This is the rare Elite Eight that truly lives up to its name

The Dagger
This is the rare Elite Eight that truly lives up to its name
This is the rare Elite Eight that truly lives up to its name

The silver lining to the NCAA tournament playing out largely as expected so far is that this weekend's Elite Eight actually lives up to its name.

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Six of the top eight teams in the final AP Top 25 are still alive and the remaining two teams are name-brand programs that have been to the Elite Eight a combined 14 times this century.

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A showdown in the West Regional between top-seeded Wisconsin and second-seeded Arizona is one of the most hotly anticipated games of the tournament pitting two teams that met with a Final Four berth on the line a year ago. The Badgers rode Frank Kaminsky's 28-point performance to a one-point overtime victory last March, dooming Sean Miller to his third Elite Eight defeat in three tries and sending Bo Ryan to his first Final Four.

The South Regional clash between Duke and Gonzaga is also a blockbuster game between teams that have spent most of the season ranked in the top six nationally. The second-seeded Zags are one win away from their first Final Four in program history, but top-seeded Duke will be a formidable challenge between its array of shooters, the low-post scoring of Jahlil Okafor and the way Justise Winslow has impacted games in the NCAA tournament. 

Any game involving unbeaten Kentucky could be one-sided considering the dominance that the top-seeded Wildcats have exhibited, but at least they drew the most dangerous possible Elite Eight matchup out of any team in the South Regional.

Third-seeded Notre Dame has validated its strong season-long play with its best postseason run under Mike Brey, toppling Duke and North Carolina en route to an ACC tournament title and then validating that with an impressive NCAA tournament. Kentucky has the size and length to bludgeon the Irish on the glass, but Notre Dame's slow-paced style is conducive to its chances of an upset, as is having an array of shooters who can force some of the Wildcats' shot blockers out of the paint and open up driving lanes for Jerian Grant. 

The lone surprising Elite Eight matchup is in the East Regional, where top-seeded Villanova and second-seeded Virginia both bowed out in the round of 32. That opened the door for fourth-seeded Louisville and seventh-seeded Michigan State to shove their way within a victory of the Final Four.

The Cardinals are a more capable scoring team now than at any point in the regular season because their offense appears to run more smoothly and create better shots with Quentin Snider at point guard instead of the dismissed Chris Jones. The Spartans have benefited from senior Travis Trice playing the best basketball of his career on a big stage and from Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson stepping up huge in supporting roles. 

The strength of this year's Elite Eight is not surprising because college basketball's upper crust has been a cut above the rest of the teams all season.

None of the top eight teams in the final AP poll had more than five losses and six had three or less. That's a rarity compared to the previous three years when at least one No. 1 seed entered the NCAA tournament with six or more losses.

The past few Elite Eights have typically featured some surprise entrants, from Dayton and UConn last March, to Wichita State in 2013, to VCU and Butler in 2011. 

This year is different. This eight truly feels elite.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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