Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Sports

FGCU aims to continue NCAA glory vs. Florida

ARLINGTON, Texas

There never has been a team like them. No one else has stuffed so much madness into March.

Not Santa Clara.

Not Richmond.

Not Lehigh.

They bust brackets, these Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles. They slay giants. They run, and they dunk, and they make you fall in love with them. No one has ever done more with less in the NCAA Tournament.

Not Coppin State.

Not Hampton.

Not Norfolk State.

So what lies next for the FGCU basketball team?

Who knows? Maybe they could hit the University of Florida with their history books.

By now, you know all about the Eagles, the unknown, overreaching team. They are the first No. 15 seed to reach to Sweet 16, and they are just crazy enough to think they can win again. Hey, only six other teams have ever won once out of the No. 15 slot , and here the Eagles are, on the brink of reaching the Elite Eight.

"We did make history," FGCU point guard Brent Comer said. "No 15 seed has done this. We feel like we shocked the world. Nobody picked us to beat Georgetown or San Diego State."

Oh, every now and then, it happens. Lehigh beat Duke last year, and Norfolk State beat Missouri. Richmond beat Syracuse in '91, and Santa Clara beat Arizona in '93. But such teams never seem to have staying power. They gather their one win and take it home to cherish it.

There is something different about the Eagles, however. There is a freedom, a swagger, that makes their games seem less of an upset than the bracket suggests they are.

Ah, but tonight comes No. 3 seed Florida, the mansion on the hill among state schools. FGCU rubs nickels together for its recruiting budget. The Gators shop off the top shelf. FGCU retreated home to Estero, just outside of Fort Myers, last week. The Gators checked into a hotel and ordered room service.

"They're the higher seed," Comer said. "They're the well-known school, the well-known players and team. I feel like down deep, they might not be taking us as seriously, because we weren't the high-recruited guys.

"Everybody talks about Florida. Nobody talks about Florida Gulf Coast."

Well, that isn't quite true anymore. Over the past week, FGCU has become America's darlings, which has left Florida cast in the role of the program that has it all. These days, everyone can tell you about coach Andy Enfield and his ex-model wife, and Dunk City and Fairytale Lane. They can tell you how Comer led the league in turnovers last year, and how Bernard Thompson was a terrible shooter coming out of high school. They can attest to how far a team can get with attitude and athleticism.

Remember, this is a team that lost twice to Lipscomb. And to Maine.

"The nation is behind us because everyone loves a Cinderella," forward Eddie Murray said. "It's cool. I've always rooted for underdogs. It's just a little different being one now."

It's odd, all of this talk of history. Because if you push the Eagles, they don't act as if either of their wins were that surprising. The world may be shocked, but FGCU's players don't seem particularly electrified.

"There isn't a lot of difference between a really good mid-major and the power conferences on any given night," Enfield said. "We feel we can compete with anyone in the country. We're athletic, long, fast, we play up-tempo, we play a different style and system.

"I watched the film on Georgetown (FGCU's second-round opponent). I thought they were as good as anybody I'd seen. They were ranked in the top eight in the country. I didn't know if we could beat them, but I did know we could compete. I told the players it's going to take you a few minutes when you start the game to realize that you're just as good as the guy guarding you, and in some cases, you'll be better."

Against the Gators, why should it be different? Well, Florida plays more up-tempo than Georgetown, and it's bigger inside. FGCU has its work cut out for it.

"We're going to try to win again," Comer said. "We didn't come just to play one game or two games. We're coming out to compete and go as far as we can."

Can you imagine it? Can you imagine the state being turned topsy-turvy if the Eagles win? Can you imagine the grumping from Gainesville? Can you imagine FGCU in the Elite Eight?

Enfield, man of vision that he is, probably can.

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