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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

A closer look at this weekend’s five Final Four underdogs

Ryan Greene
The Dagger

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Can Cincinnati grind its way to its first Final Four since 1992? (AP)

Of the 16 teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, 11 were among the top 16 seeds in the field of 68, including all four No. 1 seeds advancing to the upcoming second weekend of the dance.

Here's a closer look at the other five, all seeded No. 6 or lower. Any of them moving on to the Final Four would be looked at as at least a moderate upset.

Cincinnati — No. 6 seed, East Region

 

Believe it or not, the Bearcats are sitting pretty heading into the program's first Sweet 16 appearance since 2001. With wins over Texas and Florida State last weekend, Cincy got by with defense, as Mick Cronin's club didn't do itself much of a favor with its inconsistent outside shooting. Big, physical and experienced, the Bearcats have shown that they can muddy up any game and be competitive. So why couldn't they do the same against a talented-yet-vulnerable Ohio State squad on Thursday night? If they can, there's the possibility of a third meeting Saturday with top-seed Syracuse, which the Bearcats have already beaten once (and almost twice). The key for Cincinnati this weekend? Dominant performances down low from senior Yancy Gates, who could prove to be trouble for Ohio State star Jared Sullinger.

 

Florida — No. 7 seed, West Region

 

The Gators played incredible ball last weekend, but were also the beneficiaries of some good fortune. First, they were matched up against Virginia, which hadn't played great ball over the season's last month, and was prime for a beating — which Florida handed to them in 71-45 fashion. Then, two days later, they thumped what looked like an emotionally drained Norfolk State squad that upset 2-seed Missouri 48 hours earlier. Florida's offense is absolutely clicking, as the undersized Gators have shot better than 50 percent from the floor so far in the tournament. Now we see how for real they are as Final Four contenders, drawing 3-seed Marquette on Thursday night in Phoenix — a team that will aggressively defend the perimeter and give Florida its toughest postseason test yet.

 

Xavier — No. 10 seed, South Region

 

Like Florida, Xavier has benefited from matchup advantages last weekend. They edged a Notre Dame team that had scuffled some before entering the NCAA tournament, then pushed past the other 15-seed to advance from the opening round in Lehigh. Xavier was ranked in the Top 10 nationally earlier this season for a reason. In seniors Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, they have one of the most dangerous backcourts remaining in the field, and they're strong across the board with a decent amount of depth. But against Lehigh, they fell behind early, struggled to close their opponent out late with a bevy of missed free throws and dominated a thin front line. If they fall behind Baylor on Friday night in the same fashion, a comeback is highly unlikely. The Musketeers have to play at an extremely high level to get by both Baylor and maybe Kentucky, but the talent is there to at least give them a fighting chance. We've seen that much.

 

North Carolina State — No. 11 seed, Midwest Region

 

These guys are essentially last year's UConn team all over again, right? Wildly talented, underachieved some in the regular season, got hot late and earned an NCAA tourney berth, now are on fire. The only loss in their last seven games was a somewhat controversial loss to North Carolina in the ACC tournament. Now comes their toughest challenge yet in the tournament, as the Wolfpack take on 2-seed Kansas, which is coming off of a bit of a clunker of a performance against Purdue on Sunday. Thomas Robinson had a tough night for the Jayhawks, while center Jeff Withey has really struggled so far this postseason. North Carolina State will give the Kansas bigs their toughest test so far in the NCAA tournament, making this one truly looks like a toss-up. If the Wolfpack can get by Kansas, taking down 13-seed Ohio or a banged-up North Carolina squad seems pretty reasonable.

 

Ohio — No. 13 seed, Midwest region

 

Here's your resident Cinderella in this year's bracket, and now the Bobcats get a bit of good fortune going their way, as top-seeded North Carolina is strapped in terms of point guard play and overall depth heading into Friday night. Will the Tar Heels rally together when likely playing without star point guard Kendall Marshall, who holds their talented pieces together on the floor? Well, all of the talk has been about Marshall heading into this one instead of Ohio's surging star point guard, junior D.J. Cooper. Cooper went for 40 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds this weekend, and could end up with a matchup here that he can expose. Ohio's odds on making the Final Four look long at this point, especially because containing North Carolina's front line might be a stretch, but in reality, they're playing with house money right now. No one expected them to be here. And that in itself makes them dangerous.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for RunRebs.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanmgreene.

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