Mar 25, 2013, 7:00 AM EST
Every tournament needs a Cinderella. It’s one of the great recurring subplots that March Madness supplies and it usually helps shape the tournament’s identity.
No. 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast is in the midst of what could be the greatest Cinderella story in NCAA tournament history. The University was founded just 16 years ago in 1997. The men’s basketball program was formed just 11 years ago in 2002. The Eagles became a full Division I member in 2011.
And now, in just their second year of postseason eligibility, Florida Gulf Coast is headed to the Sweet Sixteen, having defeated No. 2-seed Georgetown 78-68 and No. 7-seed San Diego State 81-71.
But it’s not just getting to the Sweet Sixteen, which the Eagles are doing as the first No. 15-seed this far in NCAA tournament history (until this season, 15 seeds were 6-112 overall in the NCAA tournament). It’s how they’re doing it, with highlight-reel dunks and a run-and-gun game plan, winning by an average of 10 ppg. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the wife of the head coach is a former-supermodel.
With the exception of the Final Four runs from VCU, Butler and George Mason, it can be argued that the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles are putting together the most impressive Cinderella performance of all time. Sure, there are Cinderella teams that had better seasons and better teams than FGCU, like Cornell’s 2010 squad that made it to the Sweet Sixteen behind the trio of Louis Dale, Ryan Whittman and Jeff Foote.
Davidson’s 2008 team led by Steph Curry also falls in to this category. But both Cornell and Davidson were known commodities heading in to the tournament and had put together impeccable regular seasons. The same can be said for UT-Chattanooga, who as a No. 14-seed, knocked off No. 3-seed Georgia and No. 6-seed Illinois en route to a berth in the Sweet Sixteen. But the Mocs had previous NCAA tournament experience having been there in both 1994 and 1995.
Then there’s the 1990 Loyola Marymount team. Still mourning the loss of teammate Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble led the Lions on a run to the Elite Eight in which they defeated Michigan, the defending National Champions, 149-115. But like Davidson. Loyola Marymount had NBA talent. Bo Kimble was drafted eighth overall by the Clippers following the season.
The Gonzaga teams of the late nineties and early aughts were regular season and tournament champions and had future pros. The 1998 Valparaiso team had Bryce Drew, who went on to a have a solid NBA career. The 2006 Bradley Sweet Sixteen team had future-draft pick Patrick O’Bryant. Miami (OH) had Wally Szcerbiak in 1999.
The Eagles have no future pros. Sherwood Brown, their best player was mostly recruited by low and mid-major programs, and was categorized as having the potential to be a solid mid-major scorer. Bret Comer received interest from Colorado State and UMass, but decided to stay local following the death of his father. The same can be said about Chase Fieler, Eddie Murray and Bernard Thompson, all of whom were only lightly recruited coming out of high school. The Eagles don’t have a Steph Curry or a Bryce Drew. Not yet at least.
Heck, Florida Gulf Coast didn’t even win their conference’s regular season. Despite their non-conference win over Miami, this was a team that lost to a 12-18 Lipscomb team twice. They also lost to an East Tennessee State team that finished with 22 losses.
You have to go back 14 years to find a Sweet Sixteen run from a double-digit seed as improbable as Florida Gulf Coast’s. In 1999 Southwest Missouri State (Now Missouri State) lost seven conference games and finished with a 22-11 record. The Bears were led by current-New Mexico head coach Steve Alford, and featured a similar ragtag cast of characters that stock Florida Gulf Coast’s roster. The 1998 squad had the same meager expectations as FGCU this season and finished second in their conference. Yet after holding Wisconsin to just 32 total points in a 43-32 first round NCAA tournament win, the Bears crushed No. 4-seed Tennessee by 30 points in the second round, 81-51. They would lose to eventual national runners-up Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, 78-61.
But of all the Cinderellas who came come before us, none of them have been quite like FGCU. This is an Atlantic Sun team we are talking about. The Northern Iowas, and George Masons of the world came from strong mid-major basketball conferences. The Atlantic Sun is a low-major, home to many fledgling Division I programs. A team from the Atlantic Sun Conference isn’t supposed to win a NCAA tournament game, especially not two against the likes of Georgetown and San Diego State.
