Three more wins is all that stands between the Elite Eight teams and a national championship. At this point, it no longer matters whether a squad was viewed as a top contender or a long shot coming into the NCAA tournament.
After an intriguing Sweet 16 slate, the Elite Eight starts with a pair of matchups that are interesting for different reasons. The opener features this year's Cinderella in Dayton going up against Florida, the top overall seed. It's followed by a battle of the top two seeds from the West Region.
It should make for a great start to the fifth round of play. Let's check out all of the notable bracket information heading into the Elite Eight, along with the schedule for Saturday's action and predictions for both games. All odds used are courtesy of Vegas Insider.
All Your Bracket Essentials
Elite Eight—Day 1 Schedule
|2014 NCAA Tournament - Elite Eight|
|South||Dayton vs. Florida||6:09 p.m.||TBS|
|West||Wisconsin vs. Arizona||8:49 p.m.||TBS|
(11) Dayton vs. (1) Florida; FLA -10
Stories like the one Dayton has put together over the past couple of weeks are what make the NCAA tournament special. In its opening game against Ohio State, there were two moments inside the final 10 seconds alone that could have led to a quick elimination.
First, Vee Sanford made a go-ahead jumper. If he'd missed that shot, the Buckeyes likely would have grabbed the rebound and forced Dayton to hit a miracle shot to survive. Then, Aaron Craft had a look at the other end to win the game for Ohio State and it rimmed out.
So the Flyers were one shot on either end from going out, and now they're preparing to face the top overall seed for a spot in the Final Four. While it may seem like an uphill battle, Bryan Armen Graham of Sports Illustrated passed along an interesting note about similar games:
The most impressive thing about Florida's run to this point is that the team has not played its best basketball. For example, Scottie Wilbekin struggled with his shot for most of the game against UCLA, but the Gators still won by nine, in large part due to the hot shooting of Michael Frazier II.
If the Gators are able to put everything together, they will borderline on unstoppable. But they haven't shown that peak form quite yet, which at least leaves Dayton with an opportunity to keep its run of upsets going Saturday.
The other good news for Dayton is that both teams prefer a slower pace. Being able to play a half-court game with fewer possessions gives the Flyers a much better chance of slowing down the well-rounded Gators offense.
That said, this is undoubtedly Florida's game to lose. The Flyers beat Ohio State and Syracuse by a combined three points, and neither of those teams was at its best. The Gators should do enough to bring the Cinderella run to an end.
Prediction: Florida by eight
(2) Wisconsin vs. (1) Arizona; ARIZ -3
Quietly, Wisconsin might be having the most impressive tournament of any team to this point.
It opened with a 40-point win over American, while several other top seeds struggled to separate from what should have been overmatched opponents. Then it took down Oregon, a popular sleeper pick, and it mostly recently cruised past a Baylor squad that looked tremendous in the first two rounds.
The Badgers are going to face a much different challenge from Arizona, though. The Wildcats are the owners of the best defense in the country, according to KenPom.com's adjusted rankings, and they have lived up to that high billing so far in the tournament.
Arizona is coming off a narrow victory over San Diego State in which leading scorer Nick Johnson was 2-of-12 from the field. C.L. Brown of ESPN passed along comments from head coach Sean Miller, who said his team's resolve to battle its way through that game was a very good sign:
When I talk about will and resolve and having a toughness about our team, it's the willingness to take the shot and then make it when things haven't gone your way the entire game. Especially in a game like this of such great meaning.
Much like the first game, this matchup features two teams that like playing slower. The difference is that while Arizona excels on the defensive end, Wisconsin is a very efficient offensive team. So that end of the floor is likely to decide the game.
It's tough to pick against the Wildcats in that scenario due to the presence of Aaron Gordon. His ability to play strong man defense down low while blocking and altering a lot of shots is off the charts for a freshman. And he's improved as the season has gone on.
As long as Johnson is able to get back on track offensively, look for Arizona to earn a berth in the Final Four with a hard-fought victory.
Prediction: Arizona by five