The Eagles are Flying High!

Brett Comer helped the Eagles top the Hoyas (courtesy of Al Tielemans/SI)

In North Carolina, few things are as important as college basketball. And there is no bigger or more exciting venue than the granddaddy of all college sports events, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The Big Dance.

Having lived in North Carolina for most of my life, I have watched or attended more Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Tournaments than I care to count. And I never miss the NCAA Tournament, especially since the ACC always has some big teams participating—Duke and North Carolina being the most frequent flyers.

Unfortunately, this year’s tournament hasn’t been as kind to ACC teams. North Carolina State lost in the first round and #1 seed Kansas took down the UNC Tarheels on Sunday, so only Duke and Miami remain.

In other words, I need someone else to pull for. And after only a few rounds, I think I found my team: the Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast.

Ever heard of them? Not many have.

Florida Gulf Coast University is a mid-major institution in Fort Meyers, Florida that offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees to the more than 11,000 students who attend. The school joined Division I six years ago, but only became eligible for post-season play two years ago.

This means that in just two years, the Eagles have managed not only to make it to The Big Dance, but to blast through several rounds to the Sweet Sixteen. In so doing, they also became the first #15 seed to EVER reach the round of 16.

Quite an accomplishment for a team most of us never heard of, don’t you think?

Last Friday, FGC shocked the nation and obliterated fans’ tournament brackets when they handed #2 seeded Georgetown a 10-point loss and eliminated them from competition. And if you haven’t seen the highlights, I strongly suggest you check them out. Few teams this year play with the kind of speed, ferocity and heart as these young men.

And in terms of slam dunking, there’s a reason FGC has become known as “Dunk City.” Alley oops and other acrobatic plays abound any time the Eagles take the court.

The Eagles flew high above the Aztecs (courtesy of Michael Perez/AP)

Just ask San Diego State, the #7 seed who fell to the Eagles 81-71 during Sunday’s action. Florida Gulf Coast unleashed yet another second half surge—complete with plenty of dunks and other gravity-defying plays—and dropped more offense on the Aztecs than they were likely expecting. And now they get to watch the rest of the tournament from home.

Next on the Eagles’ “hit list” is that powerhouse from The Sunshine State, #3 seed Florida. Winners of the national title in both 2006 and 2007, the Gators could pose some problems for the reigning Atlantic Sun Conference champions.

Eagles’ star Sherwood Brown isn’t all that worried, though.

“We’re really blessed and we’re really happy to be here right now,” he said after the team’s victory over San Diego State. “But we’ve still got more games to play, hopefully, so we’re going to go back home and get our heads back straight and get ready to play against the University of Florida.”

The South Regional semifinal game is scheduled for Friday, and it should be a sight to see. Win or lose, though, there can be no doubt that what the Eagles have started will continue as more mid-major teams strive for greatness.

Personally, I can’t wait because all this means is that we’ll have more exciting tournaments to look forward to in the future. And the days of domination by larger institutions could be numbered.

At least that’s what Florida Gulf Coast is hoping for later this week. And just between you and me, I hope they go all the way to the national championship.

Go Eagles!

Posted on March 25, 2013, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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