Already one of the best Cinderella stories in NCAA Tournament history, the 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast Eagles will attempt to continue their magical run in Friday night's South Region semifinals at Cowboys Stadium versus the third-seeded Florida Gators.
The winner of this Sweet 16 matchup will move on to the Elite Eight on Sunday to take on either Michigan or Kansas.
After winning the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament, FGCU (26-10) celebrated its first-ever appearance in the Big Dance with a shockingly dominant 78-68 triumph over second-seeded Georgetown for just the seventh 15-2 upset in tournament history. The Eagles continued their improbable run with an 81-71 third-round win over San Diego State to become the lowest seeded team ever to advance to the Sweet 16.
As for Florida, it took a much more conventional route to this point in the tourney by easily downing lower-seeded squads Northwestern State (79-47) and Minnesota (78-64) in its first action. The Gators, who are 28-7 on the season, are playing in the regional semifinals for the third straight year and they have moved on to the Elite Eight in four of the past seven seasons under head coach Billy Donovan.
Florida defeated its Sunshine State brethren in the only previous meeting between the two schools back in 2008, 94-60.
Trailing at the half, Florida Gulf Coast took control after intermission with the help of a 17-0 run over a six-minute span as it made yet another mark in the NCAA record books by knocking off San Diego State last Sunday. Bernard Thompson made his presence felt both at the offensive (23 points) and defensive (five steals) ends of the court, while Brett Comer scored 10 points and continued to dazzle with his playmaking skills by handing out a whopping 14 assists. Sherwood Brown added 17 points and eight rebounds in the triumph, while Chase Fieler and Christophe Varidel each netted 11 points.
The Eagles' high-flying scoring attack in the tournament has been no accident, as they average 73.5 ppg on better than 46 percent efficiency from the field this season. Brown leads the team in both scoring (15.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg), and he was named the A-Sun Player of the Year. Thompson pours in 14.5 ppg and is an elite perimeter defender with 2.8 spg. Fieler brings 12.1 ppg and 5.4 rpg to the table, while Comer (8.1 ppg) consistently gets his teammates involved with 6.6 apg.
Florida put an end to 11th-seeded Minnesota's dream of advancing rather quickly in the third round, getting out to a 48-27 lead at the half and cruising from there, outshooting the Gophers from the field in the process, .568 to .400. Mike Rosario was red-hot from beyond the arc, draining 6-of-9 3- point tries in netting 25 points. Erik Murphy tacked on 15 more, while Scottie Wilbekin finished with a dozen points and six assists.
The Gators have benefitted from a strong offensive attack this season, scoring 72 ppg on greater than 48 percent shooting from the field, but they have reached elite status thanks mostly to their suffocating defense which yields just 53.8 ppg on 37.8 percent shooting, both figures ranking in the top-five nationally. Instead of leaning on a superstar, the squad relies on a balanced effort from its starting five, as Murphy, Rosario, Kenny Boynton, Patric Young and Wilbekin all net between 9.2 and 12.8 ppg, with Young (6.3 rpg, 1.6 bpg) and Wilbekin (5.0 apg, 1.5 spg) being named to the SEC's All-Defensive Team. UF is heavily reliant on the 3-pointer, draining 8.4 treys per contest at a 38.2 percent clip.