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NCAA Tournament: In South, Gators’ path not easy

Florida could face Colorado or Pitt, then possibly UCLA.

The South Region is packed with star-power and traditional names, including the top-ranked team in the country, Florida.

The path to the Final Four will be difficult for the Southeastern Conference-champion Gators, though, as Kansas (No. 2 seed), Syracuse (No. 3), UCLA (No. 4), Virginia Commonwealth (No. 5) and Ohio State (No. 6) give this region plenty of programs used to making noise in March.

At a glance

Top player

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas. The most highly touted freshman coming into this season, Wiggins did not disappoint. There were some speed bumps, but he lived up to the hype.

Top team

Florida. The Gators are the No. 1 team in the country and cruised through the SEC, topped with Sunday’s win over Kentucky in the conference title game. Their path to the Sweet 16 is not without potholes — talented UCLA could be waiting for them. But a Final 4 trip is likely.

Sleeper

New Mexico. The Lobos capped a marvelous season with a victory over San Diego State in the Mountain West title game. As a No. 7, they are underseeded, making them a tempting pick to get to the round of 32 and perhaps beyond. Kansas, take note.

Best player you don’t know

Glenn Kosey, Eastern Kentucky. Kosey established himself as one of the better guards in the country, averaging 18.8 points a game to lead the Colonels to the tournament.

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The Gators would face the winner of Colorado-Pittsburgh in the round of 32, while a potential game against UCLA looks likely in the Sweet 16. The Bruins, who are led by one of the best players in the country in Kyle Anderson, won the Pac-12 tournament title and would present a stiff test for Florida — but anything less than a trip to the Final Four would be a disappointment for the Gators.

Looking past the Gators, several interesting round-of-32 matchups could await in this region, including New Mexico-Kansas. The Lobos, who expected to be a high seed, could make a deep run into the tournament as a No. 7 seed, though getting past the Jayhawks would be no easy task. The Jayhawks boast one of the most talented rosters in college basketball, with freshman stars Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid — who both appear to be surefire NBA Draft lottery picks — leading the way.

Another intriguing team in the South is Syracuse. The Orange climbed to No. 1 in the country and were undefeated late into the season, but enter the tournament reeling after losing five of their last seven games.

It’s almost impossible to predict a No. 14 over a No. 3 upset, but the Orange will have to prove they can avoid a total collapse — one which would be complete if Western Michigan can pull off the stunner.

Whatever happens, one thing is certain: Whoever emerges from the South will have earned its trip to the Final Four after navigating a difficult region.

No. 1 Florida (32-2) vs. No. 16 Albany (17-14)/ Mount St. Mary’s (16-16)

At Orlando, Fla. | Thursday, 2:10 p.m., TBS


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Outlook » The top-ranked Gators should have no problem against the winner of the No. 16-seed play-in game. Both Albany and Mount St. Mary’s upset favored teams in their respective conference tournament finals.

No. 2 Kansas (24-9) vs. No. 15 Eastern Kentucky (24-9)

At St. Louis | Friday, 2:10 p.m., TBS

Outlook » Led by freshman star Andrew Wiggins, one of the best players in the country, Kansas should have little trouble dispatching the Colonels, though the Jayhawks lost three of their last five games. For those keeping score, this is the Jayhawks’ 25th consecutive NCAA appearance.

No. 3 Syracuse (27-5) vs. No. 14 Western Michigan (23-9)

At Buffalo, N.Y. | Thursday, 12:45 p.m., Ch. 2

Outlook » Syracuse looked like a No. 1 seed halfway through the season, then went into a nosedive that proved costly. Still, the Orange are playing close to home and the Mid-America Conference Broncos don’t pose much of a threat. Can Syracuse get past Saturday? Stady tuned.

No. 4 UCLA (26-8) vs. No. 13 Tulsa (21-12)

At San Diego | Friday, 7:57 p.m., truTV

Outlook » Fresh off of its Pac-12 tournament title win over Arizona, UCLA is looking to continue its hot run. The Bruins are loaded with talent, but first-year Bruins coach Steve Alford will be scrutinized after past postseason failures. And Tulsa also is on a roll, winning its last 11 games.

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