Florida Gulf Coast has won the hearts of America as this year’s Cinderella team. A team that has been well documented as coming out of nowhere, only two years into NCAA tournament eligibility and only a six year old program. The coach is a fascinating story, the players are a fascinating story. The win against Georgetown was impressive but 15 seeds have beaten 2 seeds before. In fact, as early as last year when Duke lost in the first round to Lehigh. However, no 15 seed has been able to replicate the miracle and advance another round further, to the sweet 16. Not one team, until the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.
The team has won twice now in the tournament and they are more confident in their ability than ever. They plan to come out and beat the Florida Gators and most of America will be rooting for them. I’m sure even Gator nation would be behind this team, if it wasn’t for the fact that the Eagles are playing the Gators in the sweet 16.
Is this team just lucky? Did lightening strike twice for them or are they actually a team that Gator fans should be worried about? Is this a team that can come out and beat Florida? How can the Gators slow down the train carrying this year’s Cinderella, FGCU?
I went through the stats of the last two wins by the Eagles and, at first, nothing in particular caught my eye as to why they won. Georgetown out rebounded them, had an extra steal, only had one less turnover. Similar situation in the next game against San Diego State; the Aztecs out rebounded them, and had other similar stat lines.
The big difference in both games in terms of stats is shooting percentage. In the Georgetown game, Florida Gulf Coast shot 42.9% from the field, 40% from three, and 68.2% from the free-throw line. While the Hoyas shot 37.5%, 25.9%, and 65% respectively.
Against San Diego State; FGCU shot 55.9% from the field, 38.9% from three, and 66.7% from the line. The Aztecs had a decent shooting day at 44.3% from the field and 34.8% from three and even better than FGCU at the line, 69.2%. But that almost 56% is an insane number to allow your opponent to shoot and still find a way to win.
The first key to stopping the FGCU Eagles is to play tight defense and contest every shot. Even if it means picking up extra fouls, the Gators cannot allow them to simply throw up shots because the Eagles are way too precise.
The other thing that Florida Gulf Coast was able to do that you can’t measure in stats is grab and hold onto all the momentum in both games. They came out and punched both Georgetown and San Diego State in the mouth and didn’t let up. They controlled the momentum in the game and they continue to increase after each flying dunk they performed.
The second key to stopping this Cinderella is to come out hot and grab an early lead. It is imperative for the Gators to not allow the Eagles to take the momentum because they have shown that once they have it, they tend to keep it. The Gators can come out hot and take over from the get-go.
Finally, the Gators need to adjust at half-time. The other two opponents weren’t able to do that, and they were out coached. Even if the Florida Gators are in the lead at half- adjustments should be made to slow down the Eagles even more so than before.
The eyes of America will be tuned into this game on Friday, March 29 at 9:57pm EST.