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Final Four Preview: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn

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FINAL FOURAll Final Four coverage | X-Factors | Why each team can/won’t win

Today we will be breaking down Saturday’s Final Four matchups. Here is our look at No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn:

WHEN: Saturday, 6:09 p.m. ET (TBS)

WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX

MAJOR STORY LINES: Let’s get beyond the fact that these two teams have played once already this season, because we all know that the last time that Florida lost, back in December, came when Shabazz Napier was doing Shabazz Napier things like hitting buzzer-beaters. What’s more interesting is that Napier hasn’t stopped doing that, and has since led the Huskies to the American tournament title game and now the Final Four. Reminiscent of a certain UConn point guard by the name of Kemba, no?

What makes that all the more impressive is that UConn was left for dead as a program not too long ago. Recruiting violations, academic sanctions, getting kicked out of the Big East, getting blacklisted from the ACC, dealing with a coaching change and a new regime. And in his first NCAA tournament, that new regime — Kevin Ollie — has led the Huskies to with a game of playing for a national title.

Also worth noting here is that Billy Donovan has a chance to win his third title before the ago of 50. At what point does he (rightfully) get recognized as one of the sport’s legendary coaches?

KEY STATS: UConn is a top ten team defensively, and it starts with their back court. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright can absolutely hound opposing guards. Florida has a tendency to be a bit turnover prone and UConn’s guards — I’m throwing Lasan Kromah into the mix as well — have a habit of picking pockets.

KEY PLAYERS: Normally I like to make this section be dedicated to the x-factors, but not this time, not when Shabazz Napier and Scottie Wilbekin are so important to their team’s success. Napier is the star of stars in this Final Four, the lone first-team all-american and the most important player to his team’s success. As Shabazz goes, so goes the Huskies. Wilbekin’s stardom isn’t quite as obvious. Florida’s recipe for winning basically goes like this: build a 5-10 point lead on a team over the course of the first 30 minutes, then give the ball to Wilbekin to close out the win. I’m not sure it will happen unless Florida plays Wilbekin and Kasey Hill together for extended minutes, but there’s always room to hope for those two going head-to-head for 40 minutes.

POINT SPREAD: Florida (-6.5)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. DeAndre Daniels: He’s got lottery pick talent, but the only thing that he’s done consistently throughout his career is to play inconsistently. He put on one of the best performances that you’ll see in March in the win over Iowa State, and he’s been playing well for about three weeks straight now. He’s the guy that turns UConn from a good team to a team that has a chance to beat the Gators.

2. Florida switching defenses: This is what makes them so difficult to prepare for. They can give you five or six different looks defensively, and they can play all of them at an elite level. It doesn’t hurt that they have athletes up and down their roster that look like they’ve been training for the Mr. Universe competition.

3. UConn’s rebounding: The Huskies are not a big team, and their size up front is not all that strong or physical. There is a reason that they rank 246th in defensive rebounding percentage. Florida isn’t exactly Kentucky, but they can get on the offensive glass. Here’s the thing to remember, however: UConn’s front line shut down Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson on Sunday. Florida’s bigs aren’t as good as them.

CBT PREDICTION: Florida

Four-star 2017 shooting guard commits to Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams celebrates a play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT
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Recruiting, and on-court results, have picked up at Virginia Tech since Buzz Williams took over as head coach. In his second year at the helm the Hokies won ten conference games, and in reaching the Postseason NIT made their first postseason appearance since 2011.

Thursday night Virginia Tech landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2017, as four-star shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker made his pledge.

The 6-foot-5 Alexander-Walker, who’s ranked 91st in his class by Rivals.com, also took official visits to Maryland and USC before making his pledge to the ACC program. Alexander-Walker attends Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but as a native of Canada plays his grassroots basketball for the Canada Elite program on the Under Armour Association circuit.

Good with either hand, Alexander-Walker can play either on or off the basketball. And that versatility should serve him well in a system that places a high value on “switch-ables,” or players who can fill multiple roles.

The Canada connection paid off for Virginia Tech in the recruitment of Alexander-Walker, with assistant coach Jamie McNeilly being a native of the country himself and having a connection to the Walker family. The Hokies will lose two perimeter players at the end of the 2016-17 season in Devin Wilson and Seth Allen, which will give Alexander-Walker the opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.

