The Elite Eight is, more often than not, the official end of the NCAA tournament at its most dazzling. Upsets already happened, throwing brackets into shambles, but now is when the true power teams leave their mark.
Sure, there may still be a surprise team playing into the weekend from time to time. We have seen VCU, George Mason and Wichita State play in the Final Four recently. This year's darling, Dayton, has a chance to make it that far with a victory over Florida on Saturday.
The other regions are loaded with teams you would expect, like Michigan State, Louisville, Kentucky, Connecticut and Michigan, so expect a weekend of close battles and hard-fought individual matchups.
Here's a look at the Elite Eight schedule and bracket following Thursday's games, and look ahead to what will happen this weekend.
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|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|
Best Team in Elite Eight: Florida Gators
This can change based on Friday's results, but of the four teams that have already clinched a berth in the Elite Eight, it's hard to beat what the Florida Gators have done thus far.
All you have to do is look at how Billy Donovan's team has made it to this point. They took on a tough, physical Pittsburgh team in the round of 32, yet the Panthers managed just 45 points on 19-for-51 shooting.
The concern heading into the Sweet 16 against UCLA was whether Florida could score enough. The Gators erased all doubts by scoring 79 points and shooting 50 percent from the floor, while holding the Bruins to 42 percent shooting.
It's not just that the Gators are winning games, but how they are winning games that makes them special.
ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan noted after Florida's victory over UCLA that balance is the separating factor for the Gators.
Florida is so well-rounded that its best three players, all seniors, can have their worst collective outings of the season at the worst possible time ... and no one in the building, with the possible exception of their opponents, can convince themselves the Gators might actually lose.
Being able to score through multiple avenues, as well as shut down an offense like UCLA's, gives Florida an edge over anyone else in the NCAA tournament.
Friday's Best Sweet 16 Game: Louisville vs. Kentucky
After a Thursday slate of games that, while compelling, lacked the punch to resonate with casual viewers, the NCAA tournament gets a shot of adrenaline with a loaded Friday schedule.
Who do you want to win Friday's biggest matchup?
Virginia and Michigan State should be an old-school slugfest between two teams that excel on the defense. Iowa State and Connecticut has all the makings of a shootout between two high-powered offenses.
The two legendary coaches can insist they are friends all they want, it's no secret there's some resentment and frostiness on the court when they shake hands because of Pitino's insistence he helped start Calipari's coaching career.
When you combine the coaching rivalry with the on-court storylines, it's hard to think of a better Sweet 16 game. Louisville is trying to defend its national championship and has won 14 of its last 15 games.
Kentucky is peaking at the right time, making it all the way to the SEC championship game against Florida and defeating Wichita State in a classic round of 32 game.
There's a lot of pressure on this game to be an instant classic, but with so many storylines to watch on and off the court, it's hard to imagine a scenario where it doesn't live up to the hype.
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