Elite Eight Previews
In predicting this year’s Elite Eight, it is helpful to understand some history. Since 1985, there have only been four tournaments in which the top four seeds in each region won their first round game – 1994, 2000, 2004, and 2007. Last year, three top four seeds were eliminate in their first game including No. 2 Michigan State, No. 3 West Virginia, and No. 4 California.
While it’s rare for the top seeds in each region to make it past Game 1, it is even rarer for the top four seeds in any region to make the Sweet 16. Since 1985, it has happened just 16 times (out of 128 regions for 12.5 percent). In the past seven tournaments, the top four seeds in any region have all made it to the Elite Eight just twice.
There has never been an Elite Eight without at least one No. 1 seed and there has been three times when only one top seed made it that far. The most recent was in 2013. Considering some of this history, we can begin to piece together the eight teams that will remain standing with a shot at the Final Four.
In the East, the two best teams in the region are No. 1 seed Villanova and No. 2 Duke. No. 3 Baylor is erratic and fourth-seed Florida lost C John Egbunu for the season. No. 5 Virginia plays great defense, but struggled the latter half of the ACC season. In the end, it’s the top-seeded Wildcats and Blue Devils in the Elite Eight.
Third-seeded Oregon lost Chris Boucher to a knee injury. While the Ducks will get past Iona in the opener, Creighton beats them in Round 2. That’s where the surprise comes in the Midwest Region. Creighton knocks off No. 2 Louisville to take on top-seeded Kansas in the regional final.
The West Region is where fans will see plenty of upsets. No. 11 Xavier will get to the Sweet Sixteen but will have a tough time getting by No. 2 Arizona. This is the year that head coach Mark Few has the best chance of getting his Gonzaga Bulldogs to the Final Four. Arizona is playing as well as anyone right now. It’s not likely that another 1-2 matchup occurs, but Gonzaga and Arizona reach the Elite Eight in the West.
The South Region sports three teams – North Carolina, Kentucky, and Louisville – that have 24 national titles among them. Unfortunately, they cannot all make the Elite Eight or Final Four. UCLA and Kentucky would meet in the Sweet 16 on March 24 with the winner taking on the Tar Heels, winners of the upper half of the bracket. Look for the run-and-gun style of UCLA and its immense talent to prevail over Kentucky. The Bruins and North Carolina represent the South in the Elite Eight.
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