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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

No. 6 Baylor uses late spurt for 62-53 victory at TCU

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5) reacts to a play against Texas in first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 74-64. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP)
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FORT WORTH, Texas — Sixth-ranked Baylor and TCU kept trading the lead in the second half, with a 9 1/2-minute gap when neither team could muster consecutive scores.

Then the Bears finally closed out their 10th straight Big 12 victory over TCU since their instate rival joined the league four years ago.

Ishmail Wainright swished a go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:16 left, and there was then a TCU miss and more than a minute before Johnathan Motley’s layup for the Bears. Manu Lecomte added a layup to cap the 7-0 spurt that finally put Baylor (18-1, 6-1 Big 12) ahead to stay.

“This was typical of the Big 12. Hard-fought game, both teams playing extremely hard. The day after the game, it’s amazing how drained everybody is,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I hope fans enjoy it, because we’re worn out.”

There were five ties and 13 lead changes after halftime.

The partisan sellout crowd of 7,276 might not have enjoyed it as much, but the Horned Frogs (14-5, 3-4) have shown great progress in their first season under coach Jamie Dixon, the former TCU point guard.

While the Frogs have already won two more games than all of last season, Dixon feels like they have let their last two game slip away late.

“Obviously got some disappointed guys in that locker room, me included,” Dixon said. “Really thought we were here to win this game. … My feeling we were ready to win them, and we were prepared, and we did things right, did things necessary.”

Lecomte scored 17 points while Motley had 15 points and eight rebounds, along with a punctuating dunk in the final minute. That came soon after Lecomte’s alley-oop pass for a dunk by Jo Lual-Acuil, who finished with 11 points.

Vlad Brodziansky had 19 points and 10 rebounds for TCU, while Kenrich Williams had 16 points and 12 rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: This is the first time the Bears have ever been 18-1 overall or 6-1 in the Big 12. They have won their last three games since losing in their first game after reaching No. 1 for the first time in school history.

TCU: Brodziansky and Williams didn’t get much help from the rest of their teammates. TCU shot 29 percent from the field (17 of 58) — Brodziansky and Williams were a combined 12-of-26 shooting; the rest of the team was 5-of-32. “We outrebounded them (38-37), we had lower turnovers (8-10), things we want to do,” Dixon said. “But simply put, the shooting percentages always stand out.”

COMING FROM BEHIND

Baylor is 6-1 this season when trailing at halftime, and has outscored its opponents by more than 10 points in those second halves. “Blessed to have great leadership from the upperclassmen. They don’t panic, they don’t rattle, they stay together,” Drew said. “And they believe in each other.”

TCU led only 24 seconds in the first half, but grabbed a 28-26 halftime lead on Williams’ 3-pointer with 7 seconds left. Baylor opened the second half with four straight layups.

CATCHING AIR

When asked about Wainright’s go-ahead 3, Motley called it a “big shot. I air-balled one, Al (Freeman) too. The fans made sure they let us know. It didn’t matter, we just stayed aggressive, and my teammates trusted me to shoot again.”

UP NEXT

Baylor is home against Texas Tech on Wednesday before consecutive road games, including the SEC-Big 12 Challenge next Saturday at Ole Miss.

TCU plays its next two Big 12 games on the road, starting Monday at Oklahoma State. The Frogs then host Auburn before going to Kansas State.

No. 11 Oregon tops Stanford for record 16th straight win

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 20:  Tyler Dorsey #5 of the Oregon Ducks shoots a jump shot against the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the second half during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 20, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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EUGENE, Ore. — Chris Boucher announced his return to No. 11 Oregon’s starting lineup with one dramatic slash-and-slam move.

In the process, he helped answer what the latest version of the Ducks would look like without injured preseason All-America forward Dillon Brooks again.

Boucher had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Dylan Ennis scored 15 and Oregon rolled to a 69-52 victory over Stanford on Saturday.

With Brooks on the bench and his left leg in a boot to protect a sprained foot, the Ducks (18-2, 7-0 Pac-12) broke a 104-year-old school record with their 16th consecutive win and 38th in a row at home.

Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey each had 11 points for Oregon, which overcame 19 turnovers by shooting 11 of 25 from 3-point range and outrebounding Stanford 40-29.

The Ducks share a 1 1/2-game lead atop the Pac-12 with No. 14 Arizona, but Oregon coach Dana Altman, ever the taskmaster, wasn’t satisfied.

“I’m disappointed. We were sloppy, but there were some good things,” he said, pointing to the eight rebounds and seven assists from freshman point guard Payton Pritchard. “That’s a big plus. We need our guards to rebound.

“But 19 turnovers is just unacceptable. The (12) turnovers in the second half took away from what could have been a good performance.”

