The first game of the Elite Eight will tip off Saturday afternoon featuring the two lowest-seeded teams remaining in the tournament. But that doesn't mean when No. 4 seed Louisville squares off against No. 7 seed Florida in the West Region finals that there will be a dearth of NBA-caliber talent on the floor. Seth Pollack of SB Nation Arizona featured two future stars this week from each team.
Louisville's Gorgui Dieng has really come into his own over the past month, becoming a true difference-maker on the inside. He had an incredible impact in the paint in the Cardinals' Sweet 16 win over Michigan State. Pollack writes about his unique path to Louisville, which hit a high-point on Thursday night:
The son of a former school principal (now a legislator) from a small town two hours outside the capital of Senegal, Dieng grew up a soccer player until he was too tall for that game. But basketball was present in his life from age five and while still improving, he's far more advanced in his skills than other young players from Africa.
That was evident Thursday night when Dieng was the best player on the floor in Louisville's Sweet 16 win over Draymond Green and the Michigan State Spartans.
Dieng will square off against the Gators' talented Patric Young, who's a monster on the inside despite limited touches in Florida's guard-oriented attack. Dieng will certainly be a player to watch as Rick Pitino's Final Four chances rely heavily on his defense inside.
Billy Donovan's club, on the other hand, relies on great guard play. Freshman phenom Brad Beal has had a fantastic postseason, both in the SEC Tournament and in the Big Dance. Beal is rising up the draft boards of every NBA team with his multi-functional abilities on the wing. He crashes the boards better than almost any guard in the country. Pollack highlights his wide-ranging abilities in this excellent profile:
Despite being the most talented player on his team, Beal is a willing passer and understands that he can impact the game in more ways than scoring. He led his team in rebounding this season with 6.7 per game and has increased that to 8.7 in the tournament.
Beal's combination of court vision, maturity and understanding the value of the team game reminds me of another NBA player familiar to fans in Phoenix, ASU's James Harden.
Like James at times, the challenge for Beal can be finding the balance between working with his teammates versus taking advantage of his abilities to dominate his defender.
While these are not teams from the one or two line, there will certainly be plenty of NBA talent on the floor and both Dieng and Beal will be two key players to keep an eye on as their teams fight for the first spot in the Final Four.
For more on the 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket, poke around SB Nation's NCAA Tournament hub for tons of analysis who will make it all the way to New Orleans and the Final Four. And for more on the Sweet 16, check out our Sweet 16 StoryStream.