Oakland lands former Oklahoma State guard Clark

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When point guard Stevie Clark began his career at Oklahoma State in 2013, the Top 100 prospect was expected by many to be an impact player for the Cowboys. Things didn’t go as planned however, as off-court issues ultimately led to Clark’s dismissal from the program before his sophomore season. Add in a lawsuit filed by Clark in which he alleged that he was forced by the school to take psychotropic drugs, and it’s safe to say that his time in Stillwater was anything but smooth.

Clark ultimately landed at Arkansas Baptist College, and on Thursday it was reported by the Detroit Free Press that he’s committed to Oakland University to play for head coach Greg Kampe. Clark joins a program with an immediate need at the point, with All-American Kahlil Felder having entered the NBA Draft and hired an agent as well.

The obvious question regarding Clark is whether or not he’s managed to take care of business off the court, and in an interview with Mark Snyder of the Free Press the Oklahoma native made note of the benefits of getting away from home for college.

Playing in Rochester, far from his home, will serve him well, he said.

“Anywhere away from home is the best thing,” Clark said. “It’s just hard balancing everything being close to home.”

Clark will be one of the options Kampe has to choose from at the point, with incoming freshmen Brailen Neely and Billy Thomas also among the new arrivals, and sophomore Jaevin Cumberland looking to earn more playing time than the 5.6 minutes per contest he averaged as a freshman.

Creighton point guard Watson Jr. to return for senior season

Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr. (10) reacts after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Creighton won 70-56. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Creighton’s chances of moving up the Big East standings and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 improved a great deal Thursday, as starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced that he will be returning for his senior season. Watson, who began his college career at Boston University, entered his name into the NBA Draft pool without hiring an agent but decided that another year in Omaha would be best for him.

Watson was one of the most impactful transfers in the country last season, as his play at the point was a major factor in the Bluejays winning 20 games and going 9-9 in conference play after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll. Watson averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season, earning second team All-Big East honors.

With Watson’s return the Bluejays will welcome back three of their top four scorers from last season, with center Geoffrey Groselle being the lone departure. Head coach Greg McDermott adds a talented shooting guard in Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after transferring in from Kansas State. With Watson and Foster working together, Creighton will have a formidable perimeter tandem leading the way in 2016-17 with the likes of forward Cole Huff and guard Isaiah Zierden also being key contributors.

In addition to what Watson can provide in games he’ll also serve as a good mentor for Kaleb Joseph, who will have to sit out next season after transferring in from Syracuse. Joseph, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, fell out of the rotation as a sophomore so the year in residency should benefit him as he works towards grabbing the reins in 2017-18.

h/t ESPN.com

UConn, four-star 2017 big man Brown part ways

Brown, Zach
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Back in mid-January UConn made waves on the recruiting trail by securing a verbal commitment from 7-foot-1 center Zach Brown, a player seen by many as one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. That partnership came to an end Thursday, as the two parties decided to part ways. News of the mutual decision was first reported by Scout.com.

The Miami native is currently ranked 28th in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, and Thursday’s news opens up a spot in the front court that UConn head coach Kevin Ollie and his staff will now have to fill. Amida Brimah, who’s currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process, will be a senior next season should he return to Storrs as will Kentan Facey.

Among the interior options who will have eligibility remaining beyond next season for the Huskies are sophomore Steven Enoch and incoming freshmen Mamadou Diarra and Juwan Durham.

UConn was in the running for 2016 power forward Taurean Thompson, but multiple outlets have the Brewster Academy product considering Michigan State (which added UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter Wednesday), Seton Hall and Syracuse at this point in his recruitment.

UCF lands commitment from transfer Terrell Allen

New UCF men's NCAA college basketball coach Johnny Dawkins speaks at his introductory press conference Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
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Having already landed one transfer in former Michigan guard Aubrey Dawkins (the new head coach’s son), UCF landed a second Thursday afternoon as former Drexel guard Terrell Allen announced that he’ll finish out his college career playing for Johnny Dawkins.

Allen, a CAA All-Rookie Team selection in his lone season at Drexel, announced the news by way of his Twitter account. After sitting out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules, Allen will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

On a team that struggled throughout the 2015-16 season, winning just six games, Allen averaged 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 32.5 minutes of action per game. The 6-foot-2 point guard finished the season ranked in the top ten in the CAA in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, with his assist tally ranking eighth and his A/T ratio of 1.9 placing him seventh.

With B.J. Taylor entering his junior season and Jeremy Carter-Sheppard joining the ranks this summer, the addition of Allen gives UCF another option at the point for the 2017-18 campaign.