Arizona vs. Wisconsin and Florida vs. Dayton: Which will make Final Four?
In one regional, a No. 1 seed clashes with a program snapping a three-decade absence from the Elite Eight.
In the other regional, everything has gone expected, with the two top seeds advancing to the final. As of Thursday night, it's Florida and Dayton for one spot in the Final Four, and Arizona versus Wisconsin for the other.
Here's an early look at how each team might get to Dallas:
Why Arizona will make the Final Four. The grind against a top-shelf San Diego State defense was expected. But the resolve necessary to push past the Aztecs approached extraordinary levels. Nick Johnson missed his first 10 shots from the floor, finishing 2-of-12 overall, and the Wildcats were out-rebouned by 10. That seems to be the antithesis of Arizona's formula for success, but it could be considered a hiccup. Wisconsin shouldn't be as asphyxiating a defensive team, and the Wildcats shot 47.9 percent against San Diego State anyway. An elite team learned it could survive without much contributed from the Pac-12 player of the year until late, and that lesson is now applicable to Saturday's matchup and beyond.
Why Wisconsin will make the Final Four. By the latter stages of the second half, the Badgers had ravaged Baylor's defense with clinical precision on multiple possessions and, quite by accident, hit a Bears player in a very sensitive area. At that point it seemed as if Baylor would leave Anaheim without luggage or clothes and with its dorm rooms rented out for drying venison. The Badgers are rolling, shooting 52 percent from the floor and assisting on 18-of-26 field goals Thursday, not to mention out-rebounding Baylor 39-33. Should there be a reprise Saturday, Wisconsin can upend the West's top seed.
Why Florida will make the Final Four. Entering a Sweet 16 matchup with the Gators, UCLA had been held to less than 70 points just once since Feb. 2. Thursday counted for No. 2, with Florida compiling a solid enough defensive effort to shut down as potent an attack as it will see the rest of the way. The Gators also shot 50 percent from the floor, all of which goes to the central point: Even when it looks like Florida is struggling, it might not be, primarily because it can caulk holes with the likes of Kasey Hill (six points, 10 assists) or Dorian Finney-Smith (10 points, six rebounds, four assists) and grind along. Defense helped save the Gators, for now.
Why Dayton will make the Final Four. The Flyers are on a mind-boggling roll that includes just two losses since Feb. 1...and both to St. Joseph's. No one else has defeated Dayton since, and there were 11 players scoring in some way on Thursday night. There is belief, and there is a defense that held Stanford to 37.9 percent shooting in the regional semifinal. It's the longest of long shots, but Dayton looks just confident enough and Florida just vulnerable enough to wonder.THAMEL: Meet the Flyers: Dayton’s 12-man rotation has it rolling into the Elite Eight