Other than the fact that they had a favorable match-up against a Georgetown team with a fragile tournament psyche, very few if any, both within the industry and out, that thought this Eagles’ team could even win one tournament game.
We won’t know until after next weekend just how special this run is. But up until this point, history suggests that out of all the Cinderella stories that March has written, the one we’re currently reading may end up being the best.
Jan 31, 2015, 7:10 PM EST
Also of note Saturday afternoon was No. 18 Northern Iowa rolling past No. 12 Wichita State.
Jan 31, 2015, 6:39 PM EST
UNI went on a 22-6 run over a ten-plus minute stretch as they moved into a tie for first in the Missouri Valley.
Jan 31, 2015, 5:04 PM EST
Kendall Anthony scored 20 points in the second half to lead Richmond to the 64-55 win, but the status of Weber is VCU’s greatest concern.
Jan 31, 2015, 3:11 PM EST
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame see comeback fall short at Pitt.
Jan 31, 2015, 2:34 PM EST
Trevor Lacey makes one of the best buzzer-beaters of the season to give N.C. State a road win at Georgia Tech.
Jan 31, 2015, 1:45 PM EST
Florida’s Alex Murphy with a nominee for Saturday’s dunk of the day.
Jan 31, 2015, 1:15 PM EST
Bruce Pearl received a warm ovation from Tennessee fans in his first game back as an opposing head coach.
Jan 31, 2015, 12:34 PM EST
Illinois will continue to be without two injured guards as both players were suspended indefinitely.
Jan 31, 2015, 12:15 PM EST
A tumultuous season gets worse for UMBC.
Jan 31, 2015, 11:15 AM EST
Raheem Appleby showed surprising hops as the 6-foot-4 guard threw down a solid dunk over a Western Kentucky defender.
Jan 31, 2015, 10:10 AM EST
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino believes one of his underclassmen will definitely leave for the NBA.
Pregame Shootaround: Duke battles Virginia and Wichita State gets its biggest Valley test on a busy Saturday
Jan 31, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
Duke and Virginia highlights a busy Saturday slate.
Jan 30, 2015, 11:01 PM EST
Here is a rundown of all the action from Friday night.
Jan 30, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
The Jayhawks will wear these on Feb. 28.
Jan 30, 2015, 7:45 PM EST
That rivalry ended when Mizzou left the Big 12 in favor of the SEC.
Jan 30, 2015, 6:30 PM EST
Trey Davis left the court with only seconds remaining after colliding into a Kendall Pollard screen.
Jan 30, 2015, 5:45 PM EST
The backup guard has missed the last five games.
Jan 30, 2015, 5:09 PM EST
“Big Country,” Randy Rutherford and the rest of the squad is expected back for the team’s game against Kansas to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their trip to the Final Four.
Jan 30, 2015, 4:04 PM EST
Bruce Pearl expressed remorse over how his tenure at Tennessee ended and also remains thankful for former Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton.
Jan 30, 2015, 2:47 PM EST
Having already lost one game in Ivy League play, Harvard looks to bounce back with a win at Princeton.
- Saturday’s Snacks: No. 8 Notre Dame falls, No. 13 Louisville comes back from 18 down 0
- No. 8 Notre Dame upset by Pitt 1
- Auburn coach Bruce Pearl greeted with cheers during first return to Tennessee (VIDEO) 0
- Rick Pitino on Terry Rozier’s impending NBA Draft decision: ‘He’s not coming back’ 0
- Weekend Preview: Duke-Virginia, an MVC showdown and UNC-Louisville 2
- Duke dismisses reserve shooting guard from program 13
- Chase for 180: Already a good shooter, Tyler Harvey’s been even better in 2014-15 0
- Duke dismisses reserve shooting guard from program (13)
- Bill Self on the loss of Kansas-Missouri rivalry: ‘It hasn’t been great’ (8)
- Jerian Grant, No. 8 Notre Dame erase another double-digit deficit as they beat No. 4 Duke (7)
- Coach K earns career win No. 1,000 in No. 5 Duke’s win over St. John’s (4)
- Kentucky lands commitment from international Class of 2016 big man (4)