Three rounds of NCAA tournament action have passed and the long held moniker of March Madness has proven worthy yet again. Only three out of the original four number one seeds remain, as Gonzaga was knocked out by nine seed Wichita State. Four of the nine seeds or higher have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
There are the usual suspects in the Sweet Sixteen. Kansas, Duke, Louisville and Indiana are in. Then there are some shockers, literally in the case of Wichita State. These are teams that had to pull off an upset or two in order to advance. Wichita State, Oregon and La Salle fall under this category. Oregon has shown that it was clearly under seeded after winning the Pac-12 tournament and beating two top five seeds. La Salle is still playing despite finishing third in their own conference, the A-10.
Then come the teams no one expected to even hang around after the round of 64. A team that is playing so unexpectedly well that most people didn’t even know the school existed until this past weekend, is Florida Gulf Coast University. There is always a team that is much more than just an average underdog; this year, it is the Eagles of FGCU.
FGCU have already made history becoming the first ever 15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Now they are looking to make even more noise. They face big brother school Florida Friday night at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
FGCU has only been open for 16 years. To put that into perspective, there are four coaches of teams who will compete in the Sweet Sixteen beginning Thursday who have coached at their respective schools longer than FGCU has been open. The basketball team has only been eligible for postseason play for two years. No one even knew who they were less than a week ago, and now they are the toast of the nation.
The question is if they can really continue their run. The answer is a surprising yes. They beat two seed Georgetown and San Diego State, two teams expected to make a run of their own. Georgetown had a player of the year candidate in Otto Porter Jr., yet he was neutralized by the Eagles defense, scoring just 13 points. They beat both teams by double-digit margins.
They beat ACC regular season and tournament champion Miami earlier in the year, and they kept it close for an entire half of basketball against Duke. Their next round game against Florida will tell us a lot about what this FGCU team can really accomplish. The Gators were a team that struggled down the stretch in the regular season and their conference tournament, but they seemed to fix the problems in their first two games with blowout wins over Northwestern State and Minnesota.
The Eagles play an up-tempo attack, taking advantage of turnovers and fast breaks. The key will be how the Gators perform if this game remains close going into the final minutes. The Gators are 0-6 in games decided by less than four points this season. They thrive on beating their opponents soundly. So if FGCU can keep the game close and take advantage of Florida’s mistakes, while slowing down the Gator’s offense, they will have just as good a chance as any to advance.
If there is one thing that has been proven by unimaginable runs performed by such teams as 14 seed VCU and 12 seed George Mason in years past, once you make the Sweet Sixteen anything can happen. And that’s just what FGCU is hoping for.