They are everybody’s new favorite team, this school with the clunky name and the joyous game. Florida Gulf Coast University, the first No. 15 seed to ever get to the NCAA’s Sweet 16, plays the University of Florida on Friday at 10:07.
The Gators are 13-point favorites – the largest point spread among the eight Sweet 16 games. But I hope Florida Gulf Coast wins again – not only that one, but the next three after that, too. Because if the Eagles can pull off a national title, they will become the best NCAA tournament story ever.
FGCU, located in Fort Myers, Fla., was only established in 1997. It has been eligible for the NCAA tournament for only two years.
All of the Eagles’ players are older than their school. And they have scored almost 20 percent of their baskets in this tournament on ferocious dunks that have made millions of Americans chest-bump in delight.
They play basketball the way we all think we could play it if we could grab the rim with both hands – celebratory and creative, with an emphasis on the “fun” part of the word fundamentals.
There is also an appreciation for the moment that often seems lost on the blueblood schools that expect to get here every year. The players sign autographs in the stands after games. They do chicken dances on the bench. They literally click their heels. They shake the announcers’ hands before the game has even ended. They smile.
Now they probably will lose, either Friday night or not long after. Although widely known as the team that beat Miami early this season, Florida Gulf Coast also has a secret that gets lost in the whole YouTube, “Dunk City” shuffle.
This team can be maddeningly inconsistent. FGCU lost twice to Lipscomb (12-18) this season, as well as to Stetson (15-16), East Tennessee State (10-22) and Maine (11-19).
But I hope the Eagles – who upset No. 2 seed Georgetown last weekend and then beat San Diego State – keep winning. Because this one has serious potential. This is a story that could be better than N.C. State in 1983. Better than Villanova in 1985. Better than George Mason in 2006 or Davidson in 2008.
A No. 15 seed that won everything? That is the driveway dream of millions.
FGCU’s overachieving coach has an eclectic resume that includes striking it rich with a start-up technology company and marrying a supermodel who is now the mother of their three kids. Sounds like a guy you’d love to hate, right? Yet no one seems to.
That has to do partly with Andy Enfield’s coaching style. Florida Gulf Coast – or “Florida Golf Coast,” as TBS mistakenly called the school – isn’t into paralysis by analysis. They don’t look over to Enfield for the call on every offensive possession. They don’t simply play playground basketball – they are well-disciplined on defense – but their offense is instinctual and utilizes the alley-oop dunk as well as any team in college basketball.
They are a sunny story from the Sunshine State, and I hope it doesn’t end soon. The FGCU bookstore was out of T-shirts earlier this week. The school’s athletic website crashed. Admission inquiries are way up.
No, none of that erases all the problems in college sports. But, gosh, what an excuse these guys give us all to lighten up.
Scott Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler.