Florida Gulf Coast University, the program that captured the nation's imagination during an improbable run to the Sweet 16 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, plays Sunday for a second consecutive trip to the Big Dance. The Eagles face the No. 2 seed Mercer Bears in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament final. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET at Alico Arena in Fort Myers, Fla., with television coverage on ESPN2. Florida Gulf Coast, the tournament's top seed, is a 1.5-point favorite.
Head coach Andy Enfield left for USC and senior guard/forward Sherwood Brown graduated, but many of the familiar faces from the Florida Gulf Coast (22-11, 14-4) tournament run have returned. Junior guards Bernard Thompson (15.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Brett Comer (13.9 ppg, 5.4 apg), as well as senior forward Chase Fieler (14.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) lead the way for the Eagles. Where last season's "Dunk City" squad was built on high tempo and high-percentage shots, the 2014 edition of FGCU won the conference regular season title through defense. The Eagles boast the Atlantic Sun's most efficient defense, with one of the nation's best defensive rebounding rates.
Florida Gulf coast blew out Stetson in the tournament's first round, then knocked off East Tennessee State 69-64 in Thursday's semifinal. Fieler scored 22 and pulled in 15 rebounds in the win.
Mercer (25-8, 14-4) posted the conference's best overall record, but the Bears' January 23 loss at Florida Gulf Coast relegated them to the No. 2 seed and forced them to play Sunday's final at the Eagles' home arena. Mercer knocked off Jacksonville but needed double overtime to defeat No. 3 seed USC Upstate 78-75 in the semifinals. The Bears are one of the nation's best three-point shooting teams, making nearly 40 percent of their shots from behind the arc. Seniors Langston Hall (14.7 ppg, 5.7 apg) and Bud Thomas (9.4 ppg, 40.2 3P%) are Mercer's top perimeter threats, while center Daniel Coursey (9.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) is one of the nation's best shot blockers.
Mercer has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1985, when the Bears were knocked out in the first round by 2-seed Georgia Tech.