An underdog on the court, Florida team destroys brackets but gains new fanbase

Every year, the madness brought on in March by the NCAA Men’s Division I College Basketball Championship causes a certain amount of heartbreak. Whether you are the star shooting guard on that number one seed that just suffered an upset or you just bet half of your savings on that number one seed, you are going to have a reason to be sad.

But with every tear of sadness shed due to these tremendous upsets, there is a glimmer of hope and cries of victory from the little guy, the underdog, the dark horse. In previous years it’s been the likes of George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth University that captured the hearts of the nation. This tournament, however, has something even more special. This year, there is Florida Gulf Coast University.

The fifteenth-seeded Eagles stunned second-seeded Georgetown in the opening round of the tournament and proceeded to bust many peoples’ brackets. FGCU then pounced all over San Diego State to advance to the Sweet 16. Although both twelfth-seeded Oregon and thirteenth-seeded La Salle have also advanced, at 15, FGCU is the lowest seeded team ever to make it this far in the NCAA tournament. And by watching their demeanor and style of play, one can see that they are not done yet.

There is something extremely dangerous about playing a “Cinderella story” in the NCAA tournament. They have absolutely nothing to lose. On reddit, there are numerous posts mocking the obscurity of the school itself. One post demonstrated that even Siri had not heard of Florida Gulf Coast University while a comment by a student there showed the excitement shared by the formerly unknown and irrelevant FGCU community.

While the Internet community can mock the school itself, no one can mock the play of this Eagles team. Not only are they winning convincingly, they are doing so with style. Countless alley-oop after alley-oop has been thrown and connected upon, shocking both the crowd and the announcers. The players exhibit a certain flair and conviction that seems to be unmatched by their more prestigious and well-recognized opponents. They are loose and they want to have fun, unlike some of the other teams who may feel pressured to live up to their schools’ and their fans’ expectations.

The Eagles held a 26-10 record throughout the regular season, losing big to both Duke and VCU. They also lost fairly convincingly against a few other no-name schools. They did, however, win the Atlantic Sun Tournament, defeating number one seeded Mercer in the championship game. With a decent record and a recent string of huge wins, is it safe to say that FGCU is simply hotter than they are good?

The answer to this question lies in both the style of play that the Eagles have presented, as well as the lack of defense and intensity held by their opponents. Tremendous credit should go to FGCU for pulling off such an upset against the Hoyas. Should San Diego State have been more prepared or was FGCU simply the better team? Regardless, the pressure is now obviously on the Florida Gators. The FGCU Eagles now have a tremendous target on their backs. And with every win, their targets will only grow.

No one wants to play against the team with which the county has fallen in love. For the rest of this year’s tournament, whichever team the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles will automatically be the villain. That is both unnerving and frustrating to the rest of the teams in this year’s tournament as they attempt to gather themselves.

Will FGCU be cutting down the nets? Probably not. For all I know they will get hammered against Florida in a battle for state supremacy, I guess. Luckily this game is not until March 29th, which is the day after this paper comes out.

Fame can do strange things to people, places, and institutions. For instance, an article just appeared suggesting that UCLA should go after FGCU coach Andy Enfeld. If the Eagles had lost to Georgetown in the first round as expected, the author of that article would most probably question who Andy Enfeld was, let alone suggest him as a future coach for a well renowned college basketball powerhouse. The players themselves seem to be loving the attention as they are often found dancing and celebrating after each victory. And why not? They have nothing to lose. Their reputations are not at stake. The world is watching, but will not think any less of them if they lose next game. Their coach is cool too, making jokes about getting a diet soda during a press conference and simply stating that if the Eagles “play well [they] will win”. Quite frankly, no one can say it any better.

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