Florida clearly reaped the benefits of being a No. 1 overall seed on Selection Sunday, avoiding the more problematic roadblocks to a Final Four that stand in the way of fellow top seeds Wichita State, Arizona and Virginia.
The Gators (32-2), who have won a school-record 26 consecutive games, have a relatively smooth path to a fourth consecutive Elite Eight if they continue to play at a level that allowed them to go 18-0 in Southeastern Conference play, then win the SEC tournament.
While potential third-round opponent Pittsburgh has a marvelous talent in senior 6-foot-5 forward Lamar Patterson, plus a rugged defense that can make anybody look bad, the fact is the Panthers are 0-6 against RPI Top 25 teams. Now it took a miracle shot at the buzzer for Syracuse, the No. 3 seed in UF’s regional, to knock off Pitt, but Jamie Dixon’s team has a reputation for not winning big games.
UCLA, a No. 4 seed, looked like a national title contender in beating Arizona in the Pac-12 tourney finals, but the Bruins have a tendency to be a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. In the NCAA tournament, UCLA is also 0-3 against Billy Donovan’s Gators.
Syracuse seems to have lost its momentum in the past month, losing four of five games in one stretch and being eliminated by North Carolina State in the ACC tourney.
Potentially, the biggest hurdle for Billy Donovan's team is No. 2 seed Kansas, but that will depend on the Jayhawks getting to the second week of the NCAA tournament without injured 7-foot center Joel Embiid, sidelined by a stress fracture in his back.
Even if Embiid is healthy, the Jayhawks have been prone to early-round exits in previous years. Florida was also able to beat Kansas 67-61 at home in December when Embiid’s health was a non-issue.
Donovan has an outstanding NCAA record of 31-11, and his teams usually take care of business against underdogs. Looking at UF’s regional draw, there’s no Michigan State, Louisville, Duke or Michigan. The path to a Final Four looks pretty favorable.