In the wake of their historic upset over Georgetown, there have been thousands of articles and blog posts written about the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. Many have focused on coach Andy Enfield's unusual background, on his swimsuit model wife or on how FGCU wasn't even a university 20 years ago. These are all great stories, but they are only being written because of the Eagles' on-court performance.
Florida Gulf Coast won on Friday because it did something good basketball teams have been doing since the peach basket days: drive the ball to the hole. It is something they have been doing since Enfield arrived on campus a season ago.
Not every FGCU game over the last two seasons is captured in my play-by-play database, an issue that is pretty common among Atlantic Sun teams, but many are. I have the details of roughly three quarters of their shot attempts this season, and around two thirds of their shots last year. When we look at the play-by-play data summaries for the Eagles, one thing stands out. Enfield's squad takes a high proportion of their shot attempts at the rim. On the season, 44 percent of Gulf Coast's logged shots have come on layups or dunks (Hoop-Math.com). This ranks tenth overall among qualifying teams in the database (Hoop-Math Leader Board). Last year, Enfield's first in Fort Meyers, the Eagles took 41 percent of their logged shots near the basket. This is still a high rate; consider that on average 34 percent of shot attempts in Division I are layups or dunks.
The Eagles are aggressive going to the basket in every situation. The first key to their success at getting to the bucket is their transition game. The defense often creates these looks, as FGC is ranked 27th nationally in steal rate, taking the ball away from their opponents in 12 percent of the trips down the court. 11 percent of the Eagles' initial shots on offense come in transition off of a steal, and 77 percent of these attempts are taken at the rim.
FGCU also creates quick opportunities at the hoop after rebounding an opponent miss, or after an opponent made basket. While the Eagles only push the tempo in these situations at a slightly above average rate, their transition looks are far more likely to be from in close than what we typically see. When we combine all transition situations, Enfield's team gets one third of its initial shots quickly, which is somewhat higher than the national average of 28 percent. That doesn't differentiate the Eagles from other teams. What sets them apart is a a full 56 percent of these shots are layups or dunks (the D-I average is 44 percent).
When running their half-court offense, Florida Gulf Coast is still looking to go to the hole. 42 percent of their initial half-court attempts are taken at the hoop, which is substantially higher than the national average of 31 percent.
FGCU's assault on the basket starts with 6'3 sophomore Brett Comer. Comer is fearless going to the rack, attempting 59 percent of his shots there, although his conversion percentage on layups and dunks is an underwhelming 45 percent. Still, his basket-attacking ways create opportunities for his teammates. Comer has assisted on 43 percent of his teammates' made baskets this season, which is the fifth-highest rate nationally. Finishers like Chase Fieler, Eric McKnight and Eddie Murray have been the biggest beneficiaries of Comer's work.
That is about how it all played out Friday night. While the Georgetown Hoyas limited the easy live-ball steal chances of FGCU, John Thompson III's team just couldn't keep the Eagles away from the basket. 39 percent of FGCU's attempts came at the rim, and while the tough Georgetown D was able to limit them to 53 percent shooting on these attempts, it wasn't enough to hold Enfield's team down.
Adding to the trouble for the Hoyas, Florida Gulf Coast made 6-of-15 from three-point range, and drew fouls at an insane rate. FGCU shot 44 free throws, 24 more than were granted to the Hoyas. A bunch of free throw attempts is a typical reward when a team fearlessly goes to the hole. Sherwood Brown went 9-of-12 from the stripe, while teammate Bernard Thompson was 10-of-16.
FGCU plays without fear. It did this all against Georgetown's menacing interior D, one of the very best in the nation. This season, the Hoyas allowed the fourth-lowest two-point shooting percentage in Division I, and only let opponents shoot 29 percent of their attempts at the rim. The Eagles didn't care. They were going to the bucket no matter who was standing in their way.