Whole new state of mind: Florida Gulf Coast, not Florida, grabbing all the attention
Galleries2013 NCAA men's basketball tournament March Madness fans, cheerleaders and mascots Lowest seeds to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Since last Sunday night when Florida Gulf Coast University became the first 15th seed ever to advance to the NCAA's Sweet 16, the Eagles have gone viral on every media platform. Their campus near Fort Myers was inundated with the media crush, and coach Andy Enfield, his model wife Amanda and his fun-loving players have become America's darlings.
Speaking to reporters Thursday at Cowboys Stadium, where FGCU meets Florida in the South Regional semifinals Friday night, Eagles forward Chase Fieler said, "You guys know us almost on a personal level."
But while the Eagles were riding the media magic carpet, the Gators, who played in the subregional down the road in Austin, stayed in Texas and spent a relatively quiet week preparing to dash the underdogs' dreams.
"For us, it's been a business trip," guard Kenny Boynton said.
The first order of business for the Gators is to get the ball away from FGCU point guard Brett Comer, who averaged 12 assists per game in wins over Georgetown and San Diego State and orchestrated an array of dunks with his alley-oop feeds. "Brett sees the floor as well as any point guard I've seen," Eagles coach Andy Enfield said. "He is crucial to our potential success against Florida with all those good guards."
Florida starts three guards, and Scottie Wilbekin most likely will be the primary defender on Comer. But Boynton and Mike Rosario, the transfer from Rutgers, also will help.
"He has very, very good vision of the floor," Rosario said of Comer. "He's not the quickest kid, but he knows how to use his body to create space and get his shot off. We've got to make sure he doesn't get in the paint as much because it opens up shots outside."
Comer's penetration also creates open lanes for teammates to go to the hoop for rim-rattling dunks. The Eagles call themselves "Dunk City" for good reason, but with several days to prepare, the Gators know what to expect. They have a pair of shot-blockers in 6-9 Patric Young and 6-10 Erik Murphy.
"My dad always told me a dunk's worth two points, but we've just got to take away those easy baskets," Murphy said. "Those plays energize them, so we want to limit them."
Comer attended camps run by Florida coach Billy Donovan, but the Gators only showed interest in his high school teammate, Austin Rivers, before he went to Duke. Earlier in the week, Comer said he believed Florida might overlook the Eagles.
"They're the well-known school, the well-known players and team," Comer said Thursday. "Honestly, deep down, they might not be taking us seriously just like the other teams, because we weren't the high-recruited guys."
As game time approaches, Comer might realize that's wishful thinking. When asked if the Gators will focus on defending him, Comer admitted, "I'm looking for just what you said. Scottie is a great on-ball defender. He'll probably do a good job of denying me."
Comer said he would rely on teammates Bernard Thompson, Sherwood Brown and Fieler to move the ball. The question is whether his teammates can be as effective.
Florida's Donovan expressed his respect for Comer, and as the point guard who led Providence to the Final Four in 1987, he can relate. "I don't think anything ever compares emotionally, mentally, psychologically to the NCAA Tournament because the entire nation is captivated by it," Donovan said.
"It's really, really fun, and it's also very, very painful sometimes, too. The hard part about the tournament is there's a lot of pain and agony in it."
It's the Gators' plan to introduce Comer and the Eagles to that truth.