This week has been the perfect storm for blog
filler content: Georgetown doesn't play until Friday night; we've been told approximately 2,345,678 times not to "sleep on" the Hoyas' opponent, Florida Gulf Coast; that ominous detail, plus a history of sleeping on first-round opponents, has justified extensive coverage of this year's opponent; and the details of FGCU are well worth covering.
Let's start with the university as a whole. There's the fact that FGCU's current students were born before their future college started offering coursework. There's the whole beach community thing, as FGCU offers majors in Resort and Hospitality Management, Exercise Science, PGA Golf Management, and Skin Bronzing Management. (Fine, I made one of those up.)
Turning to the hardwood, Coach Andy Enfield looks like the Mad Magazine cover guy run through the Old Face app. (As previously pointed out, though, he must be quite the recruiter, if Mrs. Enfield is any indication.) And then there's the Eagle program, which has risen from non-existence to Division II to Division I to the NCAA Tournament in the less than the time it took John Calipari to forfeit a pair of Final Fours. There's a distinctly only-in-Florida feeling to the whole story, as if the team might not show up on Friday because the university gets foreclosed upon, or because the scenic campus was actually an elaborate front for an enormous international drug smuggling scheme.
But Ken Pomeroy and Nate Silver tell me that the game is likely to go forward, so let's get to it. With a couple of days left until tip-off, we'll be breaking this into two parts, with today focusing on the Eagles' resume and roster, and a later post diving into some of the Xs and Os.
It's been so long since last we met. Not very appropriate title here: FGCU and Georgetown have never played, and nothing has been "so long" in the Eagles' brief history. FGCU is in just its sixth year in Division I, and, after a four-year transitional period, only its second season of eligibility for postseason play. As remarkable as it is to make the dance so soon, the Eagles almost did themselves one better, leading at halftime of last year's Atlantic Sun conference championship before falling to a very good Belmont team. The Bruins, of course, went on to become Georgetown's opening-round opponent in last year's NCAA Tournament. Like FGCU last year, Belmont got a lot of buzz as an upset special, though we won't know until Friday whether the Eagles will meet the same fate.
Belmont's departure for the Ohio Valley Conference was one of the lesser-noted dominoes to fall during conference realignment, but nevertheless opened the Atlantic Sun to a variety of contenders. Among those vying for the conference championship and attendant automatic tournament bid figured to be FGCU, which returned seven of the top eight scorers from one of the youngest teams in Division I. Early on, the Eagles looked poised to fulfill that promise, with an eleven-point home win over a Miami team that would go on to win the ACC regular season and tournament titles. Viewed from the perspective of FGCU, or a talking head looking for an easy story line, that result looks shocking, and foreboding for Georgetown which, like Miami, earned a 2 seed.
But let's look at it from Miami's perspective. First, the Hurricanes were without Durand Scott, Miami's second-leading scorer and to that point the Hurricanes' lone seasoned ball-handler, who was serving an NCAA-imposed suspension. As a result, Miami turned the ball over on nearly 24 percent of its possessions at FGCU. Second, Miami was no stranger to embarrassing losses this year, whether to Division II St. Leo (the punchline to every joke about Pops's light non-conference scheduling), at Wake Forest by 15, at home to Georgia Tech, or on a neutral court to Indiana State. Throw in narrow escapes at Boston College and Clemson, and the loss at FGCU looks more at home in Miami's schizophrenic profile. Finally, upsets like these are rare, and therefore grist for analysts, for the simple fact that teams with likely top seeds in the tournament generally don't play road games out of conference unless the game is against a similar blue blood. (Gonzaga, needing resume-boosting wins because of a weak conference slate, is the exception.) Even rarer is scheduling a game in the gym of a tournament aspirant like FGCU. Kudos to Miami for doing so, but don't be surprised if it's the last time for a while.
