Florida is the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, and the Gators were rewarded with about as easy a stroll to the Final Four as you can have.
Unless Joel Embiid comes back for Kansas in the second weekend at 100 percent. That isn’t likely. Back injuries tend to heal slowly, and even if Embiid is able to play, he would not have played basketball for four weeks. Still, the Jayhawks with a close-to-healthy Embiid would be the Gators’ biggest roadblock.
Because it plays defense, Pittsburgh could be a dangerous round-of-32 foe for Florida if it can score enough to beat Colorado. Odds are if Pitt plays the Gators, there will come a stretch when Jamie Dixon’s team simply can’t score and that will be that.
The two most dangerous floaters in the draw play each other: Stephen F. Austin, which last lost a game five days before Thanksgiving, plays VCU. The Rams are very tough on teams they are playing for the first time with their “havoc” defense. If you want one game to watch Thursday, this is it. The winner of that game will have a very good chance to advance against the UCLA-Tulsa winner. The two coaches in that game played on consecutive national champions: Steve Alford at Indiana in 1987 and Danny Manning at Kansas in 1988. That Jayhawks team was known as Danny and the Miracles. This Tulsa team, which started 1-6 and has won 11 straight, is being dubbed Danny’s Miracles.
In the bottom half of the draw, Kansas could have some trouble with New Mexico in the round of 32. The Lobos should be aching to wipe out the memory of last year’s loss to Harvard and should handle Stanford, which saved Johnny Dawkins’s job by making the tournament.
The mystery team is No. 3 seed Syracuse. Which team shows up for Jim Boeheim? The one that started 25-0 or the one that finished 2-5? With its zone, the Orange is difficult to play against. A year ago, Syracuse wasn’t exactly lighting it up entering the tournament and ended up in the Final Four.
Still, the team to watch in the bottom half might be Ohio State. The Buckeyes are tournament-tested (Final Four two years ago; region final last year) and played in the best conference in the country.
Still, when the dust clears, Coach Billy Donovan and Florida likely will have broken their region final jinx (losses the past three years).