It was the 11th career double-double for 6-foot-10 Boucher, whose swooping drive and dunk from the left wing late in the first half showed no lingering effects of the ankle sprain that cost him his starting spot eight games ago.

“I felt like it was always there,” said Boucher, who had come off the bench the past six games after sitting out two to recuperate. “Their bigs were kind of slow, so I felt I had the opportunity to do that.

“It’s always good to know you’re capable of doing it.”

Marcus Allen had 13 points as the only scorer in double figures for the Cardinal (11-9, 3-5). Stanford went more than eight minutes of the second half without a field goal, shot just 32.3 percent overall (20 of 62) and had two players foul out.

Oregon spotted the Cardinal the first five points and then hit four straight 3-pointers in taking a 16-7 lead. The margin grew to 20 late in the half as the Ducks went 8 of 17 beyond the arc and 14 of 26 (53.8 percent) overall.

Stanford, meanwhile, went the last five minutes of the half without a field goal and trailed 40-22.

“I think it was a combination of great shooting on their part, and poor defense on ours,” first-year Cardinal coach Jerod Haase said.

The Ducks, who led by as many as 25 late in the game, have won their last six games by an average of 24.3 points.

There’s no timetable for Brooks’ return after Oregon announced his injury status two hours before tipoff. The Ducks were ranked as high as No. 4 early in the season before he came back from offseason surgery for a broken bone in the same foot.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Altman said, “but hopefully it’ll all work out and he’ll feel better quick.”

BIG PICTURE

Stanford hasn’t swept a conference road trip since 2010. The Cardinal hope to have leading scorer Reid Travis (16.6 ppg) back from a shoulder injury in time for a visit to California in eight days.

Oregon finishes the first half of the Pac-12 season next week at Utah and Colorado, a road trip it hasn’t swept in four tries since the Utes and Buffaloes joined the conference in 2011.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Oregon’s chances of rejoining the Top 10 were helped Saturday when both No. 3 UCLA and No. 7 Creighton lost at home.

HE SAID IT

Oregon has five players scoring in double figures, led by Brooks at 13.4 points per game, but none among the Pac-12’s top 20 this season. “I think our balance is our identity, and I like to see that,” Altman said. “When guys are making plays for each other, we’re pretty good. When the ball’s hitting the floor too much, we’re not nearly as good.”

WHAT STREAK?

Boucher said he wasn’t aware that Oregon’s 16th win in a row was a school record until told by a Pac-12 broadcaster during a postgame interview. Meanwhile, Pritchard insisted such things don’t matter to the Ducks. “We’re not worried about any streaks,” he said. “We just want to make a run to the Pac-12 tournament and the NCAA Tournament.”

STAT OF THE GAME

The announced crowd of 12,364 was Oregon’s fourth sellout of the season and 12th in 119 games since Matthew Knight Arena opened six years ago — though there were at least 1,000 empty seats. The Ducks have drawn more than 10,000 for each of their five Pac-12 home games.

UP NEXT

Stanford, now 0-6 against ranked teams, hits the Pac-12 midpoint at California on Jan. 29.

Oregon goes for its first 8-0 start to conference play in 91 years at Utah on Thursday. The Ducks finished 10-0 in the Pacific Coast Conference in 1925-26.

Williams-Goss leads No. 4 Gonzaga over Portland 73-52

SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 07:  Nigel Williams-Goss #5 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives against the Washington Huskies in the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 7, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  Gonzaga defeated Washington 98-71.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) No. 4 Gonzaga beat undermanned Portland by 21 points on Saturday, but the Zags were not happy.

Portland, playing without its leading scorer, out-rebounded the Zags 41-33, and held Gonzaga, the nation’s last remaining undefeated Division I team, to 45 percent shooting.

“We have to start rebounding better,” said center Przemek Karnowski, who scored 12 points but had just three rebounds in Gonzaga’s 73-52 victory. “Five guys have to go and rebound the ball. That’s one of the things we need to fix.”

Nigel Williams-Goss led Gonzaga with 15 points, but left the game with about five minutes left with an injury. Coach Mark Few could not say exactly what the injury was or how serious.

But he was also unhappy with the rebounding.

“They pounded us for 21 offensive rebounds,” Few said. “They beat us to some balls.”

“It was a choppy game,” Few said. “Portland did a nice job. They played us physical.”

Zach Collins added nine points and nine rebounds for Gonzaga (19-0, 7-0 West Coast), which has a nation’s best 19-game winning streak. It is the best start in program history.

Gabe Taylor scored 13 points and Jazz Johnson 12 for Portland (9-10, 2-5), which has lost five games in a row. The Pilots played without leading scorer Alec Wintering, who earlier Saturday was declared out for the season with a torn ACL.

