NCAAs: UConn, BU in; BC, Harvard out

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NCAAs: UConn, BU in; BC, Harvard out

Connecticut and Boston University are in, and Boston College and Harvard are out -- of the NCAAs, at least -- as the NCAA Tournament begins this week with a bare minimum of New England represenatives.

Fresh off its Big East Tournament championship, UConn will look to continue its winning ways as the third seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies will take on No. 14 Bucknell in Washington D.C., and play for the right to take on the winner of No. 6 Cincinnati and No. 11 Missouri in the round of 32.

Boston University is New England's other local representative in the Big Dance. As the champions of the America East Tournament, the Terriers were guaranteed a spot in the field of 68. Their reward for winning their conference tournament? A No. 16 seed in the Southwest Region and a matchup with No. 1 Kansas in Tulsa, Okla. If the Terriers are able to upset the Jayhawks, they would be the first-ever 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed.

Boston College and Harvard were on the bubble to make the NCAA Tournament, but they were left out of the field. Instead, both teams will be playing in the NIT.

BC will be a No. 1 seed in the 32-team tourney and will take on No. 8 McNeese State in the first round on Tuesday at McNeese State. No. 6 Harvard will play at No. 3 Oklahoma State in their first-round matchup Tuesday.

In the 16-team College Basketball Invitational (CBI), Rhode Island will host a first-round game on Wednesday against Miami (Ohio).

Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

FOXBORO -- Alan Branch knew he had a good case, otherwise he wouldn't have appealed. It was just a question of when that appeal might be heard. 

As of Wednesday, the Patriots defensive tackle hadnt heard anything as it related to the appeal of his four-game suspension. But by Saturday morning, according to Field Yates of ESPN, Branch had won the appeal and been cleared of the league's ban. 

Branch's agent later confirmed the news on Twitter.

Word of Branch's punishment, which stemmed from what was reported as a positive marijuana test, became public when reported by ESPN on Nov. 21. Per the league's substance abuse policy, appeal hearings are typically scheduled for the fourth Tuesday after a player has been informed of his penalty. The policy notes that it is possible for appeals to be heard on another date should the two sides be able to work out different schedule, but Branch was not optimistic that would be the case earlier this week. 

Good news came quickly, though. 

Had Branch been forced to miss any time, it would have docked the Patriots arguably their top interior defensive lineman. Branch has started every game, and he leads all Patriots defensive tackles with 457 snaps played. 

The Patriots recently waived running back DJ Foster and signed defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, seemingly as a way to build some depth on the roster if Branch had been suspended. 

By having his four-game suspension wiped away not only are the Patriots saved from having to deal without one of their top players in the trenches, but Branch saved himself a relatively hefty financial penalty.

A four-game ban would have cost him nearly $300,000 in base salary as well as four game-day bonuses adding to $100,000. He also stood to lose as much as $750,000 in season-long playing-time incentives. In all, had the suspension stood, it could have cost him about $1.1 million. Patriots salary-cap expert Miguel Benzan goes into more detail about the potential financial impact of Branch's suspension here

Thankfully for Branch, he doesn't have to worry about that any longer. With this situation in the rear view, he can now focus on helping the Patriots win games during the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs.