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The CBT Bracket Breakdown: Midwest Region

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See the rest of our regional breakdowns here.

Final Four Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina: The Tar Heels have as much talent on their roster as any team in the country. They are loaded, and they have a point guard that is perfect for the uptempo system that they run. The question I have about UNC has to do with their toughness. They get smacked by Florida State twice, largely because the Seminoles were more physical than UNC. One thing to follow with the Tar Heels heading into the NCAA Tournament is whether or not John Henson’s wrist is healthy. I believe that it is. While he didn’t play in the ACC Tournament final, he was available to play.

And if they lose…?: No. 2 Kansas: For the first time, the tournament selection committee released their s-curve on Selection Sunday, which allowed us to see where they actually had teams ranked. Kansas was fifth, meaning that if Ohio State had won the Big Ten Tournament, Kansas and not Michigan State would have been the final No. 1 seed. Thomas Robinson is a hoss and Jeff Withey is a defensive playmaker, but Tyshawn Taylor is going to be the guy that determines how far Kansas goes. When he’s great, Kansas is very, very good. But when he’s the inconsistent turnover machine that he’s been at times throughout his career, the Jayhawks are very ordinary.

Sweet 16 sleeper (9 or lower): No. 14 Belmont: One of the trendiest upset picks since the bracket was announced was the Bruins knocking off Georgetown. While I, personally, don’t see it — its just not a good matchup — the fact of the matter is that Belmont is a very good basketball team. They push the tempo through pressure and they shoot a lot of threes. When those threes are going down, they are good enough to pick off a higher-seeded team.

Final Four sleeper (5 or lower): No. 5 Temple: The Owls have flown under the radar for much of the season, but this is a good basketball team. They have a dangerous perimeter attack, with two of the best scorers in the Atlantic 10 in Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt, and they now have their starting center Michael Eric back in the fold. The thing about the Owls this season is that they aren’t as perimeter oriented as they have been in the past. They push the ball more and they are oriented around their ability to put up points.

Player to watch (top 8 seeds): Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: Franklin was rightfully chosen as the Player of the Year in the Mountain West. An athletic, 6’5″ slasher, Franklin not only is capable of going for 30 points on a given night, but he averaged 9.9 rpg in league play. SDSU’s issue is their lack of interior size, and his ability to clean the glass is a hugely important.

Player to watch (bottom 8 seeds): DJ Cooper, Ohio: Cooper has already led the Bobcats to a first round upset in the NCAA Tournament, going for 23 points and eight assists as Ohio beat Georgetown in 2010. Did I mention he was a freshman then? Ohio is a dangerous team for Michigan. They are excellent at defending the three, something that Michigan thrives on. And Cooper is an excellent on-ball defender, meaning he will likely get the assignment of covering Trey Burke.

Best potential matchup: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kansas: Again, I know this is a cop out, but with the lack of elite teams outside of the top two seeds, its really difficult to find marquee matchups to get excited out. What I love about this matchup — besides the fact that it will be between two of college basketball’s blue-blooded programs — is the idea of seeing Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson do battle with John Henson and Tyler Zeller. I love me a good post battle, and it may not get better than this in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

So who is getting upset?:

– I think Ohio has a very good chance to take down Michigan. The Wolverines looked very average in the Big Ten tournament, and they are very average when they don’t hit threes. Ohio is very good at defending the three.

– If Cal can get by USF in the play-in game, I think they have a chance to knock off Temple. The Bears have one of the best perimeter defenders in Jorge Gutierrez and have been written off by a lot of folks due to their loss to Missouri by 30 earlier in the year.

– Frankly, I’m not buying the two trendy upset picks in this region. I don’t think Belmont gets past Georgetown. The Bruins shoot a ton of threes and shoot them well, but Georgetown has terrific perimeter length and is one of the best in the country at defending the three. I also think SDSU gets by NC State. I know the pro-Wolfpack arguments, but what have they done this season to make me believe they can win a tournament game against the co-champ of the fourth-best conference in the country?

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.