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Eight of the game’s best remain, setting up a stellar weekend

Mar 24, 2012, 9:30 AM EDT

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Welcome to the best weekend of the college basketball season.

Four games featuring eight of the game’s best teams with Final Four berths at stake. It’s a weekend where history is made, hearts are broken and the games rarely disappoint. How could they when there’s nothing but elite teams left?

Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina are all 1 seeds. Ohio State and Kansas are 2s. Baylor’s a 3, while Louisville’s a 4 seed, but won the Big East tournament. Florida’s the only real outlier, but considering this is the Gators’ second consecutive trip to the Elite Eight and began the season as a top 10 team, there’s little doubt about their ability.

In fact, you’re looking at eight teams pundits knew could reach this point. All eight were ranked among the top 13 in the preseason AP poll. North Carolina topped them all, while Kansas was 13. (More evidence that the preseason poll is an awfully good evaluator of teams.)

So where’s that leave us for Saturday and Sunday?

It starts with Rick Pitino’s Cardinals against Billy Donovan’s Gators (4:30 pm. ET). That’s mentor vs. mentee and the nation’s most efficient defense against one of its most efficient offenses. It’s two teams stocked with guards and one big guy in the middle on both sides.

Transition to Syracuse and Ohio State (7:05 p.m.). The Orange spent the season ignoring off-court distractions and turning in one of the best seasons of Jim Boeheim’s career (no small thing considering he’s won 890 games in his career). The Buckeyes endured an injury to star Jared Sullinger and a rough patch during Big Ten play only to be the last team from the nation’s best conference still playing.

Sunday features the tournament favorite (Kentucky) against the rising college hoops power (Baylor) that can nearly rival the Wildcats for NBA talent. The capped to it all? North Carolina vs. Kansas. One team might not have its starting point guard, while the other’s been winning without its usual bounty of talent.

These are your eight teams, ready to play four games that’ll set up college basketball’s final weekend. If they’re not the eight best, then they’re as close as it gets.

And that makes for a delightful weekend.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

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