Dunk City: Florida Gulf Coast Runs and Guns its Way to the Sweet 16

Florida Gulf Coast guard Bernard Thompson is about unleash a vicious dunk during a 17-0 run in the Eagles win over San Diego State in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. Photo by Webster Riddick

Florida Gulf Coast guard Bernard Thompson is about unleash a vicious dunk during a 17-0 run in the Eagles win over San Diego State in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. Photo by Webster Riddick

High-Flying Eagles Become the First No. 15  Seed to Advance to the Regional Semifinals

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA—If you actually had Florida Gulf Coast University advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, you are either a psychic, some lucky little old lady who just likes the color of their uniforms or you’re just a damned liar.

With the Wells Fargo Center crowd behind them, Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles continued their improbable run through the 2013 NCAA Tournament by knocking off San Diego State Aztecs 81-71 or a trip to the South Region Semifinals in Arlington, Texas.

“We’re going to the Sweet 16,” said a smiling FGCU head coach Andy Enfield. “I haven’t cried yet. I might cry tomorrow. But it’s just a great feeling, so proud of these players, what we’ve been through for the last two years only the second year of eligibility. It really speaks volumes.”

After their stunning upset of Georgetown on Friday night, which included an Eagles chant normally reserved for the city’s football team, Florida Gulf Coast became “America’s Team” with another win over a higher-seeded team.

“It’s indescribable, we’re all on such a high right now,” Eagles sophomore point guard Brett Comer. “We feel like we can beat anybody the way we’re playing right now. It seemed like a home game for us. The whole arena was behind us.”

The Eagles (26-10) will take on No. 3 seed and in-state rival Florida for a chance to go to the Elite Eight.  Florida Gulf Coast University, based in Fort Myers, Fla., is the first No. 15 seed since tournament seeding began back in 1979 to earn a trip to the regional semifinals.

“It’s real big, it’s good for our program, our school, it’s good for the whole city of Fort Myers,” said sophomore guard Bernard Thompson, who scored a game-high 23 points. “We’re on the map now. It was an emotional win for the coaches as well as their players. For a 15th seed to go the Sweet 16, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

San Diego State, champions of the Mountain West Conference, saw its season end at 23-11.

If you’ve learned anything from this weekend about FGCU, you now know that this team is for real and then some.  Leading 54-52 with 11: 30 left in the game, The Eagles broke open a close game with a 17-0 scoring spurt with a dazzling transition game with dunks and easy layups that ran the Aztecs out of the gym and into the off-season.

“We turned up our intensity,” said Comer, who finished the game 10 points and 14 assists. “We want to push the ball down the court and we want to attack, attack, and that’s what coach wants us to do and we do a great job of doing that, so we’re going to be in attack mode for the entire game.”

San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher said the Eagles run took them out of their rhythm on both sides of the floor.

“You miss two or three shots in a row and give them two or three straight baskets,” Fisher said. “The whole way you approach it, if you’re not careful, can cause you to be not as thoughtful in how you play. Give them angles to drive, gamble a little bit and every time we did that, they took advantage.”

The Eagles second half scoring-spurt reminded veteran reporters of Houston’s 16-0 run against Louisville in the 1983 Final Four because of all the easy dunks and layups that Florida Gulf Coast used to put the Aztecs away.

Granted, the kids from Florida Gulf Coast University may not know anything about Clyde Drexler and Phi Slamma Jamma, but they have their own sense of swag and have even come up with their own nickname.

“Dunk City is coming to Arlington, so everybody be ready,” Thompson said at the end of the postgame press conference.  “It’s FGCU basketball if you don’t know, now you know,”

Thompson and teammate Sherwood Brown, who scored 17 points and pulled down eight rebounds, both said when Florida Gulf Coast has their transition game going at home; they like to get the crowd involved. That was something that they did throughout the weekend.

