It's a little hard to believe we're down to just eight teams. A little over nine days ago there were 56 more, all vying to try and make their way into the Final Four. For all the madness and bracket implosions, aside from this year's Cinderella in Dayton, the cast of characters aren't that surprising (unless you consider the run by Kentucky's galaxy of stars improbable).
Saturday features just two games and will determine the regional winners from South and West. So grab a refreshing beverage, plan a nice meal packed with protein and fiber and hug someone close to you.
Life is beautiful and so is basketball.
South Region: No. 11 Dayton (26-10, 10-6 in Atlantic 10) vs. No. 1 Florida (35-2, 18-0 in SEC)
How to watch: 6:09 p.m. ET, TBS
What to watch for: No matter what happens to Dayton tonight, the Flyers will be smiling long after the tournament ends. They've played cohesively and as a unit throughout the entire tournament, using patience and a strong sense of calm to keep moving through. That's a testament to 35-year-old Archie Miller, who coaches with a stability not often seen from third-year head coaches. There's a saying that a team takes on the identity of its coach, and Miller's stamp is on these Flyers.
In a lot of ways it's only fitting Dayton will take on Florida. Billy Donovan, a former Providence player, learned under Rick Pitino as an assistant at Kentucky. After two years at Marshall where he put together a 35-20 record (18-10 in conference), he made the jump to Florida where, well, things haven't been bad at all. The Gators are playing in their fourth straight Elite Eight, and it's hard to find a team more poised and under control in all of college basketball. With experienced veterans and role players who play older than their age, Florida never seems scared.
Florida boasts a top-20 offense and a top-5 defense, according to KenPom's efficiency ratings, and doesn't have any discernible weakness aside from foul shooting – the Gators hit just 66.5 percent of their free throws – so the approach for Dayton must play its best game if it wishes to have a chance. Dayton has had a lot of success being patient in the half court and taking chances to get out and run when the other team misses or turns it over. The Flyers don't actively push the tempo unless they see a weakness to exploit. They'll need their wings, Vee Sanford, Dyshawn Pierre and Jordan Sibert, to share the ball and hit open looks.
The road map for Florida is the same as it has been during the Gators' 29-game win streak. Use size and athleticism to exploit mismatches and look to attack when they have numbers on the break. Florida can hurt you in so many ways, so even if Scottie Wilbekin or Casey Prather aren't in the zone or Patric Young gets in foul trouble, there's another dimension or means of attack. Dayton's run has been a lot of fun this year, but it's hard to see the Flyers getting past the No. 1 overall seed.
How to watch: 8:49 p.m. ET, TBS
What to watch for: Wisconsin isn't in any hurry. So be ready to settle in for 35 seconds of a possession when the Badgers have the ball. I mean it. Don't let up – because chances are the shot the Badgers get when it's all said and done will be worth it. Wisconsin probably has quite a few tempo-free fanboys on board, and with good reason. Even though the Badgers take their time, they seem to make every shot count. They have players who know exactly where they want to cut and what to do when the initial play breaks down.
They'll need every bit of that execution against a long and athletic Arizona defense that ranks first in efficiency in all of basketball. The Wildcats under Sean Miller are so used to things coming easy for them this season that you'd think adversity would put a scare into them. But Arizona responded like a national title contender against San Diego State down the stretch on Thursday. Even though Nick Johnson was ice cold and the team as a whole struggled to find shots against a stout Aztecs' defense, the Wildcats dug deep. Johnson put on a show in the final minutes as Arizona came back to earn its shot in the Elite Eight.
Wisconsin will get good looks. And when the shots start falling, they tend to come in bunches. You'll think you've weathered the first barrage, but before you know it the Badgers are raining more and more points on you before you can recover. For Arizona to have a chance to win, Johnson can't be ice cold and Aaron Gordon can't be tentative. The Wildcats have to seize their opportunities or they're going to be left wondering what if against Wisconsin.