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Elite Eight teams, ranked by national championship chances in 2024 men’s NCAA tournament

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Gonzaga v Purdue
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Let’s rank the teams in the Elite Eight of the 2024 men’s NCAA tournament by who has the best chance to win it all.

The Elite Eight in the 2024 men’s NCAA tournament is set. Three No. 1 seeds are still left standing, but only one No. 2 seed remains after two days of carnage in the Sweet 16. Remember: this was only the fifth time since 1985 all the top-2 seeds reached the regional semifinals.

The surviving eight teams offer something for everyone. No. 11 seed NC State and No. 6 seed Clemson are high-major Cinderellas. No. 1 seeds UConn and Purdue have led by actual giants in the middle with completely unique skill sets. Illinois is one win away from finally getting back to the Final Four, and Tennessee has never been there at all. The offensive firepower on display is undeniable, with the top-4 teams in efficiency still standing in this field.

Let’s rank the eight teams still alive by their chances of winning it all and cutting down the nets after championship Monday in Phoenix.

8. NC State Wolfpack

Do you believe in teams of destiny? If so, NC State is putting together a convincing case that it is exactly that as the program breaks into the Elite Eight for the first time since 1986. The Wolfpack kept their miracle run going by defeating No. 2 seed Marquette with physicality and a little help from the shooting variance gods. The Golden Eagles shot just 4-of-31 from three-point range (12.9 percent) and barely made 60 percent of their free throws. As the bricks piled up, NC State continued to have a physical advantage inside through D.J. Burns, which led to kick-outs to open shooters for threes all night long.

DJ Horne feels like he can get a shot off in any situation, and the Wolfpack wouldn’t be in the Elite Eight without his 4-of-7 shooting from three against Marquette. Casey Morsell remains one of the strongest defenders in the field, while Michael O’Connell has stayed hot after his ACC tournament buzzer-beater that kept NC State’s season alive. Mohamed Diarra feels like this group’s unsung hero, providing defense and energy and an incredible knack on the glass. The Wolfpack needed to win five games in five days in the ACC tournament just to get their shot in March Madness. After three more wins, why would they stop now? — Ricky O’Donnell

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - West Regional Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

7. Clemson Tigers

Clemson has an argument for being the most impressive team in the tourney through three games. The No. 6 seeded Tigers took down the Fighting Lobos in round one with relative ease. Then, the Baylor Bears — with a future lottery pick in the draft surrounded by athletes — were no match for Clemson. Finally, the No. 2 seeded Arizona Wildcats were outmatched and outgunned from the jump.

Brad Brownell has been exceptional late in close games. Against Arizona, the Tigers hit all four of their field goal attempts after the final media timeout and only missed one free throw.

But it’s the fast starts that have afforded Clemson the luxury of not having to sweat out games in the final seconds. Clemson jumped out to a 25-11 lead against New Mexico, a 22-14 lead versus Baylor, and a 27-14 lead in the Sweet 16.

They play to their strengths and they play their game. PJ Hall is Clemson’s best player. Joe Girard is one of the best shooters in the country. Shoot, Ian Schieffelin was probably their second-best player during the season. But Chase Hunter has risen to the occasion in a tourney that’s meant for great guard play to emerge.

Clemson can shoot, rebound, isn’t selfish with the basketball, and they play team defense. They have a chance against anybody, and they’ve proven that through three games.

6. Duke Blue Devils

Duke started dreaming of the Final Four on the day Kyle Filipowski decided to bypass the NBA draft to return for his sophomore year. The big man was the star on Friday night as the Blue Devils knocked off No. 1 seed Houston to reach the Elite Eight — the furthest they’ve advanced under John Scheyer. Filipowski showed off his tremendous combination of interior scoring, passing and shooting to finish with 16 point, nine rebounds, and two assists in the win. Houston didn’t have a big man who was tall enough to challenge his shots, and missing star guard Jamal Shead — who went down with an ankle injury and didn’t return — certainly did help matters.

Jeremy Roach has played in a Final Four with Duke before, back when he was teammates with Paolo Banchero. His steady hand was again a big factor in the win, as he finished with 14 points. The Blue Devils now face NC State in an ACC tournament rematch. It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the Wolfpack’s Cinderella run to the Elite Eight all started with upsetting Duke in the ACC quarterfinals. Duke will be a solid favorite entering the game, but Filipowski won’t have such a big advantage inside against DJ Burns. We’re in for another show. — ROD

Alabama v North Carolina Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

5. Alabama

The Crimson Tide were a popular upset pick in the first two rounds of the tournament. They took a commanding first-half lead in the first round against the Charleston Cougars thanks to shooting 56 percent from three behind a 30-point performance from Mark Sears.

In the next round, against Grand Canyon, Alabama flirted with danger. They were down 58-55 with six minutes remaining. The score was 62-61 two minutes later, before Mouhamed Dioubate and Grant Nelson helped the tide close out the Lopes on a 10-0 run. Grand Canyon went 2-for-20 from three-point range and missed 15 free throws. So, they were bound to fall flat on their face against the No. 1 seeded North Carolina Tar Heels...right?

