After another memorable round of NCAA tournament games, there are now eight teams left standing in pursuit of a national championship. All of them, from top-seeded Florida to surprise Elite Eight member Dayton, are just three wins from the title.
Only one regional final produced the chalk matchup of a No. 1 seed taking on a No. 2 seed for a spot in the Final Four (Arizona vs. Wisconsin in the West). Chaos reigned supreme elsewhere, helping the event live up to its March Madness moniker.
It certainly wouldn't be a surprise if that trend continued into the Elite Eight. So let's check out all of the updated bracket information heading into the round. That's followed by a look at three players who will be crucial in their team's bid for the Final Four.
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Key Players to Watch in Elite Eight
Aaron Gordon (Arizona)
Given the strong class of incoming freshmen around college basketball, there was always going to be a couple that didn't garner nearly enough attention. Gordon fell into that category for most of the regular season, but he's been stealing the spotlight throughout the tournament.
The two things that stand out most about him are his offensive efficiency and consistent impact on the defensive end. Through three games in the Big Dance, he's shot 22-of-30 from the field, good for a shooting percentage of 73 percent.
On defense, his combination of size and athleticism allows him to guard multiple positions. He does so without getting in foul trouble. Arizona State associate head coach Eric Musselman passed along a quote from Gordon to illustrate how the entire Arizona squad buys into the defensive approach:
"What I like about this team is if we play somebody that has a good scorer,we're all arguing to see who gets to defend him." Aaron Gordon— Eric Musselman (@EricPMusselman) March 27, 2014
His all-around ability and execution is off the charts for a freshman. Every bit of that talent will need to get showcased against Wisconsin, which has been downright dominant at times in the tournament. Gordon will need to play a big role in slowing down the Badgers' thriving offense.
Shabazz Napier (Connecticut)
There were stretches throughout the season when it seemed like Connecticut was capable of making a tournament run. The Huskies struggled to string together strong performances against top opponents, however, which left them as more of a question mark at the outset of the Big Dance.
The biggest difference and the main reason they have reached this point is Napier. The senior guard has taken his game to another level under the bright lights of March Madness. He's averaging over 22 points with six rebounds and five assists per tournament contest.
When he plays like that, Connecticut transforms from a solid team into one capable of knocking off anybody in the tournament. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated noted some praise from a scout at the next level:
NBA Scout on Shabazz Napier: "I'd trust him with the ball more than a lot of backup point guards in the league right now."— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) March 29, 2014
The pressure will once again be on Napier's shoulders when the Huskies take on a deep and battle-tested Michigan State squad. That said, as long as the UConn star's hot shooting continues, he's going to make them an extremely tough out.
Andrew Harrison (Kentucky)
When the tournament bracket was released, it felt like a terrible draw for Kentucky. The Wildcats obviously don't lack talent, but potentially going up against veteran teams like Wichita State and Louisville that have made deep runs seemed like it could seal their fate early.
Which of these players will have the best Elite Eight performance?
Sure enough, those matchups materialized. But instead of bowing out to one of those teams, Harrison and Co. strung together some of their best basketball this season to reach the Elite Eight. They were always capable of these type results, but it wasn't clear if they would peak this season due to inexperience.
Harrison has struggled with his shot at times during the run, but other players, including brother Aaron, have picked up the slack. It's his job running the offense that makes him one of the most important players heading into the Elite Eight and beyond should Kentucky advance.
He had seven assists and just two turnovers in the Wildcats' narrow win over Louisville. The reigning champions did everything they could to rattle him, but he rose to the occasion. Kentucky needs a repeat performance to get pass Michigan.