ARLINGTON, Texas – The historical run is over. There will not be a 15-seed in the Elite Eight. Florida Gulf Coast raced out to a 15-6 lead but third-seeded Florida was too much during the final 10 minutes of the first half, building a 30-26 lead that it would never surrender, eventually securing a 62-50 victory.
Here are my thoughts on Florida advancing to the Elite Eight for the third consecutive season.
1.) The second game lacked the drama of the first but that’s mainly because Florida did what Kansas couldn’t, finish its opponent off in the final minutes. This Gators squad isn’t as talented as the back-to-back national champs Billy Donovan coached in 2006 and 2007 – Joakim Noah, who was one of the 40,639 in attendance, will probably tell you that – but it can beat any of the remaining teams in this tournament. They just can’t afford to let Michigan race out to a double-digit lead midway through the first half.
2.) Even with an early lead you got the feeling that Florida would make a run. And when that happened, a 16-2 spurt to end the first half, FGCU knew it was playing a team better than Georgetown or San Diego State. FGCU cut its deficit to eight with 10 minutes to play but couldn’t get any closer than nine in the final five minutes. In the end, you can’t upset Florida turning the ball over 12 times in the first half and 20 times in the game.
3.) The run is over for Florida Gulf Coast and as you can imagine, immediately after the game their players looked as if they were ousted on a buzzer-beater. They clearly aren’t a group content with just getting to the Sweet 16. They had the appearance of a team that knew it belonged. Asked what they learned from this run, FGCU point guard Brett Comer responded: “We’ve learned that we can play with anyone in the nation.” It’s hard to argue with that. The entire team has also learned that winning a couple of basketball games can quickly bring you national attention.
“FGCU wasn’t a very well-known school before we entered into the tournament and now the whole nation knows about it,” Florida Gulf Coast guard Sherwood Brown said. “I’m sure that our success has helped admissions, it has helped recruitment and helped a whole lot of aspects of FGCU. I pretty much speak for everybody when I say that we’re happy we could do that.”
4.) Donovan showed again that he is as good of a coach as there is in the game. Not only is he one of the best recruiters in the country but he’s one of the best on the sidelines and it was on display Friday night. Beating a 15-seed might not seem impressive to a lot of folks but when it’s one as good as Florida Gulf Coast, the guy calling the shots deserves some praise. His group didn’t overlook the Eagles and that’s why the Gators are making their sixth Elite Eight appearance since 2000. It takes more than luck to have that amount of success on your resume.
5.) A sports writer is not supposed to pull for a team they are covering. That certainly wasn’t the case Friday night. A lot of those unbiased scribes were rooting for FGCU, whether they want to admit it or not. The Eagles are a great story. Any 15-seed advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time in tournament history is a great story, not just one that regularly turns in highlight dunks. But a more talented team had too much firepower. The better team won, even if it isn’t the better story. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed that “Dunk City” doesn’t have another game to play.