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NCAA tournament preview: Gators lead overall bracket, South regional

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The NCAA tournament bracket had an obvious No. 1 overall seed on March 16. Being the top overall seed has worked well lately, as the last two NCAA tournament champions were ranked No. 1 going in. But before the Florida Gators can match the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats and 2013 Louisville Cardinals, they have to get through the South bracket.

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The Gators are no stranger to deep NCAA runs, yet the Final Four has been out of reach since their 2006 and 2007 championships. In fact, Florida has lost in the Elite Eight three years running, yet those teams weren't 32-2, perfect in the SEC and carrying a 26-game winning streak.

Even if the Gators lost to the Wildcats in the SEC title game on March 16, they would have been the top seed in the South and likely remained the top overall seed. Nevertheless, becoming the first team to finish completely undefeated in the SEC was one last feather in Florida's cap.

Still, it was one of the tougher games of the Gators' winning streak, as they held off a late Wildcats rally for a 61-60 victory. A turnover from James Young at the last second was what finally finished Kentucky off and allowed Florida to escape. Could this be a last-minute sign that the Gators are indeed vulnerable?

The Kansas Jayhawks and the rest of the South bracket would certainly like to believe so. Regardless, the Jayhawks and Syracuse Orange aren't exactly entering the NCAA tournament on a high note themselves. They still held on to take the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, yet the Jayhawks' nine losses and the Orange's 2-5 finish show how vulnerable they are.

Perhaps the hottest team in the South other than Florida is the Pac-12 tournament champion UCLA Bruins, who barged in as the No. 4 seed. However, the Gators knocked off the Bruins during the Final Four of both their national title runs, so perhaps a potential Sweet 16 battle with UCLA bodes well for Florida.

Nevertheless, the NCAA tournament doesn't stand to be as easy for the Gators as the SEC was much of the year. The accompanying slideshow lists the main challenges and challengers Florida faces in the South bracket for starters.

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