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Elite Eight Preview: Can NC State survive and advance to first Final Four in more than two decades?

Two more trips to the Final Four remain, with No. 1 seeds NC State and Louisville seeking to hold off No. 2 seed UConn and No. 3 seed Michigan, respectively. Elite Eight action begins at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN on Monday evening.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Bridgeport Regional-Notre Dame vs NC State
Can Wes Moore and the No. 1 Wolfpack reach the Final Four for the first time since 1998?
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Two more spots in the Final Four remain. Will they be claimed by No. 1 seeds in NC State and Louisville? Can the No. 2 UConn Huskies reach a record 22nd Final Four? Will No. 3 Michigan extend the best tourney run in program history by reaching its first Final Four?

These questions will begin to be answered at 7 p.m. ET tonight, starting with NC State versus UConn in the Bridgeport Region (ESPN). At 9 p.m. ET, Louisville and Michigan meet to decide the Wichita Region (ESPN).

After improbably and incredibly escaping Notre Dame in the Sweet 16, NC State just might be the tournament’s team of destiny, with Lady Luck — and a heavy dose of determination — carrying the Wolfpack to the program’s first national championship. Raina Perez embodies this sense of destiny, as she did not allow an overall rough game to prevent her from, once again, coming up with the clutch play.

Of course, many potential teams of destiny have had their dreams deferred by UConn.

For the Huskies, dominance, rather than destiny, has produced 11 national championships. While this year’s UConn squad has lacked the apparent invincibility of many of its predecessors, the Huskies showed that they still can kick things into a higher, near unstoppable gear, burying the hopes of Indiana out of the halftime break in their Sweet 16 matchup. Extra encouragingly, Paige Bueckers played the most minutes since returning from injury, scoring 15 points.

Vegas appears convinced by UConn’s upside, with the No. 2 seed favored by 4.5 points over the No. 1 seed. That the game is in Bridgeport, CT contributes to this line, with a heavy pro-UConn crowd a decided disadvantage for NC State. If the Wolfpack survive this unenviable position for a No. 1 seed, they may in fact be destiny’s team. If you believe, it could be worth betting on the Pack to win it all at +600 odds at DraftKings.

However, placing money on Louisville or Michigan to take the national title would produce bigger pay days, as Louisville’s odds are +900 and Michigan’s are +4000. As expressed by Hailey Van Lith, the Cardinals are a bit salty about their status.

The sophomore has done her part to ensure that Louisville will prove the doubters wrong, scoring at least 20 points in all three tournament games. Do-it-all senior Emily Engstler posted a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds against Tennessee in the Sweet 16, while also leading the Cardinals’ shutdown defense on the Lady Vols’ long, athletic front court.

A similar effort should effectively frustrate a more undersized Michigan interior attack. Although Naz Hillmon consistently has found ways to get buckets around the basket at 6’2, including against a disciplined South Dakota post defense in the Sweet 16, scoring efficiently against the likes of Engstler, Olivia Cochran and Liz Dixon will be a tougher task.

If Hillmon’s offense is hampered, Michigan must devolve the game into a defensive battle. Thus far, the Wolverines have held all three of their tournament opponents to below 50 points.

Yet, if Louisville can combine its gritty defense with hot shooting from deep, which eluded the team in tournament victories over Gonzaga and Tennessee, the Cardinals could cruise to their first Final Four since 2018 by a larger margin than the 5 points by which they are favored at DraftKings.

No. 1 NC State Wolfpack vs. No. 2 UConn Huskies (Bridgeport Region)

When: Monday, Mar. 28 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, CT

How to watch: ESPN

DraftKings spread: UConn -3.5

No. 1 Louisville Cardinals vs. No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (Wichita Region)

When: Monday, Mar. 28 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita, KS

How to watch: ESPN

DraftKings spread: Louisville -5

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