“We’re all about having fun and also playing really hard,” Brown said. “We like to get the crowd involved and you saw that over the course of the game. The whole crowd got behind us even if they’re not from Fort Myers or as we like to say, “Dunk City.”

2013 NCAA Tournament: Exposing the Myth of Power Conferences

Commentary

By Chris Murray

Florida Gulf Coast University men's basketball team, in its second year of NCAA Tournament eligibility pulls off the biggest upset of the tourney by beating No. 2 seed Georgetown. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team, in its second year of NCAA Tournament eligibility pulls off the biggest upset of the tourney by beating No. 2 seed Georgetown. Photo by Webster Riddick.

For the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA—In the more than 24 hours since little Florida Gulf Coast University pulled off the biggest upset of the 2013 NCAA Tournament by knocking off No.2-seed Georgetown,  I hope sports fans will have learned one thing from these first few days of the NCAA Tournament.

All the stuff that your ESPN pundits say about players and teams from all the so-called power conferences being better than the kids from the mid-majors in college basketball in its current form is just a bunch of malarkey.

I guess people weren’t convinced by this when George Mason went to the Final Four in 2006 or when both Virginia Commonwealth and Butler went to the Final Four in 2010. Of course, Lehigh upending Duke in the second round of last year’s tournament was just a lucky thing.

So far in this year’s tournament in addition to Florida Gulf Coast University’s stunning win over No. 2 seed Georgetown, No. 14 seed Harvard sent No. 3 New Mexico on that right turn back to Albuquerque.  Another bracket buster was LaSalle sending Kansas State home early. How many times will your brackets be thrown into the waste paper basket or deleted from your computer because you buy into the same old myths?

“I would say once you get out on that open floor, anything can happen,” said Florida Gulf Coast senior guard Sherwood Brown, who scored 24 points in the win over Georgetown. “Everyone puts their shoes on the same way as everyone else, everyone breathes the same air. If you go out there and work hard, anything can happen.”

During this first weekend of the NCAA Tournament at the Wells Fargo Center, I spoke to coaches and players from programs big and small and they told me in no uncertain terms that those things that fans and the media talk about regarding power conferences versus small conferences is just not true.

“You know in basketball, we, as basketball coaches, don’t look at any conference as a mid-major because we have 300 schools that are all Division I,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “So how we look at things and how it is reported isn’t always the way that it is.

“I’m sure when John (Thompson III) was preparing for Florida Gulf Coast, he wasn’t saying ‘well, they’re from a bad conference and we should win.’ They were saying, this kid is good and could start for us, this kid can play …So I think basketball people respect basketball people. I know we do.”

I think you also have to take into consideration that in the current landscape of basketball, you have the summer leagues, AAU and various basketball camps where the players have all played against each other and aren’t fazed by one another.

“This basketball thing that we’ve been going through since the seventh grade is basically a network,” said San Diego State junior swing guard Jamaal Franklin. “Like me and my teammate Jeremy Castleberry, a walk-on on this team, me and him have been playing together on the same AAU team since the seventh grade. You see each other from seventh grade all the way up to college.”

A good example of that was Florida Gulf Coast’s win over Georgetown. Senior Forward Eddie Murray, who had a couple spectacular put back dunks in the win over the Hoyas, said his teammates played against some of the Georgetown players in AAU.

“They knew a lot about them and played well against them before and they knew they would play well against them,” Murray said. “It’s the same thing with Miami and Duke, we played against some of those players in AAU. It gives you confidence that you can play with them and they’re not that much better than us.”

Another reason that the smaller schools are hanging with the big schools is that the superstars of the major programs play for one or two years before jumping to the NBA.

Meanwhile, the players at the mid-majors are staying for the full four years and getting the benefit of refining their games and gelling with their teammates. And so when you make your brackets for next year take those things into consideration.

“There’s a lot of talent in the game of basketball right now,” said Duke forward Ryan Kelly. “On top of that with guys leaving early and staying for a year or two and that changes the landscape a little bit. There’s a lot of great coaches. All those things contributes to the parity, but once you get into the tournament, anything can happen.”

2013 NCAA Tournament: Mid-Majors Give Under Recruited Players A Chance to Grow and Shine

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Creighton's 6-8 forward Doug McDermott averages 23 points per game coming into Friday's Second Round NCAA Tournament matchup against Cincinnati.

Creighton’s 6-8 forward Doug McDermott averages 23 points per game coming into Friday’s Second Round NCAA Tournament matchup against Cincinnati.

PHILADELPHIA—If you’re basketball playing son has ambitions of being an NBA lottery pick or being recruited by the big name brand schools like Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, or any of the schools from the big conferences and he is not even on their radar, he shouldn’t despair.

If you have been watching the NCAA Tournament the last few years, not being recruited by the big-time programs is definitely not the end of the world. Your kid can be a star at a mid-major that school ends up beating one of those schools in the NCAA Tournament.

Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said the success of the mid-majors over the last few years means that there is true parity in college basketball.

“I think as fans, writers and reporters we’ve been forced to categorize teams…this is a power six,  this is a high major, this is a mid-major,” Thompson III said.  “And so just because of how we’ve always done things, we want to assume that a team from this conference is not as good, as talented, as tough as a team from that conference and that’s just not the case anymore.”

The successful tournament runs of Virginia Commonwealth (2010 Final Four), Butler (2010 Final Four) and George Mason (2006 Final Four) has athletes from those schools believing  they are just as good as the players from the big schools.

“Those teams set the bar set the bar for us mid-majors, especially this year in college basketball where anything can happen,” said Creighton junior forward Doug McDermott, whose team will play 10th –seeded Cincinnati in Friday’s second-rround NCAA Tournament game at the Wells Fargo Center.  “Teams we played in the Missouri Valley Conference were really well-coached.”

Oddly enough, Creighton is leaving the Missouri Valley Conference for the new edition of the Big East Conference and they will cease being a mid-major school.

Still, some of the tournament’s most compelling moments have occur when players playing for a mid-major school become superstars for those teams. Often times, mid-major star is a player who was not heavily recruited by the schools from the BCS conferences.

“It’s an opportunity to show that maybe we did get missed or something like that,” said Florida Gulf Coast guard Eddie Murray before his team’s second-round match up against No. 2-seed Georgetown. “It’s an opportunity to show what we can do and see what happens.”

A case in point is Stephen Curry, who is now an NBA star with the Golden State Warriors.  Even as the son of former NBA star Dell Curry, Stephen was not highly recruited at all. The only visit to a major conference school for Stephen was when Dell arranged a visit to his alma mater at Virginia Tech.

In 2006, Curry accepted a scholarship to Davidson, a team that had not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1969.

As a sophomore, he led Davidson on an incredible run through the NCAA Tournament knocking off teams like No. 2 seed Georgetown en route to leading his team to the Elite Eight. That season he was fifth in the nation in scoring and led the Southern Conference in that category as well.

It helps that schools like Florida Gulf Coast, champions of the Atlantic Sun Conference, also play a tough non-conference schedule. The Eagles biggest win of the non-conference schedule was a win over ACC champion Miami, the no. 2 seed in the East Region.

“That definitely gives us a lot of confidence,” said Florida Gulf Coast guard Sherwood Brown. “It makes us realize that even though they may by bigger than us, if you just play hard and play good defense, no matter what you can win.”

Perhaps the main draw that the mid-majors have is that the coaches get to work with the players for four years to develop their skills and they get to gel with their teams. That’s also a reason why those mid-level programs end up beating the bigger schools in the tournament because good players at the major programs end up jumping to the pros after a year or two.

“We have a very specific player development program that we’ve done and that’s why our players have made jumps,” said Florida Gulf Coast head coach Andy Enfield. “Players want to get better. They want to be big-time college players and a lot them want to make money when they get out.”