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South Region Preview: Can anyone stop the Florida Gators?

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No surprise here as Florida got the No. 1 overall seed and took the top line in the South Region, setting them up for a path through Orlando and Memphis on the way to North Texas.

Here’s the other thing: the way the bracket breaks down is as favorable for Florida as it is for any No. 1 seed in the bracket. The shouldn’t be pushed by Spencer Dinwiddie-less Colorado or a Pitt team that has beaten exactly one quality team this season, they matchup as will with UCLA as they do any team in the country, Syracuse hasn’t played well in a month and a half and Kansas may not make it out of the first weekend without Joel Embiid in the lineup.

It’s not a cakewalk — it never is at this time of year — but when you combine the fact that Florida is the best team in the country with being coached by a guy that’s what two titles and took a team led by Kenny Boynton to the Elite 8 the past three seasons, and what you get is a Final Four favorite and a serious National Title contender.

MORERead through all of our bracket analysis here

Three story lines to watch

  • 1. Joel Embiid’s back: Kansas’ star center and a future top three draft pick, Embiid missed the last two games of the regular season and the Big 12 tournament with a stress fracture in his spine. He’s not expected to play in the first weekend of the tournament, either. Are the Jayhawks a contender without him?
  • 2. Will Syracuse ever be back?: The Orange won their first 25 games of the season. Since then, they’ve lost five of their last seven and while their offense has completely stalled. Is this as simple as the Orange being in a slump — they’re playing like their confidence is completely shot — or is their identity that of a horrid offensive basketball team?
  • 3. Will UCLA’s defense be enough to make a run?: This Bruin team is as talented and entertaining as any in Westwood since Steve Lavin was still slicking his hair back. Kyle Anderson, the 6-foot-9 point guard nicknamed Slo-mo, is the engine that makes their uptempo offense run. But in order for the Bruins to make a run, they need their defense to play the way it did during the Pac-12 tournament.

The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 Kansas

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There are going to be a lot of people picking No. 7 seed New Mexico to upset Kansas in the Round of 32, and I’ll be honest, I might end up doing the same once I officially fill out my bracket. New Mexico is playing as well as they have all season long, their offense is built around a pair of talented, physical veteran post players in Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, and Kansas, who hasn’t played defense in a couple of weeks, will likely be without Joel Embiid. But it’s worth noting that Stanford actually matches up very will with the Lobos in the Round of 64, and Kansas is still coached by Bill Self and will still feature a trio of first round picks, including potential No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.

MOREEight teams that can win the national title.

Final Four sleeper: New Mexico

Back to the Lobos, there are three names that you really need to know with this group: Cameron Bairstow, Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams. Bairstow is the best post-scorer in the country, a behemoth on the block that is the nation’s single-most improved player. Kirk is a pick-and-pop seven-footer with some size and the ability to block shots. Williams is the reigning MWC Player of the Year and is having a better season this year despite barely being in contention for the award. He takes, and makes, a lot of big shots.

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 12 Stephen F. Austin vs. No. 5 VCU: Talk about an intriguing clash of styles. VCU runs their ‘Havoc’ pressure defense, hounding their opponents for 94 feet for 40 minutes. SFA? They played more of a half-court style, but they pressure on the wings and jump passing lanes. Both rank top three nationally in defensive turnover percentage.
  • No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 6 Ohio State: A little in-state rivalry? Dayton’s Jordan Sibert vs. the team he transferred away from. Thad Matta can’t duck Archie Miller now.

Matchups to root for

  • No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 Kansas: Arguably the two best coaches in college basketball. The best team, a senior laden group without much NBA potential, vs. a team with possibly the top two picks in the NBA Draft. Just hope Embiid is healthy for it.

The studs you know about

  • Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: He’s been overanalyzed, but remember: he’s the leading scorer, third-leading rebounder and best perimeter defender on a top five team.
  • Jordan Adams, UCLA: Anderson gets all the publicity for the Bruins, but Jordan Adams was the team’s leading scorer this season.
  • Scottie Wilbekin, Florida: He’s terrific in the pick-and-roll and a killer in crunch-time. He’s the go-to guy for Florida at the end of games.

