SEC Title Game Preview: Florida meets Ole Miss in championship

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Ole Miss can make the NCAA tournament Selection Committee’s job a whole lot easier Sunday. If the Rebels can pull the upset and beat No. 13 Florida in the SEC championship game, they will move from a bubble team to an automatic bid and be able to Sunday evening. If not, things could get dicey. Florida, on the other hand, is solidly in the tournament and will be playing for its first SEC tournament title in six seasons. How do they match up in their respective quests for the NCAA tournament? Check out the preview below:

Coaches

Andy Kennedy has gone from the hot seat to having Ole Miss on the brink of the NCAA tournament. He deserves credit for that, especially considering where the Rebels were chosen to finish in the conference during the preseason. But Kennedy faces Sunday a coach who has won five SEC regular season titles, three SEC tournament titles, and two national championships. Especially for his age, few compare to Billy Donovan and what he has been able to do at Florida.

Advantage: Florida

Guards

Kenny Boynton is prone to taking bad shots and shoots below 40 percent from the floor, but is still the team’s second-leading scorer. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin has been one of the most improved players in the conference and is averaging 9.1 points and a solid five assists per game. Add in the fact that Mike Rosario is blossoming this season and it’s tough to discount the Gators. For as exciting as Marshall Henderson is as a personality and scorer, he is limited to affecting the game on the offensive end as a volume shooter. It is unclear whether Ole Miss will have point guard Jarvis Summers Sunday after he sat out the team’s win over Vanderbilt with injury. If he is out, that would be a big blow to the Rebels.

Advantage: Florida

Frontcourt

Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner combine to over 17 rebounds per game. That’s the heart and soul of a team that is Top 40 in the country in that department. They also provide the interior scoring complement to Henderson on the perimeter. They’ll have the upper hand against a Florida team that doesn’t rebound the ball particularly well and is not very deep in the front court. Erik Murphy is the team’s leading scorer and Patric Young already has an NBA-ready body, but Will Yeguete and Casey Prather make up the rest of a short rotation.

Advantage: Ole Miss

Prediction

Florida beat Ole Miss by 14 points in the first meeting between these two teams and did it by making Marshall Henderson the only real offensive option for the Rebels. The Gators’ stifling defense directed all of the offensive toward him and he was able to finish with 25 points, but there was very little else for Ole Miss to have on that end of the floor. Ole Miss will need to get out on three-point shooters on the perimeter, especially Erik Murphy, who was 5-of-6 from long range in their first meeting.

Final Score: Florida 74, Ole Miss 64

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: