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Florida State has best chance among state schools to make Sweet 16

Florida State has the best chance of our state’s four tourney teams to make the Sweet 16 round, which is befitting a No. 3 seed.

Miami gets a raw draw with NCAA tournament blue bloods Michigan State and Kansas as immediate roadblocks on the opening weekend.

Florida can breathe a sigh of relief because Vanderbilt, the one team the Gators can’t handle, is being sent way out west to Salt Lake City, where somebody else may not find them to be so toxic.

Florida Gulf Coast is always fun to watch, but going from Stetson, Kennesaw State and North Florida in the Atlantic Sun tournament to FSU in the first round of the big bully bracket is quite a leap.

Think I’m way off with any of this stuff? Yeah, that’s probably right.

After all, Syracuse made it all the way to the Final Four last year as a 10-seed. This event is beloved for its quirkiness. Maybe that’s why CBS analyst Seth Davis was so wired for Sunday night’s tournament selection show that he immediately picked FSU and Florida as first-round upset victims.

Like everybody else, he can’t wait for the buzzer-beaters to begin and the underdogs to start nipping at the heels of giants. Why else do you think the selection committee matched Kentucky against Northern Kentucky when any old 15-seed would have worked just as well? It’s a try for great television, with drama forced upon us when it’s not organically produced and bless them for trying.

The Orlando site’s proliferation of Florida schools is all part of it. The Seminoles and Gators are in different regions but playing in the same building. Selling tickets is a part of this process, too, in the early rounds. No matter who’s playing, and even though the opening games fall right in the heart of regular weekday working hours, America will be watching it all.

Better watch quick, though, when it comes to the Hurricanes. Already they are overachievers, retooling after the loss of three starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team to make the tournament again. Without Jim Larranaga as coach, that’s probably not possible.

Meeting Tom Izzo’s Spartans in March is never a good thing, however. It’s going to leave a bruise, win or lose, and it just might turn into one of those slogs where the first team to 50 points wins. Doesn’t really matter if Michigan State is having a down year, which it is. If the Spartans are in it, they’re out to win it.

Then, there’s top seed Kansas waiting, almost certainly, for whoever advances from Miami’s opener. The Jayhawks are prone to stumble in the early rounds, but we’re talking about games being played in Tulsa. That’s only a couple hundred miles from Lawrence, and some rural Kansans are accustomed to driving half that far just for groceries.

There are bad signs for the Gators, too, but not so much in the brackets, where East Tennessee State comes first.

Florida limps into the tournament with no momentum and not enough muscle because center John Egbunu is out and has been for a while. The selection committee actually did coach Mike White a favor by making his team a No. 4 seed in his first NCAA tournament appearance. Whether it was a 4 or a 5 doesn’t matter all that much in what the first weekend serves up, but it was a favor just the same, no doubt based on a combination of Florida’s regal hoops history (two national titles and five Final Fours) and an impressive No. 10 RPI.

That’s only two spots behind Gonzaga’s RPI number, which factors in strength of schedule and big wins and such. With that kind of reputation, Florida should be able to handle East Tennessee State and slug its way past Virginia into the second weekend, but I’m really not feeling it. Too many long scoring droughts and not enough offensive flow with these guys.

Another weird tournament fact. Only one No. 4 seed has ever won it all, Arizona in 1997.

Now we come to FSU, which strangely enough hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in five years. That’s too long for a program always loaded with leapers and rebounders and defensive pests. These aren’t the Washington Wizards that Leonard Hamilton is coaching anymore. He’s got some real talent and depth.

Matter of fact, I’ll push the Seminoles all the way to the West Region final against Gonzaga, at least in my mind. Things are generally a little mad and muddled up there, so why not trust those instincts?

It’s the time of year to take a few flyers, and without apology.

The only thing truly worth regretting is to miss the tournament altogether. If Larranaga could make it to the Final Four in 2006 with George Mason, any dream is worth indulging.

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