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Eight teams that can win it all in 2014

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1. Florida Gators: Since February, Florida has largely been considered to be the best team in the country, and it showed on Selection Sunday when the committee awarded the Gators the No. 1 overall seed, playing in the South Region. They haven’t lost since Thanksgiving, they stormed through the SEC regular season and won the SEC tournament despite having absolutely nothing to play for. They can play about 17 different defenses at an elite level, and while they don’t have an NBA caliber superstar offensively, there is no weakness in their array of weaponry on that end and Scottie Wilbekin has done wonders to become the closer they need. They’re matchup proof and still got a friendly draw.

2. Michigan State Spartans: We’ve been saying it all season: if Sparty gets healthy, they’re a favorite to win the national title. It took a lot longer than expected, but Michigan State worked over a pair of No. 2 seeds in Wisconsin and Michigan en route to the Big Ten tournament title. I think they’re healthy, and as the No. 4 seed in the East Region that features Virginia and Villanova as the No. 1 and No. 2, that’s a scary thought.

MORE: Did Virginia deserve to get the fourth No. 1 seed?

3. Louisville Cardinals: The biggest argument that everyone seems to have with the bracket that was released was where Louisville was seeded. And while it’s true that there probably aren’t five teams in the country that are better than the Cardinals at this point, before whining about getting a No. 4 seed in the Midwest, remember this: If chalk holds, they only need to beat Manhattan, Saint Louis and Wichita State to get to the Elite 8.

4. Arizona Wildcats: As weird as it sounds, the biggest obstacle between Arizona, the No. 1 seed in the West Region, and the Final Four is a potential Round of 32 matchup with No. 9 seed Oklahoma State. Get past that, and the top four seeds in the region are Wisconsin, Creighton and San Diego State, and that’s before you consider the fact that the Wildcats have been streaking over the course of the past four weeks.

5. Kansas Jayhawks: Clearly, this is all going to depend on whether or not the Jayhawks can get Joel Embiid back by the Sweet 16. That may end up being a moot point, as Kansas, the No. 2 seed in the South, could end up playing New Mexico in the Round of 32. That wouldn’t be a favorable matchup, but the bottom line is that when they’re at 100%, Kansas is arguably the most talented team in the country. They’re the best team that isn’t a favorite.

MORE: TV schedule and announcer pairings for the first weekend

6. Iowa State Cyclones: I love this Iowa State team, and I think they ended up getting a beneficial bracket as the No. 3 seed in the East. They matchup well with both No. 6 North Carolina and No. 11 Providence, they should be favored in any potential Sweet 16 matchup, including No. 2 Villanova. The problem? I’m not sure that they can get past a potential matchup with Michigan State in the Elite 8.

7. Michigan Wolverines: I love Nik Stauskas. I love Caris LeVert. I think Derrick Walton and Glenn Robinson III are playing well of late, and I’m intrigued by the idea that Mitch McGary could end up back with the team at some point. They can put up points with anyone in the country. But can they get enough stops? The good news is that the No. 2 seed in the Midwest could end up unchallenged until the Elite 8.

8. Wichita State Shockers: The committee just didn’t feel like doing Wichita State any favors. The No. 1 seed in the Midwest, they’ll have to face either Kentucky or Kansas State in St. Louis in the Round of 32. Make it out of that meat-grinder and they could end up getting rewarded with a game against Louisville in the Sweet 16. This is a very good basketball team that unfortunately got what pretty much amounts to a worst-case scenario with their draw.

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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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.