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Orlando hosts Florida-flavored NCAA Tournament first round

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For NCAA Tournament organizers, their desire to fill seats at the eight first and second round sites, Orlando should be gold for them. With the Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles and Florida Gulf Coast Eagles coming to the Amway Center in Orlando on Thursday, fans of all three teams will not have far to travel.

Florida’s other NCAA Tournament is Miami. The eighth-seeded Hurricanes will open play on Friday in Tulsa against the ninth-seeded Michigan State Spartans.

The team traveling the furthest is the Xavier Musketeers from Cincinnati. Two familiar teams will be there as well.

The Virginia Cavaliers of the ACC and the Maryland Terrapins, formerly of the ACC, but now in the Big 10 will both be there. The other two teams are the East Tennessee State Buccaneers and North Carolina Wilmington Seahawks.

While Florida Gulf Coast was expected to be seeded 14th, Florida State was thought to be falling below the three seed they earned. That prompted a first-round matchup between the Seminoles and the Eagles.

Florida was also thought to be dipping below the fourth seed after losing their final three games. The committee kept them at four, leading to an interesting matchup with the Buccaneers.

Florida State and Maryland are on pace to meet on Saturday if the Seminoles get by FGCU and Maryland can handle Xavier. Florida and Virginia are bracketed together if the Gators defeat the Buccaneers and the Cavaliers can beat the Seahawks.

Orlando is hosting NCAA first round games for the first time since 2014. That year, the Gators started their Final Four run in Orlando with victories over Albany and Pittsburgh.

Florida State is making their first tournament appearance anywhere since 2012. Florida Gulf Coast had the magical run to the Sweet 16 in 2013 before the 15th seeded Eagles were finally ousted by the Gators.

Starting Thursday, the Amway Center will be the place to be.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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