESPN Stats & Info points out how the Buckeyes have reversed a discouraging NCAA tournament trend this time around:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
From 2009-12, Ohio State was 0-4 in tournament games decided by one possession. In 2013, the Buckeyes are 2-0 in such games.2013-3-29 16:02:02
Two showdowns against explosive offenses weren't enough to knock out Ohio State, which has one of the best defenses in the country and an essential go-to scorer in Deshaun Thomas.
Wichita State has been playing exceptional basketball, but the Buckeyes appear to be a team determined to reach Atlanta.
The Shockers' offense isn't as formidable as the opponents that Thad Matta's squad has faced recently, and the Buckeyes should overcome their superior size to move on.
From there, a matchup with the Louisville Cardinals is likely to occur. It will be an intense defensive battle, but Ohio State may not be able to quite match the hot play of Rick Pitino's recently dominant team.
1. Syracuse Orange
If the Orange can smother the Indiana Hoosiers' high-octane, versatile offense, there's no reason to think they can't do that all the way to the national semifinals.
After being outscored by 30 in the second half of the Big East conference tournament final, Syracuse looks like a completely different team.
Syracuse has overcome various offensive struggles to come out on top. Whether it was the 12-minute field-goal drought against California or the lackluster performance in the Indiana game by high-scoring swingman James Southerland, the Orange have gotten it done.
That should allow them to push past Marquette in the East regional final in Washington, D.C., which will avenge a 74-71 regular-season loss. Thereafter, an encounter with either Florida, Michigan or Kansas would likely await them in the Final Four.
As inconsistent as Syracuse has been all season, the team is due for a down performance. Michael Carter-Williams played out of his mind against the Hoosiers, netting an atypical 24 points.
Carter-Williams will either face Gators defensive specialist Scottie Wilbekin, Wolverines Naismith Award finalist Trey Burke or the Jayhawks' incredible defense. Kansas limits opponents to a nation-low 35.7 percent shooting from the field, per NCAA.com.
The potential opponents following the Golden Eagles threaten to halt Jim Boeheim's unlikely run through March with this team, but the Orange will definitely be a tough out moving forward.
Out of Thursday's victors, Syracuse has the best chance at a national championship since the Buckeyes have a lesser chance of getting by Louisville.
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