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Eddie Pells | The Associated Press | March 16, 2014

Gators earn top billing in NCAA tournament

Florida is the overall top seed in the NCAA tournament, and will be joined on the '1' line by Virginia, Arizona and Wichita State.

The selection committee released its pairings Sunday, not long after the Gators defeated Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference tournament final to bring their winning streak to 26 games.

"It's kind of what we expected," said guard Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC's player of the year and tournament MVP. "It feels good. Obviously, it doesn't matter when the games start playing."

Florida (32-2) will open tournament play Thursday in Orlando, Fla., in the South Region. The Gators will face the winner of Albany and Mount St. Mary's, two 16 seeds that play Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.

"We've got to stay locked in and not let it get to our heads," Wilbekin added.

Florida's road to Dallas could get considerably tougher after that, with No. 2 seed Kansas, No. 3 seed Syracuse and No. 4 seed UCLA all in the South. The Jayhawks, Orange and Bruins have a combined 15 national titles and plenty of experience on college basketball's biggest stage.

"Anybody in the country can come out and win it," Florida center Patric Young said.

The Cavaliers, widely considered a 2 or 3 seed in many mock-ups of the bracket, instead vaulted to the top of the East Region. They won the ACC regular-season and tournament titles.

Arizona got top billing in the West despite losing to UCLA in the Pac-12 final Saturday. The Wildcats will open Friday against Weber State.

Wichita State is the No. 1 seed in the Midwest -- a region that includes Michigan and Louisville, who joined the Shockers in the Final Four last year. The Wolverines were seeded second and the defending-champion Cardinals were fourth.

Kansas earned the No. 2 seed in the South and Wisconsin was No. 2 in the West.

"You obviously worry about winning a two-game tournament," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "You don't worry about what you could potentially worry about next week. In our regional, you got the best team in the country, a team that four weeks ago was thought to be the best team in the country.

"You have a team in UCLA that's one of the hottest teams in the country. You could make a case that if everybody in our regional plays to their ceilings, it could be the hardest region of any of them."

Florida has come up just short of the Final Four the last three years, losing to Butler (2011), Louisville (2012) and Michigan (2013) in regional finals.

The senior-laden Gators have had their sights set on the Final Four all year -- and now the last leg of the journey begins.

"We've still got work to do," forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. "Now we've got to start from the bottom and work our way back up."

First Four matchups involving bubble teams are Iowa against Tennessee and North Carolina State against Xavier.

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