After pulling off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, the 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast Eagles return to action in the third round of the South Region on Sunday night when they tangle with the seventh-seeded San Diego State Aztecs at the Wells Fargo Center.
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between the two squads in men's basketball, and the winner will advance to the Sweet 16 to face either third- seeded Florida or 11th-seeded Minnesota.
Florida Gulf Coast (25-10) could not have made a better impression in its first-ever NCAA Tournament game, as it shocked the second-seeded Georgetown Hoyas in the second round on Friday night, 78-68, marking only the sixth time in tournament history a No. 15 seed has toppled a No. 2 seed. The Eagles, the champions of the Atlantic Sun Conference who are in just their second season of Division I postseason eligibility, were surprisingly dominant in the win, taking control of the contest with a 21-2 run early in the second half to open up a 19-point lead, and they were able to hold off a late rally by the Hoyas. Sherwood Brown (24 points, nine rebounds) and Bernard Thompson (23 points, rebounds) were both outstanding in the winning effort, as was Brett Comer, who set the tone at the point with 12 points, 10 assists and six boards.
The Eagles are a balanced team at both ends of the floor, as they average 73.2 ppg on greater than 46 percent shooting from the field, while at the same time yielding 66.8 ppg. They also help themselves with positive turnover (+1.2) and rebounding (+1.2) margins. The primary reason for FGCU's success this season has been thanks to Brown, who tallies 15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 1.4 spg and was named the A-Sun Player of the Year. Thompson is also having an outstanding campaign with 14.3 ppg, and he is one of the nation's top thieves with 2.8 spg. Chase Fieler (12.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Comer (8.0 ppg, 6.4 apg) also play significant roles.
As for San Diego State (23-10), it battled neck-and-neck with Oklahoma for most of its second-round matchup, as the game was tied at 48-48 midway through the second half, but it managed to rip off a 22-7 run down the stretch to claim the 70-55 triumph. Jamaal Franklin was clearly the catalyst in the winning effort, scoring 21 points (shooting 7-of-7 from the foul line), while adding eight rebounds, five assists and two steals to his stat line. James Rahon was a huge asset off the bench with 17 points, Chase Tapley finished with 10 points, and Deshawn Stephens hauled in 11 rebounds. The victory for the Aztecs was their third in the NCAA Tournament, having previously advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2011 as a No. 2 seed.
The Aztecs boasts a stellar offense (69.2 ppg, .438 FG percentage), but even more impressive is their defensive effort, as they allow a mere 60.5 ppg on less than 39 percent field goal efficiency. At the center of SDSU's game plan is Franklin, who is without question one of the most versatile guards in the nation. In addition to scoring a team-high 16.9 ppg while knocking down more than a 3-pointer per contest, at just 6-foot-5, he is one of the best inch- for-inch rebounders in the nation (9.4 rpg), and if that wasn't enough he also chips in with 3.3 apg, 1.5 spg and 0.8 bpg. Tapley is a much more traditional perimeter player, netting 13.4 ppg on 67-of-178 from beyond the arc (.376), while Xavier Thames falls just shy of the double-digit scorer's club (9.6 ppg), mostly due to his poor field goal percentage (.350).