Before the men’s Final Four can be set, there’s two more tickets to New Orleans that must be handed out in Sunday’s Elite Eight matchups.
Two of the teams taking the court represent the upper crust of college basketball. North Carolina and Kansas are making their 30th and 26th appearances, respectively, at this stage of the tournament, trailing only Kentucky for most all-time. The schools have 35 combined trips to the Final Four.
On the opposite end, there are two double-digit seeds in the Elite Eight for just the fourth time since the tournament began seeding teams in 1979. One of those double-digit seeds is Saint Peter’s, the highest seed ever to advance this far. Before the No. 15 Peacocks beat Purdue, no school ranked higher than 12th had ever won its Sweet 16 game.
No. 10 seed Miami made its own history in reaching the Elite Eight for the first time by beating Iowa State. And Jim Larrañaga did the same by becoming the first coach to take two different programs as double-digit seeds to the Elite Eight.
A breakdown of both matchups:
Midwest Region, Chicago
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 10 Miami, CBS, 2:20 p.m. ET
Why watch: The Hurricanes aren’t a fluke. While they struggled early in the season, the veteran group stayed together with Larrañaga’s steady hand guiding them. Miami has won 10 of its past 13, including a rout of No. 2 seed Auburn in the second round. The Jayhawks shouldn’t roll over them after close games against Creighton and Providence. Bill Self’s tournament record includes some surprising losses, too. Look for the Hurricanes to rely on Kameron McGusty and Isaiah Wong to provide the offense and their disruptive defense to frustrate Kansas and keep this game close.
ELITE EIGHT: Winners and losers from Saturday’s games
Why it could disappoint: With Big 12 player of the year Ochai Agbaji and size inside, Kansas, among the nation’s leaders in field-goal percentage, has the ability to score in bunches. That’s something Miami has to address by controlling tempo. The more pace in the game, the better it is for the Jayhawks and that could lead to the Hurricanes playing from behind.
East Region, Philadelphia
No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Saint Peter’s, CBS, 5:05 p.m. ET
Why watch: The Peacocks have captured the attention of the nation with their unlikely run that includes defeats of Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue. Another win would solidify them as the ultimate Cinderella in tournament history. Shaheen Holloway’s team hasn’t backed down against other big names, so it’s not going to do so against the Tar Heels. Carolina is quietly making a surprising run, too, after an up-and-down regular season in which it failed to fulfill its potential. Consecutive defeats against Baylor and UCLA were the result of clutch shooting in crunch time. Caleb Love was the hero Friday and will be a challenge for the Saint Peter’s defense.
Why it could disappoint: Cats have nine lives. It’s unclear how many Peacocks have, but it’s worth wondering if this team that was 12-11 before winning its past 10 games to get here will finally have its luck run out. North Carolina is physically bigger and Armando Bacot’s size will cause major problems. The Tar Heels will want to play fast and if Love and Brady Manek are hitting outside shots then this game could get out of hand.
Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith