Feb 21, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
When Florida Gulf Coast made their run through the Atlantic Sun tournament, and then the first three rounds of the NCAAs, last season, ASun observers were heartily surprised. Sure, then coach Andy Enfield’s squad was an offensive treat, but Mercer, that was the team to beat in the conference! While FGCU lost to the Bears in their first ’13 match-up, the Eagles ultimately defeated the Bears in their second contest, and then in the ASun tourney.
This trip down memory lane is necessary to the 2014 ASun race because it appears that history might repeat itself. Mercer held sole possession of first place before tonight’s tilt against second-place FGCU, but both teams are now tied for first (12-3) after the Eagles defeated Mercer, 75-61. Now coached by former Kansas assistant Joe Dooley, FGCU was able to defeat the conference’s most efficient offense by absolutely dominating Mercer on the defensive glass. Led by ex-Marquette wing Jamail Jones (who had ten defensive boards), FGCU grabbed 70 percent of their opponent’s misses and held Mercer, a team that has converted more than 50 percent of their twos in league play, to just 39 percent within the arc. Dooley’s squad put on a defensive clinic, which perhaps isn’t a surprise considering he has transformed FGCU on that end.
Opposing teams have struggled mightily with their halfcourt offense when facing the current FGCU iteration. They don’t force many turnovers, and they aren’t great at limiting additional possessions, but the Eagles and their airtight man-to-man hold offenses to 43 percent from two. Since FGCU doesn’t foul either — their defensive FT rate ranks second within the ASun — teams have to hope they are connecting from deep to keep their offensive efficiency rate above one point possession.
The Eagles final three games are against the conference’s bottom tier, and one now has to wonder if FGCU will again make a run through their remaining games and then the ASun tourney. If they do, the Eagles will a new nickname, one that accurately captures their stingy defense.
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