Wrong.

For the third consecutive game, Alabama dictated the pace of the game. Every time North Carolina seemed like they’d pull away, Alabama went on a mini-run to keep the game within striking distance. This is a team with four legitimate scorers and shooting threats. Sears and Rylan Griffen are knockdown shooters. Nelson is an impossible cover, while Aaron Estrada is that annoying left-hander who always finds a way to get to his left.

Nelson’s five blocks were huge in determining the outcome. This is a team with too much firepower to hold down, which is why it’s not a surprise that Alabama is still alive. - KP

4. Illinois Fighting Illini

Terrance Shannon was about five spots too low in our top 50 March Madness players. He’s playing like the most gifted offensive player in the country. He’s a blur with the ball in his hands but is strong enough to play through contact and get himself to the free-throw line. Oh, he’s also a lock to hit three or four threes a game.

The Illini had a slight scare in the first round against Morehead State before outscoring them by 15 in the second half. They made quick work of Duquesne in the round of 32 behind Shannon’s 30 points.

After two efficient offensive outputs, Illinois showed it can win one of those grind-it-out games against the Cyclones in the Sweet 16. What’s been so impressive about the Fighting Illini’s postseason performance is that they’ve had two off games from Marcus Domask — a player capable of scoring 25 on any night.

So, you have an unstoppable force in Shannon, Domask, who is due for a big game, and a do-it-all stretch-five in Coleman Hawkins, who plays with great energy, gets on the offensive glass, and can pull your big man away from the rim. If there’s a team that can give UConn a run for its money, a team full of shooters like the Illini are it. - KP

Creighton v Tennessee Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

3. Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee knew this was the year they had to make a deep run coming into the tournament. The Vols have been a consistently good program under Rick Barnes, but they’ve also only been to one Elite Eight and zero Final Fours in program history. This year’s team had something its rugged predecessors did not: a superstar scorer in fifth-year senior Dalton Knecht. Tennessee outlasted Creighton, 82-75, in a game that showcased all the ways these Vols are different.

Tennessee lit it up from long range by shooting 11-of-24 from three. Knecht hasn’t been dropping 40-point masterpieces like he was during SEC season, but he still finished with 24 points, six rebounds, and five assists, albeit on 21 field goal attempts. The rest of the Vols have played in so many big games before, with Josiah-Jordan James providing 3-and-D connectivity in his fifth year and Zakai Zeigler improving his scoring punch as a junior. Tennessee is about to face its biggest test yet, literally, with 7’4 center Zach Edey and Purdue. If any defense has the answer for Edey, it’s Tennessee. The offense just has to hold up its end of the bargain again, too. — ROD

2. Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue had the weight of the world on its shoulders entering this tournament after becoming the second No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed only a year ago. You’d never know there was so much pressure on this team by watching the way they’ve played. Purdue beat Gonzaga, 80-68, for its third straight victory in this tournament that was never really in jeopardy. The Boilermakers just look more comfortable and more confident around superstar center Zach Edey, and they check so many boxes for what a potential national champion is supposed to look like.

Braden Smith has developed into one of the best point guards in America as a sophomore, giving Purdue a steady hand that knows how to find his giant center in any situation. Smith was masterful with 14 points, 15 assists, and eight rebounds against Gonzaga, exhibiting the type of ‘pure’ PG play that coaches dream about. The shooters around Edey and Smith are hot right now: Purdue hit 9-of-20 three-pointers, with four players hitting multiple shots behind the arc. Lance Jones has been a god send for this team as its lone impact transfer, giving the team some zest on both ends of the floor they badly lacked a year ago. Edey’s dominance is so routine at this point that his 27 points and 14 rebounds against Gonzaga just feels like par for the course. Purdue hasn’t been to the Final Four since 1980, and it’s never won a national title. The Boilermakers need to stay loose and stay in the moment, because right now it feels like they’re playing great basketball. — ROD

San Diego State v Connecticut Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

1. Connecticut Huskies

As we stated in our Sweet 16 rankings, tougher tests were in Connecticut’s path as the defending champions headed into the Sweet 16. Up first? San Diego State, the team the Huskies defeated in the National Championship Game a season ago.

Last year Connecticut enjoyed a 76-59 win over the Aztecs.

This year was an even bigger win.

The Huskies rolled 82-52 over San Diego State, in an environment that felt more like a December home game for Connecticut in Storrs than a regional semifinal. With the Huskies getting to play at TD Garden in Boston, just 90 minutes or so from campus, the game had the feel of a home game for the Huskies.

And Connecticut fed off that energy, as the Huskies built a nine-point lead by halftime, and a three ball from Hassan Diarra in the corner with just under ten minutes remaining pushed Connecticut’s lead to 62-48. The game ended with four Huskies — Stephon Castle, Tristen Newton, Cam Spencer, and Diarra — in double digits. Big man Donovan Clingan, who has become a force this season, added eight points and eight boards, to go with another outing where he impacted the game at the rim.

As we rote earlier this week, “their best game still feels better than anyone else in the country’s.” That remains true heading into the Elite Eight. — MS

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