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Florida gets No. 4 seed in 2017 NCAA Tournament, to play in Orlando

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The Gators get their easy road trip. But everything else is hard.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators will play as a No. 4 seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, kicking off their return to March Madness for the first time since 2014 with a short trip to Orlando.

The Gators will meet No. 13 seed East Tennessee State, the champions of the Southern Conference, on Thursday in an East Region first round game. If Florida wins that game, it would meet the winner of No. 5 Virginia and No. 12 UNC Wilmington in the second round of play.

Florida’s No. 4 seed is a welcome reward for the Gators, whose 1-3 record in their last four games and 4-3 record without injured center John Egbunu were cited as reasons the Selection Committee could choose to drop them. But a strong non-conference slate and a resounding win over SEC regular-season and SEC Tournament champion Kentucky likely outweighed any recent scuffling in the Committee’s estimation.

Florida’s last four NCAA Tournament appearances all included runs to no worse than the Elite Eight, but the Gators will have an incredibly difficult path to both of those stages in 2017. The No. 1 seed in the East is Villanova, also the No. 1 overall seed, and Florida would likely have to take down the Wildcats in a Sweet Sixteen matchup to make the Elite Eight.

Were that to happen, Florida would then face the winner of a similarly loaded bottom half of the region, where No. 2 seed Duke and No. 3 seed Baylor — the ACC Tournament champion and a team that spent time as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team this season — lurk.

Game time and ticket information will be released in the coming hours.