FGCU played other prominent non-conference foes, and acquitted itself well enough to justify some later buzz. The Eagles led at Duke for a while before giving up a soul-crushing 30-0 run, were tied a the half at St. John's before falling, and led for much of the first half at Iowa State. Each game resulted in a double-digit FGCU loss, but in each case, the thinking goes, the Eagles proved that they weren't scared.
Conference play in the Atlantic Sun doesn't offer quite so many high-profile opportunities, but FGCU still made out pretty well, going 13-5 and finishing second in the conference. There are some holes, if you want to find them--the Eagles didn't win a game away from home against a team ranked in Ken Pomeroy's top 200 until the conference title game--but that's nitpicking. Generally, FGCU took yet another large step forward for a university accustomed to rapid progress. The Eagles' 13-point, title-sealing win at Mercer capped their run through the A-Sun tournament and sealed their first NCAA Tournament entry.
Eagles to Know. FGCU has talented players all over the court, but the majority of the attention Friday rightly will be on its back-court.
There, the Eagles are led by Sherwood Brown (15.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.4 stl pg, 37.2 3FG%), a burly, skilled wing that is an efficient scorer, a sharp long-range shooter (he makes 2 threes per game), the team's leading rebounder despite standing just 6'4", and the owner of an impressive set of locks. With a resume (not to mention a mane) like that, it's no wonder he was named the Atlantic Sun player of the year. In a strange bit of algorithmic trivia, searching for his name will retrieve a lot of information on Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), presumably no relation. If asked to describe Georgetown's strategy for defending Brown (Sherwood, that is) in two words or fewer, I'd say, "Jabril Trawick."
Next on the FGCU depth chart is Bernard Thompson (14.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.8 stl pg, 37.8 3FG%), a slightly quicker, shiftier guard that was named the conference's defensive player of the year, thanks to leading the team in steals and ranking fifth nationally in steal rate. Thompson is emblematic of the team's larger philosophy, as, like many other Eagles, he's a reasonably skilled but by no means lethal outside shooter, a turnover-inducing defender, and a solid rebounder despite being a guard. He shares a name with another shooting guard who, in a bit of basketball miscellany, was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers late in the 1984 first round, when they had already taken Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. As far as I can tell, there is no relation, to the elder Thompson or to MJ.
Brown and Thompson generally populate the wings; running the point is sophomore Brett Comer (7.9 ppg, 6.3 apg, 1.6 stl pg), a natural penetrator and distributor. Comer generally is not much of a scorer but, then again, went off for 21 points in the conference title game against Mercer. He often dictates the Eagles' quick pace, prodding and pushing for transition seams. Before arriving at FGCU, he was high school teammates with Austin Rivers, which probably was a blast. Anyone who tired of Rivers's mugging and chest-bumping might not want to watch Comer Friday; you officially can't get any odds in Vegas on Comer getting called "scrappy" or "gritty."
Up front, the Eagles feature a trio of bigs who have decent size but not a lot of heft. Chase Fieler (12.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 39 3FG%) is The One Who Can Shoot, a stretch-4 of sorts that can step out to the three-point line but also crashes the offensive glass. Eric McKnight (6.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg) is The One in the Middle, one of the few Eagles loathe to step outside. Fieler and McKnight both average more than a block per contest, ranking near the top of their conference in that category. And Eddie Murray (3.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg) definitely is The Bro, looking like what I imagine the typical FGCU dude to look like. According to a New York Times piece on FGCU's Selection Sunday, Murray departed from those festivities while saying "something about a gathering with two kegs." He also hit more than 500 homers in the course of a long, productive major league baseball career.
Finally, what would a school as goofy as FGCU be without a couple of imports. Croatian Filip Cvjeticanin (3.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg) is the same long, lean type as the other bigs on the team, but also holds the distinction of having posed for this awesome photo. Swiss wing Christophe Varidel (6.1 ppg, 34.3 3FG%) is a solid outside shooter who, upon hitting his lone three-pointer against Mercer, tauntingly clicked his heels together at his defender. Neutral, he ain't.
I'll be back tomorrow to get into some details about what about FGCU should make us worry, what shouldn't, and what we can expect Friday night.