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NCAA Tournament 2011: Big Questions Entering the Elite 8

Neri SteinFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2011

NCAA Tournament 2011: Big Questions Entering the Elite 8

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    We have less than 24 hours to assess the Sweet 16 and debate how each winning team will carry over into the Elite Eight. But the easiest thing to do in the mind of a fan is ask how their team's weakness will affect them in the next round and how they can take advantage of their opponent's weakness.  

    There are certainly some teams here that few expected to be, but we've all been watching them for at least a couple weeks, and we know how they work. 

    So that being said, here are the biggest questions in each game of the Elite Eight.   

Will UConn Be Able to Stop Arizona's Derrick Williams?

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    The Pac-10 Player of the Year has done everything expected of him in Arizona's first three games of the tournament and then some. 

    He had the game-saving block in the final seconds against Memphis in the second round, and then he scored the go-ahead points and got the game-saving block, again in the final seconds, against Texas.

    He carried his Wildcats in their Sweet 16 matchup against Duke to keep his team in it in the first half and then continued to dominate the paint in the second as his teammates chipped in, and they cantered into the Elite Eight at the expense of the defending champs.

    He's been unstoppable through three games, and No. 3 UConn will have to find some way to stop him Saturday.

    The best way to do that is to cut him off at his source: his teammates. 

    UConn has plenty of scoring threats of its own, especially from deep, so they can certainly match Williams for points.

    If they can keep the rest of the Wildcats off the scoreboard, thereby diminishing Williams' chances as well, they may not need to worry too much about Williams scoring.

    He's a big guy and is hard to stop when he gets around the basket, but he's not who the Huskies need to worry about. They know they can rack up points thanks to Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb, but they'll need to be wary of giving up too many open jump shots thanks to double-teaming Williams and giving up offensive rebounds and easy buckets.  

Will Florida's Poor Free-Throw Shooting Come Back to Haunt Them?

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    The No. 2 Florida Gators can light up from behind the arc, they can dominate in the paint and they can force their opponents into turnovers. It seems the only thing they can't do is shoot free throws.

    Or at least some of their guys can't. SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parsons shoots just 55 percent while Florida's center Vernon Macklin shoots 46 percent. Guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker are sometimes erratic as well. 

    Against an upstart team like Butler riding waves of all sorts of confidence, that could be a recipe for disaster.

    The Gators played plenty of down-to-the-wire games including overtime in the season and showed they can turn it on when needed to, but in March Madness, you've got to make the easy ones.

    The good thing for the Gators is Butler doesn't score much, so they may not have to worry about the game coming down to some clutch free throws. But you never know for sure.

    The Gators are prone to scoring droughts as well, and if you can't at least make free throws, it opens up all sorts of options for your opponent.

    Butler and Florida are pretty evenly matched, but the Gators have more depth and should be able to punch their ticket to the Final Four. If they don't shoot themselves in the foot that is. 

Does John Calipari Need to Win to Keep His Job?

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    Until he led UNC to the title in 2005, Roy Williams was the best coach in the game without a ring. Now that title belongs Kentucky's John Calipari (I'm in no way comparing them as men).

    The two will square off when No. 2 UNC faces No. 4 Kentucky in the Elite Eight Sunday, and the teams are pretty evenly matched. But the coaches may have different concerns coming out of the game. 

    Calipari has got to be desperate to win a title after his Memphis team inexplicably lost to Kansas in the 2008 final. 

    He's had a very impressive two seasons as the highest paid coach in the country with the Wildcats, but Elite Eights or Final Fours just won't cut it there. He needs to win the title; that's what he's being paid to do. 

    Everyone knows Calipari lives on the one-and-done player, and if he keeps at it without producing a championship, the Kentucky alumni are going to become impatient real quick. 

    They likely won't come calling for his head if Kentucky were to lose to UNC or even sometime in the Final Four, but they won't like seeing star freshman Brandon Knight declare for the NBA knowing they'll have to start all over next season.

    Bottom line, Kentucky is used to winning, not just making the Elite Eight.  

Will We Have a Final Four Without Any No. 1 Seeds?

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The 11-seed Virginia Commonwealth takes on the last remaining No. 1 seed Kansas on Sunday for the final spot on the Final Four. 

    Only once have all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four and only twice have none of them made it. The last time was in 2006. Coincidentally, the 11-seed George Mason defeated the 1-seed UConn to make it there. 

    Could VCU pull off the feat again?

    It's been a crazy tournament, for the Rams more than anyone else, and what better way to top it off than by punching a ticket to the Final Four at the expense of a No. 1?

    The answer to this question is probably pretty easy for just about everyone, but that's why we play the game. You never know what's going to happen in 40-plus minutes of NCAA tournament basketball, so tune in this weekend to see what madness unfolds!

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