With the Final Four quickly coming into focus, four of college basketball's best teams will have an opportunity to reach the NCAA tournament's final weekend this Saturday.
Florida, Dayton, Arizona and Wisconsin all earned Elite Eight berths Thursday night, and two of them will give themselves a 25 percent chance at winning it all. Before that happens, though, college basketball fans will be treated to two interesting matchups.
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In one contest, upstart Dayton will look to continue its miracle run by knocking off the top overall seed in Florida. In the other game, Wisconsin and Arizona will engage in a clash of styles that should make for a highly entertaining affair.
Here is everything you need to know about when and where to catch the first day of Elite Eight action, along with analysis regarding which players you should keep an eye on.
|No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 1 Florida||Saturday, March 29||6:09 p.m.||TBS|
|No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Arizona||Saturday, March 29||8:49 p.m.||TBS|
Not only is guard Nick Johnson Arizona's leading scorer this season, with better than 16 points per game, but he also happens to be one of the best overall players in the country. That's bolstered by the fact that he was named one of just four finalists for the Naismith Player of the Year award, according to ESPN's Jeff Goodman:
Naismith finalists: Doug McDermott, Russ Smith, Nick Johnson, Jabari Parker.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 23, 2014
Johnson didn't play like a candidate for that honor in the Sweet 16 against San Diego State, though, and it very nearly ended the Wildcats' season. He did manage to grind out 15 points, eight rebounds and two assists, but he converted on just two of his 12 attempts from the field.
Per Billy Witz of the New York Times, Johnson didn't allow himself to lose focus or confidence despite the tough shooting night:
I have to credit my teammates; they didn't let me say (it wasn't my night). I wanted to say it a few times. I think it was the one where I shot a little bank shot. I thought it was in, and it rolled out. I just had to give it a smile. Knowing that so much is on me, I take that as a challenge each and every night, not just to score the ball but to make plays. When I'm not doing that, it disrupts the team.
Johnson and the Wildcats willed their way to victory against San Diego State, but it is unlikely that they will be able to survive similar struggles when they face Wisconsin. Johnson will have to return to Player of the Year form in order for Arizona to advance, so it will be interesting to see how he performs under that pressure.
He may not receive as much praise as explosive teammates such as Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin, but Florida center Patric Young has been key to the Gators' success all season long. In fact, Young has been incredibly consistent over the past three years, with averages of better than 10 points and six rebounds per game in all three campaigns.
Young hasn't been asked to contribute much offensively thus far in the tournament, with just 21 points through three games, but that could change against Dayton in the Elite Eight. The Flyers don't have much of a post presence since they prefer to spread the floor, and that should make Young a major asset for the Gators on both ends of the floor.
Florida has a great rotation of bigs, while Dayton relies almost exclusively on Matt Kavanaugh in the paint. While Kavanaugh is solid, he'll struggle to contain a physical freak like Young. As San Diego Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal pointed out on Twitter, Young has an NFL body:
Patric Young Florida's center looks like he could be a 1st round NFL draft pick at DE— Eddie Royal (@EddieRoyalWR) March 28, 2014
Young should be able to use his size and strength on the glass, and it would also benefit Florida if he could force Kavanaugh into foul trouble. There isn't much that is pretty or creative in Young's game, but he'll be effective nonetheless.
Wisconsin is a very unique team in comparison to most of the other teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, and center Frank Kaminsky is representative of that. The seven-footer has been one of the Badgers' key contributors all season long, with averages of nearly 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks per contest, but he has raised his game to an even higher level in March.
Which player will perform best in the Elite Eight?
Kaminsky scored 19 points in each of Wisconsin's wins over Oregon and Baylor, and he gives the Badgers an interesting dimension. Not only is he capable of doing damage in the paint offensively, but he can also step out and hit jumpers, including shots from beyond the arc. That really stretches out defenses, and it seemingly took Baylor out of its comfort zone in the Sweet 16.
While Kaminsky isn't exactly a prolific three-point shooter, he hits roughly one per game, and that changes defensive game plans significantly. Based on how impactful he has been, it's tough to fathom that there was so little interest in him coming out of high school, as pointed out by Chris Emma of Scout.com:
Just two Big Ten schools offered Frank Kaminsky: Wisconsin and Northwestern. So many schools regret that recruiting miss.— Chris Emma (@CEmmaScout) March 28, 2014
Arizona boasts a big weapon in the paint in center Kaleb Tarczewski, but Kaminsky should be able to draw him away from the rim, which will help Wisconsin immensely on the offensive glass. As long as Kaminsky hits his jumpers, Arizona will be scrambling to defend him all game long.
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