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NCAA tournament preview: South Region

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1 Florida (32-2, Southeastern champion)

16 Play-in winner (See matchup below)

Can you say "Gator bait"? Whoever wins the play-in game will have effectively played its way out of the tournament by Thursday.

8 Colorado (23-11, at-large)

9 Pittsburgh (25-9, at-large)

Colorado has struggled since Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a season-ending injury Jan. 12. Pittsburgh will try to do the ACC proud.

5 Virginia Commonwealth (26-8, at-large)

12 Stephen F. Austin (31-2, Southland champion)

It's the battle of the underdogs! VCU has the cachet after its Final Four appearance in 2011; Stephen F. Austin wants to get there.

4 UCLA (26-8, Pac-12 champion)

13 Tulsa (21-12, Conference USA champion)

Historians may recall that fourth-seeded UCLA lost to 13th-seeded Princeton in 1996. Fortunately for the Bruins, this isn't 1996.

6 Ohio State (25-9, at-large)

11 Dayton (23-10, at-large)

Which Buckeyes will show up, the bunch that started 15-0 or the ones who lost five of their next six? Dayton's just happy to be here.

3 Syracuse (27-5, at-large)

14 Western Michigan (23-9, Mid-American champion)

Those who believe in symmetry will predict that the fading Orange lose; those who root for the Broncos will agree.

7 New Mexico (27-6, Mountain West champion)

10 Stanford (21-12, at-large)

Johnny Dawkins probably secured a future as Stanford's coach by getting here. New Mexico intends to make sure it's a short stay.

2 Kansas (24-9, at-large)

15 Eastern Kentucky (24-9, Ohio Valley champion)

NBA teams interested in Joel Embiid would like to see him play in the tournament. That would entail a few Jayhawks victories.

PLAY-IN

Albany (18-14, Northeastern champion)

Mount St. Mary's (16-16, America East champion)

Some things never change: Mount St. Mary's has been seeded No. 16 in each of its four tournament appearances and Albany is 0-3 in its appearances.

Inspecting the top seeds

1 FLORIDA: We're No. 1! At least going into the tournament. The overall top-seeded Gators have won 26 consecutive games after rolling through the SEC regular season and tournament unbeaten.

2 KANSAS: Even without freshman center Joel Embiid, expected to miss the opening weekend with a stress fracture in his back, the Jayhawks have enough talent for a deep tournament run.

3 SYRACUSE: The Orange will try to end the breaking bad theme after going 2-5 following a 25-0 start. One reason for drop-off: Syracuse made 18 of 77 (23.4%) three-point shots in the losses.

4 UCLA: Last time the Bruins opened the NCAA tournament in San Diego, in 2006, there was a bomb scare at Cox Arena. It was a good omen because they went on to the national title game.

Cinderella search

Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks have a 28-game winning streak, last losing on Nov. 23. So what if those victories came over Incarnate Word, Lamar and Elmhurst, among other no-name opponents? This team just wins, baby.

Top players

Andrew Wiggins, guard, Kansas

NBA general managers could outnumber fans whenever the phenom plays. Projected by many as the top pick in the draft, the 6-foot-8 freshman averaged 31 points over his last three games.

Tyler Ennis, guard, Syracuse

The 6-2 freshman's statistics — 12.7 points, 5.6 assists per game — may not overwhelm you, but his versatility will. He can shoot and handle the ball with a change-of-pace style that baffles defenders.

Kyle Anderson, guard, UCLA

Dismiss the 6-9 sophomore as too slow and unathletic at your own risk. He always seems to make the right play and possesses a toughness and savvy that cannot be measured.

Rim shots

Tulsa will have a large contingent of Kansas fans rooting for the Golden Hurricane, which faces UCLA. Former Kansas star Danny Manning coaches Tulsa and current Jayhawks Coach Bill Self guided the Golden Hurricane from 1997-2000.

Stanford is making its first tournament appearance since Brook and Robin Lopez helped the Cardinal get there in 2008.

UCLA probably would rather face anyone other than Florida in this regional; the Gators eliminated the Bruins in the national championship game in 2006, a national semifinal in 2007 and a third-round game in 2011.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

lch@latimes.com">ben.bolch@latimes.com

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