Two No. 1 seeds. Two No. 2 seeds. A No. 4 seed that feels like a No. 1 seed. A No. 8 seed that was the top-ranked team in the nation coming into the year. A No. 7 seed with a storied history. And, you know, Dayton.
Man alive, the Elite Eight is going to be fun.
Below, you'll find everything you need to ensure you don't miss a second of the action, from a full schedule to my analysis of all four games and predictions, too. North Texas, here we come.
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|Saturday at 6:09 p.m.||Dayton vs. Florida||TBS||March Madness Live||Florida|
|Saturday at 8:49 p.m.||Wisconsin vs. Arizona||TBS||March Madness Live||Arizona|
|Sunday at 2:20 p.m.||UConn vs. Michigan State||CBS||March Madness Live||Michigan State|
|Sunday at 5:05 p.m.||Kentucky vs. Michigan||CBS||March Madness Live||Kentucky|
It's hard to imagine a more compelling matchup than Arizona facing Wisconsin. According to Kenpom.com, Arizona has the country's most efficient defense, while Wisconsin possesses the fourth-most efficient offense.
Arizona allows the fifth-fewest points per game in the country (58.4). Wisconsin's points per game doesn't rank particularly highly (92nd), but that's mostly because they use as much of the shot clock as possible, effectively shortening games. What makes them so tough to beat is that they often create excellent looks for themselves, with the balance to either score buckets on the interior or with their perimeter players.
Frank Kaminsky is the main man here (13.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG0, but Arizona counteracts him with talented big men in Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski. Whenever a clash of styles between defense and offense is a game's primary storyline, the defensive squad usually wins the day.
For that reason, I'm sticking with Arizona.
On paper, Florida seems like the easy pick over Dayton. The Gators haven't lost a game since Dec. 2, after all, beating teams like Kansas, Memphis, Kentucky (three times), Tennessee (three times), Pittsburgh and UCLA along the way.
They are the more athletic team, boast a ton of tournament experience (their seniors who have reached four consecutive Elite Eights) and their pressure defense is difficult to deal with.
Dayton is no pushover, however. They go 10 deep in their rotation, have gotten great guard play all tournament long and have a lot of experience on their roster as well. They are certainly capable of beating Florida, but they are going to have to be nearly flawless to do so. That's because Florida is nearly as deep and even more balanced.
Consider the following, from of ESPN:
When the 2014 NCAA tournament's No. 1 overall seed jogged into its locker room at halftime of Thursday's 79-68 Sweet 16 win over UCLA, it had shot 43 percent from the field. [Scottie] Wilbekin, [Casey] Prather and [Patric] Young combined for eight points on 2-for-11 shooting. And it totally didn't matter.
The Gators led 36-30 at the half for precisely the same reason they were the No. 1 overall seed in the first place—the same reason they plowed through 21 SEC regular-season and conference tournament games unbeaten, the same reason they haven't lost since Dec. 2, the same reason they were the overwhelming public favorite in the ESPN Tournament Challenge, and in the end, the same reason they weathered UCLA's run and pulled away for their 35th win of the season: because they are the deepest, most complete team in the country.
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. Florida is so taut on the defensive end it can hold one of the nation's best passing offenses to 3 assists, 7 turnovers and .90 points per trip in the first half.
Dayton has dismissed three very good defensive teams in Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford. But Florida might be the best team in the country, period. The Gators will reach the Final Four.
While Florida emerged as the nation's best team over the course of the season, Kentucky was expected to be the best team in the land. After a disappointing regular season, it seems the Wildcats are now living up to the hype. They've won six of eight, beating Kansas State, Wichita State and Louisville in the NCAA tournament and losing to Florida in the SEC tournament title game by just a point.
Kentucky, finally, is playing like a team. Against Louisville, they played excellent defense, crashed the boards hard, played at a high energy level for the full 40 minutes and made their free throws and sank clutch shots down the stretch. They looked like the team we all expected to see this season.
Michigan will present a different challenge, as they are a fluid offensive team that can simply shoot their way past most opponents, as ESPNU notes:
Michigan has outscored each of its 3 opponents in the 2014 Men’s Basketball Championship by at least 18 Pts outside the paint.— ESPNU (@ESPNU) March 29, 2014
According to Kenpom, Michigan has the second-most efficient offense in the land. But they aren't much of a defensive squad. Kentucky not only has superior athletes, but is very good one both ends of the floor (13th in offensive efficiency, 26th in defensive efficiency).
Kentucky will control the paint and the Harrison twins will do enough on the perimeter to earn the Wildcats a tight win over Michigan.
Finally, that other team from the Great Lake State, Michigan State, will take on a tough UConn side led by Shabazz Napier, the emerging DeAndre Daniels and a tough defensive style instituted by coach Kevin Ollie.
But let's be honest—if Michigan State plays up to their potential, they'll beat UConn. This is a team that just took the best shot Virginia had and absorbed it (though you can bet they are glad they don't have to face the Cavaliers again). And Virginia was one of the elite defensive sides in the country (fourth in defensive efficiency).
It wasn't a pretty win for the Spartans, but "a win is a win" was the feeling you got from Tom Izzo after the game, via
That was one of the toughest games I've played in. Every possession mattered. That is hard to play, mentally, that sharp.
We didn't look as poised as I would have liked, but when you can go down and then get back up … it shows we've got some character, some heart.
"I guess we're not a bad defensive team, either. That's a big plus for us. That's getting back to who we are."
UConn is in the neighborhood of Virginia defensively (13th in the defensive efficiency), but you still get the feeling they are a bit too reliant on Napier on the other end of the court to pull off the upset, especially against a Sparty side that is so balanced.
The Huskies will make things difficult for the Spartans, but I fully expect Michigan State will be headed to the Final Four.