As the George Mason Patriots prepare to leave the Colonial Athletic Association behind, it’s fitting that a new mid-major Cinderella has emerged in NCAA Tournament folklore. Yes, Butler’s improbable run to back-to-back national championships and VCU’s magical journey from the First Four to the Final Four also captivated the college basketball world, but the No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast Eagles’ triumphant first weekend in this year’s tournament has become the biggest and most decadent Cinderella slipper of all.
Maybe it’s the added element of social media. Maybe it’s the undeniably unique color scheme of their uniforms. Maybe it’s the head coach’s supermodel wife. Regardless of the reason, FGCU has created a legendary story that the sports world will never forget, even if they don’t advance past the Sweet 16.
Further, if the Eagles fail to reach the Elite 8, they will still be remembered as the greatest NCAA Tournament story of all time — assuming Wichita State or LaSalle doesn’t win a national championship. In fact, the No. 9 seed Shockers and No. 13 seed Explorers will meet in this weekend’s Sweet 16 and hardly anyone is even talking about them.
So, how come FGCU’s run to the Sweet 16 would be more memorable than the Final Four runs of the 2006 11-seeded Patriots and 2011 11-seeded Rams? How come FGCU’s run would be more memorable than Butler reaching back-to-back championships as a 5 and 8 seed?
Jim Larranaga’s 2006 Patriots registered upset after upset behind some hot-streaking three-point shooting, defense and rebounding. Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs ran a motion offense that, frankly, grew boring at times as we saw in the 2011 championship tilt with Connecticut. And, Shaka Smart’s Rams clearly won with a defensive philosophy that wrecked “havoc” on their opponents.
#DunkCity isn’t just a social phenomena, it’s a strategic game plan that’s been fully executed to it’s highest potential.
Andy Enfield, head coach of Florida Gulf Coast and one of the greatest free throw shooters in NCAA history, spent time working for the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics as a shooting coach in the NBA. The 43-year-old has brought a free flowing and edge-of-your-seat entertaining NBA-style offense to Fort Myers, Fla. As well.
The Eagles have not just captivated the sports world as the first 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16, they’re doing it with an offensive flair that we’ve never seen before in March Madness. Forget about upsets, what’s truly been madness in this year’s NCAA Tourney has been the athletic feats of the Eagles players.
Sophomore point guard Brett Comer passes and dribbles with the skills of Steve Nash while playing with personality and attitude that combines The Professor and a WWE superstar.
Senior guard Sherwood Brown possesses the agility, speed and shooting skill of a perimeter dynamo while also embodying the power and strength of a defensive lineman and carrying himself with the confidence of a politician.
Chase Fieler, a 6-8 junior forward, flies to the rim like an NBA forward while also maintaining the poise and diligence of a quarterback.
When you put all of that together with unique 2-3 and 1-3-1 defensive sets, a collegiate basketball team quite unlike any other emerges. This recipe ultimately forms a ball club that plays an exciting and productive regime that can either yield unstoppable highlights or extreme cold stretches. That reasoning explains how the Enfield’s crew, who dismantled No. 2 seed Georgetown in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, lost to the likes of 12-18 Lipscomb, 10-22 East Tennessee State and 11-19 Maine earlier this season.
After all, when you play a brand of basketball that relies so much on energy and charisma, teams are bound to stumble a bit and hit a few roadblocks along the way.
But, fortunately for the Eagles, and the entire sports world, FGCU is on an incredible hot streak right now and that’s all that matters.
Now, many have begun speculating that with around a week to prepare, Florida head coach Billy Donovan will figure out how to end the Eagles’ theatric run when the two Sunshine State teams meet on Saturday in Arlington, Texas.
I’m here to tell you, don’t be so sure of that.
After all, Billy Donovan is just a man. And the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles are something that all of mankind has never seen before.