As usual, a number of unheralded teams surprised bracket creators across America during the NCAA tournament's opening weekend. But not all of them will be done with just the Sweet 16.
Whether it's a double-digit seed knocking off multiple top-notch opponents and Final Four contenders or a team that is finally peaking at the right time, having the hot hand is crucial in March, and these teams certainly have it.
No perfect brackets remain, and it would take a lot of luck to even be near perfection given teams like Dayton, Tennessee and Stanford—all double-digit seeds—making it into the exclusive group of the final 16 schools.
However, you can count on these picks coming to fruition as these squads advance into the Elite Eight and have a shot at the Final Four.
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No. 11 Seed Dayton Flyers
The selection committee stacked the No. 11 seed Dayton Flyers up against two powerhouse programs—Ohio State and Syracuse—in order to earn their way into the Sweet 16. And they beat both.
A bit of fortune went their way heading into Memphis however, as No. 10 seed Stanford knocked off the No. 2 seed Kansas Jayhawks and Andrew Wiggins, meaning the Flyers will have to face the Cardinal for a spot in the Elite Eight.
Dayton's brand of basketball isn't overly pleasing to the eye, but it wears down opponents on the defensive end. It held both the Buckeyes and the Orange to less than 60 points, outrebounded Syracuse and tied Ohio State on the glass—awfully impressive against two of the nation's most imposing power conference schools.
This Stanford squad has proved it's no slouch by getting here, but the Cardinal were fortunate to run into a hapless Kansas team suffering an identity crisis and without Joel Embiid. Dayton's relentless defensive focus will turn its attention toward Stanford guard Chasson Randle and Stanford's offense will struggle without him leading the way.
Getting this far was already enough to earn head coach Archie Miller a raise and extension, according to ESPN.com, but Dayton might have to throw more cash his way once he gets the Flyers to their first Elite Eight since 1984 and the third in program history.
No. 8 Seed Kentucky Wildcats
This isn't really a bracket-buster team, at least yet. Kentucky's win over then-undefeated and No. 1 seed Wichita State on Sunday was highly predictable.
But beating No. 4 seed Louisville isn't, and that's just what they're about to do.
Kentucky has the talent of a No. 1 or 2 seed, and it showed in the Wildcats' thrilling victory over the Shockers that proved to be an instant classic and had UK coach John Calipari lauding the level of play, per New York Times' Zach Braziller:
John Calipari: "That was an elite eight game." #bbn— Zach Braziller (@NYPost_Brazille) March 23, 2014
The level of competition will only increase with them facing bitter in-state foe Louisville, and the Wildcats are poised to knock off the defending national champs for the second time this season.
The Harrison twins are playing the best basketball of their careers; meanwhile, Louisville's guards have looked far from elite thus far in the NCAA tournament. Willie Cauley-Stein has been immovable in the post, and lanes have been opening up for Julius Randle to slash and kick it out to their red-hot shooters. That will nullify Montrezl Harrell's impact.
Louisville might be better than Kentucky, but Big Blue is peaking at the perfect time and the defending champs, struggling to find their own form lately, will run into a buzz saw.
No. 7 Seed Connecticut Huskies
After having to sit out of the postseason last season despite boasting a resume that would have garnered them an at-large NCAA bid, Connecticut came into the Big Dance with a chip on its shoulder.
Two wins later—one a comfortable win over No. 2 seed Villanova, the other an overtime thriller against Saint Joseph's—Kevin Ollie's crew has turned an up-and-down season into a Sweet 16 berth. And it won't stop there, as they're set to knock off No. 3 seed Iowa State and cruise into the Elite Eight.
Shabazz Napier is doing his best Kemba Walker impression, putting the Huskies on his back en route to 24.5 points, 4.5 assists and 6.5 boards per game so far in the NCAA tournament. Whether it's on the boards, dishing it to his teammates, draining deep threes or slashing to the rim, he's doing it all.
Will Connecticut keep rolling against Iowa State?
With DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright serving as more of fellow star performers than complementary pieces as of late, Connecticut has taken its game from formidable to dangerous. Plus, the presence of Niels Giffey in the paint has been enough to clear the way for Napier and company.
The Huskies steamrolled through Villanova—a team that, like Iowa State, relies on a wide array of contributors. The Cyclones may have DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim playing at a high level, but without Georges Niang on the interior, they have lost the backbone of their team.
If Napier keeps shooting lights out and playing inspired basketball, the Huskies will continue rolling on into the Elite Eight.
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