Florida’s path to the Final Four is littered with possible pitfalls in teams that certainly can’t match the consistency of the bracket’s top overall seed -- Billy Donovan’s team hasn’t lost since Dec. 2 -- but all of them have experienced success in spurts. The winner of Colorado-Pitt could challenge the Gators in the third round. Pitt's Lamar Patterson is the kind of dynamic threat who could ruin dreams. Colorado has been up and down since losing Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending knee injury in January, but the Buffaloes are a strong defensive team.
UCLA, which won the Pac-12 tourney title with a victory over Arizona, or VCU, which forces more turnovers per possession than any team in the country, might await the Gators in the Sweet 16. But one of the region’s sleepers, Stephen F. Austin, has won 28 games in a row. And Florida will probably have to deal with Syracuse, Ohio State, New Mexico or Kansas, all strong contenders at the bottom of the regional bracket that could block the Gators’ path to Dallas.
The Jayhawks are the most intriguing team in the South Region. Prior to the "Selection Show" on CBS, Bill Self said that the team’s doctors are confident that Joel Embiid, who has missed recent action with a back injury, will be healthy enough to compete if the team advances to the Sweet 16, which is no guarantee. Kansas at 100 percent can beat any team in this region. Will the Jayhawks be healthy? We’re not sure yet.
Five Players to Watch
Scottie Wilbekin, Florida: The Gators' point guard is the leader of a program that many call the favorite to win the national title. Wilbekin, who is averaging 3.7 APG and shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line, has helped Florida maintain its composure in tough matchups. He doesn’t panic and that helps his veteran teammates stay focused under pressure.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: After scoring 41 and 30 in his two previous games, Wiggins struggled in a loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 tourney semifinals Friday. But consider his numbers. He started the game 2-for-11, but he made five of his next 10 shots and finished the game with 22 points and seven rebounds on a rough night. The Kansas freshman might be the best player in America right now.
Lamar Patterson, Pitt: Every year, someone emerges in the NCAA tournament who puts together a stretch of otherworldly performances that lead to unexpected results. Patterson could be that guy this year. Earlier this season, Patterson was in the national player of the year conversation. He’s scored 24 points or more in seven games this season.
Kyle Anderson, UCLA: In the Pac-12 tourney championship over Arizona, Anderson collected 21 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists. The versatile guard/forward is one of the toughest matchups in the country. He can play point guard and run Steve Alford’s offense. But he’s also big enough -- 6-foot-9 -- to make an impact inside, too.
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Yes, the Orange continue to struggle (Jim Boeheim’s squad has lost three of its past four), but when the program surged to the No. 1 ranking earlier this season, Ennis was the catalyst to the rise. He hit clutch shots and controlled games, especially down the stretch. He’s averaging 12.7 PPG, 5.6 APG and 2.1 SPG. If Syracuse regains its old form somehow, Ennis will probably be responsible for that recovery.
What to Watch
Dark horse -- New Mexico: Craig Neal’s squad beat San Diego State in the Mountain West tourney title game. The Lobos also had a previous matchup and loss against Kansas, a team they might face for the second time this season in the third round of the Big Dance. They have a big, talented frontcourt with Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk. Kendall Williams is a pro. And they’ve won nine of their past 10. New Mexico could be the last one standing in the South Region.
Upset alert -- Dayton-Ohio State: Dayton standout Jordan Sibert (12.5 PPG, 44 percent from the 3-point line) will certainly be motivated when the Flyers, an 11-seed, face 6-seed Ohio State in the second round. Dayton had won 10 of its previous 11 games prior to Friday’s loss to Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Archie Miller’s program has wins over UMass, Saint Louis, Gonzaga and Cal. And the Flyers are ranked 30th in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy.
Team/coach/player with most to prove -- Johnny Dawkins: Bernard Muir, Stanford’s athletic director, has been clear that he desires more than just an appearance in the NCAA tournament from the Cardinal. So anything less than a strong showing could affect the job status of Dawkins, who will lead the Cardinal to their first NCAA tourney appearance since 2008.
Matchup we’d most like to see -- Florida-Kansas: A possible rematch between Kansas and Florida -- the Gators defeated the Jayhawks 67-61 in Gainesville, Fla., on Dec. 10 -- to decide the regional winner and Final Four slot is the most intriguing game in the South Region. Kansas, if Embiid is ready to go, is as capable as any team in the field. And the Gators have been the unanimous top team in the country for weeks.
Most likely to make it to Memphis: This might be the most unpredictable region of them all, but the NCAA tourney is all about picks. Florida will cruise to Memphis. UCLA might struggle with VCU in the third round, but the Bruins will be too much for Shaka Smart’s squad on their way to the Sweet 16. It’s hard to see Kansas in Memphis without Embiid’s help. The Jayhawks have been too inconsistent. But New Mexico will gladly take a slot in Memphis. And Syracuse will regain its mojo and end up there, too.