“Sometimes when you lose your leader like that, it wipes you out,” Portland coach Terry Porter said. “But the guys responded well with a great effort.”

“We knew it was going to be a tall task,” Porter said. “I loved the way we fought and got after it.”

Gonzaga, which has won seven straight over Portland, never trailed despite shooting 45 percent from the field. Portland was worse, shooting just 32 percent.

“We had a lot of good looks we didn’t knock down,” Few said.

Gonzaga opened the game with a 12-1 run and the Pilots did not make their first field goal until five minutes were gone. The Zags hit four 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes and built a 24-11 lead. They were up 34-23 after a sloppy first half in which neither team shot better than 40 percent.

Early in the second, Gabe Taylor hit three consecutive baskets for Portland to knock Gonzaga’s lead down to 38-31.

But Killian Tillie’s 3-pointer ignited a 15-3 run that put Gonzaga in control and the Pilots did not threaten again.

BIG PICTURE

Portland: Under first year coach Terry Porter, the Pilots started strong but have been suffering offensive woes in recent weeks. The problem may get worse as Wintering, who was averaging 19.5 points per game, suffered a torn ACL in Thursday’s loss at San Francisco and is done for his college career.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have dominated at home this season, outscoring opponents by 29 points per game in their first 10 contests in the McCarthey Athletic Center. They have trailed a total of 13 minutes in their first 11 home games.

QUOTABLE

“They fought us and did a good job of competing with us,” Few said.

TURNOVERS

The Pilots turned the ball over 16 times, to 10 for Gonzaga.

UP NEXT

The two teams will play again on Monday in Portland, in a make-up date for a Jan. 7 game that was postponed by severe winter weather. Saturday’s game started a run of four games in eight days for each team. “We’re trying to get guys rested a little bit,” Few said.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

VIDEO: Grayson Allen suffers gross finger injury vs. Miami

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Grayson Allen suffered a pretty nasty looking injury to the pinky on his left hand right at the end of the first half against Miami.

His reaction to seeing the injury is to recoil in horror … :

And you may do the same thing when I post the picture of what his finger looks like:

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I’m not going to speculate as to the nature of the injury, whether it was just dislocated or broken, but this is just another blow for a team that has had some dreadful injury luck this season.

Kansas State beats No. 7 West Virginia, whose press may be broken

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Bruce Weber of the Kansas State Wildcats reacts to a call during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse on January 3, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Kansas State had five players score between 13 and 15 points as the Wildcats finally landed the marquee win that has eluded them this season, picking off No. 7 West Virginia in the Octagon of Doom, 79-75.

Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown both scored 15 points to lead the way for the Wildcats, who improved to 4-3 in the Big 12 this season.

Here are three things to take away from this game:

1. The Wildcats needed this result so badly: Kansas State has pretty good computer numbers and a record that looks pretty on paper, but entering Saturday, they really hadn’t won all that much this season. They didn’t land a single non-conference win over a team ranked higher than 142nd in KenPom, and their wins in league play were over arguably the three worst teams in the conference – Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

So yes, this is a massive boost to Kansas State’s NCAA tournament chances.

But it’s also a morale boost that they needed. The Wildcats have been on the wrong end of some brutal late game calls, from the no-call on Svi Mykhailiuk’s travel in a loss to Kansas to the referees swallowing their whistles down the stretch in a loss at Texas Tech. Throw in the fact that Bruce Weber is more or less coaching for his job this season, and you can imagine the pressure that’s starting to build in Manhattan. This should help alleviate some of that.

2. West Virginia has played themselves out of the Big 12 title race: With 11 games remaining on the schedule, West Virginia is now three games behind Kansas for first place in the Big 12 standings. I don’t know how much you know about Kansas and the Big 12 – they’ve won 12 straight conference regular season titles, no big deal – but you don’t come from behind on the Jayhawks. You just don’t.

We’re just 12 days removed for the Mountaineers putting together a 21-point beatdown of then-No. 1 Baylor. Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

3. Is West Virginia’s press broken?: In the win over Baylor, West Virginia forced 29 turnovers, or a turnover on 37.2 percent of Baylor’s possessions. After that game, the Mountaineers were forcing turnovers on more than 33 percent of their possessions on the season, which is a number that is totally insane.

But in the three games since then, Press Virginia has been no where near as effective. In a two-point win over cellar dweller Texas, WVU forced turnovers on 26.4 percent of Longhorn possessions, well below their season average. In a loss to Oklahoma on Wednesday, that number was 15.2 percent. Against Kansas State, it was 21.3 percent. If West Virginia isn’t forcing turnovers and if they aren’t getting easy baskets in transition out of it, they are a limited basketball team. Something to keep an eye on.