MOREAll-Americans | Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | Freshman of the Year

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico: I’m telling you, he’s a beast now. You’ll see.
  • David Brown, Western Michigan: Brown is the leading scorer for WMU and a guy good enough to carry WMU to a Round of 64 win.

Upsets that ARE happening

  • No. 7 New Mexico over No. 2 Kansas: Here’s the thinking: without Embiid, the Jayhawks can’t stop Bairstow and Kirk inside, and Deshawn Delaney is athletic enough to keep Wiggins in check. Crazier things have happens.

Upsets that AREN’T happening

  • Anyone over No. 1 Florida: They are the best team in the country and they don’t have an exploitable flaw. You have to go out and outplay them on both ends, and that’s not happening in this region.

Feeling like gambling?

  • No. 14 Western Michigan over No. 3 Syracuse: The Broncos are a tough matchup, they have a star guard and they can get to the free throw line, but to beat the Orange they’ll have to protect the ball and score in the lane. That will be tough, but hey, the Orange are sputtering enough offensively that you never know what will happen.

CBT Predictions: No. 1 Florida rolls

SMU won’t appeal tournament ban, Brown suspension

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Last month the NCAA announced that due to rules violations found in their investigation of the SMU men’s basketball program, the team would be banned from postseason play in 2015-16 and head coach Larry Brown would be suspended for the first nine games of the 2015-16 season. With a team led by seniors Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy and just one player (Keith Frazier) being the subject of the investigation, it was assumed that SMU would at the very least appeal the postseason ban.

Friday, the school announced that while it will appeal some of the penalties handed down by the NCAA to the men’s basketball and men’s golf programs they will not appeal the postseason ban or Brown’s suspension.

“After careful consideration, however, we will not appeal the NCAA post-season ban on men’s basketball or partial season suspension of Head Men’s Basketball Coach Larry Brown,” SMU president R. Gerald Turner stated in the release. “Although we regret the severe impact on our student-athletes, the simple fact is that the NCAA penalty structure mandates at minimum a one-year post-season ban for the level of misconduct that occurred, in our case, when a former staff member completed an online high school course for a prospective student-athlete, committing academic misconduct.

“In addition, should we appeal this matter, the lengthy process and uncertainty during this period could harm many aspects of the program. Coach Brown and his staff also agree that it is in the best interests of the program to accept these sanctions and move forward.”

Among the penalties the school will appeal (with regards to the basketball program) are the “duration of scholarship losses” and how long the recruiting restrictions placed on the program will last, and the vacating of games Frazier played in during the 2013-14 season.

This a tough turn of events for players who had nothing to do with the violations, as they see their opportunity to return to the NCAA tournament taken away. As a result of the school’s decision, SMU’s season will end March 9 following their regular season finale against Cincinnati.

Kevin Marfo commits to George Washington

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Kevin Marfo committed to George Washington on Friday evening, announcing his decision on Twitter.

“I am grateful and appreciative to all the schools that recruited me. But I will be spending the next four years at George Washington University,” he tweeted.

This caps a successful week for Mike Lonergan on the recruiting trail. On Tuesday, GW landed a commitment from Darnell Rogers, a 5-foot-3 point guard. He is the son of former GW guard Shawnta Rogers, the 1999 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. GW ends the week by adding a tenacious rebounder to a front court that graduates top rebounder Kevin Larsen after this season. Rogers and Marfo join power forward Collin Smith in the Class of 2016. Seton Hall transfer Jaren Sina will also be eligible in 2016-17.

He cut his list to 10 in August with Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Minnesota, Boston College, UMass, Saint Joseph’s, DePaul, Rhode Island and Providence all making the cut along wit the Colonials. He later trimmed the list to five finalists: BC, Providence, DePaul, GW and Rhode Island.

The Worcester Academy (Mass.) forward played for BABC this summer in the Nike EYBL, averaging 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.  The 6-foot-8 Marfo is listed as the No. 148 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.