The NCAA tournament has progressed quickly as four teams have already earned a spot in the Elite Eight, putting them one step away from the Final Four.
Of the teams advancing in the South and West Regions, three of them are "supposed" to be there as No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. However, No. 11 Dayton crashed the party as well, and the team has plenty of confidence that it can keep its magical run alive.
At this point, it does not matter which team has the higher seed, just which one plays the best.
In Friday's games, Virginia, Michigan State, Iowa State and Connecticut will battle for the two spots in the East regional final, while the Midwest includes Kentucky, Louisville, Tennessee and Michigan. Any combination would create an intriguing matchup, but first we will look at the top half of the bracket for a breakdown of the regional finals in the South and West.
All Your Bracket Essentials
- Download the Printable Bracket
- Follow the Latest Bracket Updates Live
- Play the Free Bracket Challenge
|Date||Team 1||Team 2||Time (ET)||TV|
|March 29||No. 1 Florida||No. 11 Dayton||6:09 p.m.||TBS|
|March 29||No. 1 Arizona||No. 2 Wisconsin||8:49 p.m.||TBS|
|March 30||No. 1 Virginia/No. 4 Michigan St.||No. 3 Iowa St./No. 7 Connecticut||2:10 p.m./4:55 p.m.||CBS|
|March 30||No. 4 Louisville/No. 8 Kentucky||No. 2 Michigan/No. 11 Tennessee||2:10 p.m./4:55 p.m.||CBS|
Elite Eight Day 1
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 11 Dayton
Based on the seeds, you would think this would be an easy win for Florida. However, No. 1 Connecticut figured it would have an easy matchup against No. 11 George Mason in 2006, while No. 1 Kansas thought the same against No. 11 VCU in 2011.
In both cases, it was the No. 11 seed that was able to cut down the nets after winning the regional final.
Dayton will not sneak up on anyone because this team is not a small school or even really a mid-major. It comes from the Atlantic 10, which has been just as good as any conference in the country with six teams in the Big Dance.
Despite an up-and-down season, the Flyers are peaking at the right time and have become a legitimate contender. One of the keys to this success is the depth, which saw the team use 12 different players in the win over Stanford. This led to quite a few bench points:
Dayton's bench outscored Stanford's bench 34-2— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 28, 2014
Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports provided his take on the depth:
There are teams with a rotating cast of contributors. And then there is Archie Miller's starless cast of thousands, which got a career-high 12 points from a freshman bench jockey who was averaging 2 points and 8 minutes per game.
[Archie] Miller does have a Noah's Ark team – two of everything. That has been Dayton's biggest strength this year, the ability to throw bodies at the opposition and trying various combinations and ride whoever has the hot hand.
The squad has a great deal of balance, which makes it difficult to defend. With the way it has played defense lately—especially on the perimeter where teams are shooting just 18.6 percent in the tournament—the squad has a chance to beat anyone.
However, the only thing that can match up with depth is a team that has just as much of it. Florida might not play 12 guys in a game, but everyone who steps on the court either is already or has the potential to be elite at his position.
The Gators have four senior starters in a class that has now reached the Elite Eight in all four years of their careers. They will now try to get over the hump with a backcourt that seems to be able to take over games whenever it wants.
Casey Prather has been the squad's leading scorer during the year, but Scottie Wilbekin is the one who takes over late, as noted by Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports:
This is classic Florida. When matched against tough competition late, tend to press the accelerator. Wilbekin taking control.— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) March 28, 2014
While these players should be more than enough to handle the scoring load, Michael Frazier II, Patric Young, Dorian Finney-Smith and others have proven the ability to post big games for Florida.
Both teams have a great deal of balance, but the Gators have more talent at each position and know how to play well as a team. This is something Dayton's previous opponents could not do, and the difference will be seen in the upcoming matchup.
This game will remain close with a low-scoring effort before Florida eventually takes over and earns the victory.
Prediction: Florida 68, Dayton 60
No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 2 Wisconsin
Arizona was not as dominant as it might have hoped against San Diego State. However, that result was more about the skill of the Aztecs rather than a poor performance by the No. 1 seed.
Still, great teams find a way to pull out tough wins, and Arizona did that on Thursday.
No one exemplified the idea of playing through difficulties more than Nick Johnson. The team's leading scorer had zero points through 37 minutes of game time and seemed to miss every shot he took. However, he turned it around with a couple of big plays in the final minutes and then his 10 free throws in a row to seal the win.
After the game, head coach Sean Miller explained, via Billy Witz of The New York Times:
It took tremendous toughness and resolve. We overcame Nick not scoring, Kaleb in foul trouble, the beginning of the game, giving up that many shots. That, to me, was the story of the game: us finding a way, being tough-minded and almost willing our way to the finish line.
Of course, it is incredibly tough for any team to defend plays like this one:
On the other hand, the Wildcats certainly would have preferred a game like Wisconsin had, which was a blowout victory against Baylor.
Frank Kaminsky had a huge effect on the win, totaling 19 points and six blocks. However, this was a great overall team effort as it showed exactly what the Badgers do well. They move the basketball and find the best possible look before taking a shot.
ESPN's Dick Vitale discussed the offense, which shot 52 percent in the win:
Wisconsin's offensive efficiency has been off the charts. Kaminsky has been super.— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) March 28, 2014
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports was also a fan of the solid play:
If you can't appreciate what Wisconsin has done in this game, you simply aren't a purist. Badgers were flawless from tip to buzzer.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 28, 2014
The problem is this ball movement will be much tougher against Arizona, which has the No. 1 defense in the country, according to KenPom.com. Johnson and T.J. McConnell put great pressure on the ball in the backcourt, and the frontcourt has enough size and athleticism to make finishing in the paint extremely difficult.
This size could affect a Wisconsin offense that has been so good all year long. This will create a close battle for 40 minutes, but Arizona has the better closers you can count on in the final few minutes. This will make the difference as the Wildcats earn a trip to the Final Four.
Prediction: Arizona 71, Wisconsin 69
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.