The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles are in their first NCAA Tournament. They're heavy underdogs as they face No. 2 Georgetown, but they did win a game earlier this season against a squad that ended up with a No. 2 seed at the end of the year, so maybe you shouldn't count them totally out.
Hi. I'm Rodger Sherman. I'm a Northwestern fan. (Yes, we exist, although we sometimes dress up as chairs.) My team has never made the NCAA Tournament, despite 75 years of trying. As a result, I spend time every year profiling the March goings-on of various other teams that have never made the NCAA Tournament. Some of them you've heard of -- Army -- some of them you haven't -- the Tennessee-Martin SkyHawks.This year, there were 50 teams.
Of those 50, most failed miserably. Northwestern lost in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, and then fired their coach, Bill Carmody, and then I spent like five-to-seven hours looking at myself in various mirrors and then punching them while crying, which is pretty normal for Northwestern fans. Some didn't even make their conference tournaments. Others, like Denver, Stony Brook, and Bethune-Cookman, made it all the way to their conference semifinals, then lost there.
Of the 50, only one even made their conference championship. That one was Florida Gulf Coast.
Led by second-year coach Andy Enfield, the Eagles had one of the strongest teams in the Atlantic Sun. They boasted Sherwood Brown, a dreadlocked 6'4 guard who earned conference player of the year honors for his 15.3 points and 6.4 boards per game, plus conference defensive player of the year Bernard Thompson, who nabbed 2.8 steals per game to go with 14.0 points. And Brett Comer had the No. 5 assist rate in the nation, assisting 43.2 percent of his team's baskets while on the floor. They went 13-5, finishing second in their league.
But they still faced an uphill battle in the A-Sun conference tournament. It was hosted at Mercer, the No. 1 seed, giving them a home-court advantage in what was hypothetically a neutral site tournament, part of why Craig Powers had the Bears as the heavy favorites to win the tourney. Unsurprisingly, the top two teams ended up matched against each other in the finals.
I watched that game. FGCU started out in a hole, down 11-2, but Comer -- normally a passer -- helped FGCU with a season-high 21 points, and Brown drilled threes from deeper and deeper and deeper, hitting his first four attempts from beyond the arc. After taking a halftime lead, the Eagles pulled away with an 11-2 run fueled by Brown's shooting and some transition dunks by Chase Fieler, and the Eagles got the 88-75 win after leading by as much as 17. FGCU ended up winning every game in the conference tourney by double digits.
So what is Florida Gulf Coast? Why haven't you heard of them? And do they have a chance against the Hoyas?
For starters, it's a school with about 11,000 undergrads in Ft. Myers, Florida. It's on the Gulf Coast of Florida, if you didn't, like, gather that from the friggin name of the university, you blithering idiot.
If the semi-directional nature of the school's name makes it sound like a made-up school, that's because, well, it kind of is. The state of Florida decided to add another school to its state university system in the early 90's, and by the time stuff got around to being built, the school was opened in 1997. So FGCU is not yet old enough to have students who were born when classes started there.
But you can't just show up at the NCAA offices asking to have a D-I team for your new school. Seriously, try it. Mark Emmert will laugh at you and then probably sanction you or whatever it is he does. The school began sponsoring athletics in 2001, and in 2007, joined the Atlantic Sun. But again, the transition takes a while, and FGCU couldn't compete in postseason events until after the 2010-2011 athletic season.
So, technically, the 2012 NCAA Tournament was the first the Eagles could have qualified. One out of two. Not too shabby, FGCU. brb gotta go cry/punch mirrors some more mirrors
Back. Eligible for the tourney for the first time in 2011, the Eagles replaced Dave Balza, the only coach in program history, with Andy Enfield, a Florida State assistant who set the NCAA record for career FT percentage -- 92.5 percent, at Johns Hopkins. He's been an unmitigated success. In the team's first ever Atlantic Sun Tournament, they went on a run to the finals despite being the No. 6 seed, losing to Belmont. With Belmont now in the Ohio Valley Conference, the league title was open for the taking, and FGCU seized.
So yeah, they can win the A-Sun. But can they knock off Georgetown?
Obviously, the odds are against them. Ken Pomeroy gives them a 10 percent chance at victory. But that's still a chance. Georgetown has lost to a worse team than Florida Gulf Coast this year -- they dropped a game to South Florida, Kenpom ranking 146 -- while FGCU is ranked 126 in Pomeroy's numbers.
But FGCU does have a win of similar quality earlier this year. Just two games into their season, FGCU hosted Miami, and absolutely shut them down. The Hurricanes shot 29.1 percent from the floor, turned the ball over 16 times, and lost 63-51. It didn't seem like a big win at the time, as nobody expected much out of Miami. But the Canes figured out their rotation, put things together, and went on to win the ACC title -- and earn a No. 2 seed, just like Georgetown.
On the other hand, the Eagles lost by 21 to Duke, so, that can happen.
So, FGCU, we, the members of the Never-Made-The-Tourney Club, salute you. This year, you are the chosen ones. If you beat Georgetown, we will tell everybody we supported you from the start, just like we did last year with Norfolk State, even though we aren't going to pick you in our bracket pools.
ALSO PLEASE TELL US HOW TO MAKE THE NCAA TOURNAMENT DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMN IT ALL TO HELL