12 p.m., ESPN2: No. 1 Mercer (23-10, 14-4, Kenpom ranking 121) vs. No. 2 Florida Gulf Coast (23-10, 13-5, Kenpom ranking 137)
The first automatic bid to the 2013 NCAA Tournament is on the line Saturday afternoon, as the Mercer Bears play the championship game in the Atlantic Sun against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. A tourney trip would be big for both schools: Mercer hasn't been to the NCAA Tourney since 1985, while FGCU has never been.
Mercer had an easy path to the finals: They stomped Lipscomb, 82-48, allowing their starters to get some rest, then beat USC-Upstate on Friday behind 20 points from forward Bud Thomas and 18 from point guard Langston Hall. Chase Fieler was the star for FGCU in their first-round matchup against North Florida, filling in 22 points and nine boards, while Sherwood Brown's 18 points, and 13 rebounds from the 6'3 Bernard Thompson, allowed the Eagles to pull away with a 72-58 victory.
FGCU's strength is its ability to force turnovers, thanks to Thompson, who averages 2.9 steals per game. Their offense runs through point guard Brett Comer, who averages 6.3 assists and has a 43.3 assist rate good for No. 5 in the nation. He's adept at finding Thompson and Brown for open looks, and even though neither are spectacular three-point shooters, they're both efficient scorers for the Eagles. On the other hand, Mercer likes to play slow — their 62.8 possessions per game is 305th in the country — and wins on strong interior defense from Daniel Coursey. They've hosted the whole tournament, so they'll have the home-court advantage as they look to control the pace of play.
The season matchup between these two led to two exciting games: at Mercer, a Filip Cvjeticanin three for FGCU sent the game into overtime, but Coursey scored five straight for Mercer and Hall added seven of his 17 points to secure a win for the Bears. In the rematch, the Eagles were the ones who came up in the clutch, scoring the game's final five points to come away with the 60-57 win.
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