NCAA Tournament 2011: The Most Likely Elite 8 Upsets

Neri SteinFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2011

NCAA Tournament 2011: The Most Likely Elite 8 Upsets

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    We don't have much time to look back on the Sweet 16 before the Elite Eight creeps up on us, so let's just go ahead and look forward. 

    Less than two days ago, there were 16 teams fighting it out for the national title. Now there's just eight, and pretty soon there will be a Final Four. Is that why they call this madness?

    Upsets have been the name of the game so far this tournament, and that is sure to continue into the Elite Eight. We'll take a quick look at which high seeds (so few of them left!) need to watch out for the upstarts they're going against this weekend and who's got the most dangerous road to the Final Four.

    Keep in mind, it's actually difficult to call some of these guys underdogs anymore after what they've done to get to this point.  

1. Arizona vs. UConn

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    The Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams has led his No. 5 Arizona Wildcats into the Elite Eight on the back of two game-saving, last-second blocks and one domination of a No. 1 seed.

    Would it really be an upset if they were to defeat the UConn Huskies on Saturday? According to the seeding, yes.

    Arizona used its style of play and strengths to defeat Memphis and Texas in the early rounds, but then shocked everyone by crushing the defending champs Duke, 93-77, and it really wasn't that close.

    The Blue Devils had the lead at halftime, but they were thoroughly beaten in the second half as Williams and Arizona ran way with it.

    Meanwhile, No. 3 UConn defeated No. 2 San Diego State, in the Aztecs' own backyard no less, behind Naismith candidate Kemba Walker. Walker staked his claim for an Oscar too by going down a little too easily on a forearm push from Jamaal Franklin, leading to a technical foul and two free throws, but the Huskies took advantage of SDSU's mistakes all night long.

    The Huskies let the Aztecs claw their way back in at times, and that's not a smart move against Arizona.

    If Williams can dominate the paint like he has the whole tournament, UConn will need Walker to light up the scoreboard once again, and his teammates will have to help.

    Don't leave it late against Arizona.   

2. Butler vs. Florida

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    The No. 8 seed Butler Bulldogs took down No. 1 Pitt in somewhat lucky fashion, but they made no mistake against No. 4 Wisconsin. Again, maybe they shouldn't be considered an upset team anymore. 

    Butler played close games in its first two, leaving it to the last seconds to seal the win, but had a 20-point lead almost slip away against Wisconsin. Thanks to Matt Howard's 20-point, 12-rebound performance, the win against the Badgers was never really in doubt.

    Last year's runner-up is riding a 12-game winning streak and plenty of confidence thanks to head coach Brad Stevens, who looks like he could've just graduated high school himself. 

    But the Bulldogs don't score much, and that'll be a problem against their Elite Eight opponent, the No. 2 Florida Gators. 

    Butler's defense was swarming against Wisconsin, and it'll need a similar performance against the high-scoring Gators. Florida started out hot against Jimmer Fredette and BYU Thursday night, and only suffered one short scoring drought in the game. 

    The Bulldogs will also need to contain the likes of Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus in the paint for Florida, as both had great nights for different reasons against BYU. Tyus dominated the paint with 19 points and 17 rebounds while Macklin manipulated the double teams to find his open teammates on the perimeter.

    If Butler can keep the Gators scoring down and keep it close, it'll have a shot because the Gators aren't great from the free-throw line. But the Bulldogs will have to stop Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker's three-pointers to keep it close.  

3. Kentucky vs. North Carolina

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    North Carolina finally looked like a 2-seed Friday night as it manhandled Marquette pretty much from start to finish. The Tar Heels definitely have a point to prove after missing the tournament all together last year and thereby missing the chance to defend their 2009 title.

    Their next test will be against the Kentucky Wildcats Sunday in the Elite Eight.

    Kentucky took down No. 1 overall Ohio State Friday, and did it like men. The No. 4 Wildcats were aggressive all night long, were always the first to loose balls and blocked 10 Buckeye shots. 

    They'll need to repeat that if John Calipari wants to get back to the Final Four.

    The Tar Heels didn't shoot an outstanding percentage against Marquette, but they went on big scoring streaks and dominated the Golden Eagles defensively.

    On Sunday they'll need to match the Wildcats' intensity—especially in the paint—to make it to Houston.

    Kentucky struggled to gel early in the season and had some funky moments throughout, but the way the Wildcats have played the SEC tournament and in their first three NCAA tournament games so far, they're looking a lot better than a 4-seed.

    I don't know if I'd really call this one an upset. 

4. Virginia Commonwealth vs. Kansas

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    Virginia Commonwealth is the ultimate Cinderella. The Rams were one of the four teams able to play their way into the second round, and a lot of people weren't happy about it. They've produced some stellar displays since and have taken down big conference teams, earning a trip to the Elite Eight.

    The 11-seed VCU will take on the only 1-seed left, Kansas. Even though VCU has won four games to get to this point and has done everything to prove it deserves to be here, this would still be a huge upset.

    And I really can't see that happening.

    The Jayhawks manhandled VCU's neighbors, Richmond, in the Sweet 16, and VCU will have to put up a much bigger fight than the Spiders did if it wants to win this one. 

    The only downside for the Jayhawks, if you can call it that, is Kansas hasn't faced a seed higher than ninth in the tournament, and it's dominated each and every one of them.

    The Rams will need to somehow keep the Morris twins, Brady Morningstar and more in check throughout, but they really need to worry more about themselves. 

    VCU is riding a high being the underdog and loved by many, and if the Rams can keep their heads together and not get caught up with where they are, they can definitely give Kansas a run for their money. 

    And if they can keep the game close to the end, they've got as much a chance as anybody to make sure no No. 1 seeds make it to the Final Four.