Published January 13, 2015
Andy Enfield's team from Florida Gulf Coast is seeded No. 15 in the South Region, double-digit underdogs to Georgetown, certainly expected to make a one-and-done appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Given all that, Enfield has a simple message for the Hoyas.
"If I were Georgetown, I'd sleep on us. And hopefully they are," Enfield said, unable to even say the words without laughter. "They're much better. They don't even need to show up. They can sleepwalk through the whole game."
Nice thought. Won't happen.
Florida Gulf Coast is only in its sixth season of Division I athletics, and just its second season of tournament eligibility. Nonetheless, here come the Eagles (24-10) to college basketball's biggest stage, champions of the Atlantic Sun Conference who got an automatic trip to the NCAAs where Georgetown (25-6) will await in Philadelphia on Friday night.
The Eagles' resume: A five-game winning streak to end the season, a league championship that was won on the road against a rival Mercer team that had been 15-0 at home — and had beaten Florida State and Alabama during the year — and perhaps most impressively, a convincing win over Miami early in the season.
Now comes the next, and by far the biggest, challenge.
"We're very confident. That's the way we've been all year," sophomore guard Brett Comer said. "We're not scared to play anybody. We're not scared of anybody. We're trying to win this. We're not going out here just to put on a show."
The school probably isn't one many know much about. Located in Fort Myers, Fla., on the state's Gulf coast, the Eagles have sun and sand as some of their selling points — there literally is a beach on-campus.
And the athletic department is making a quick splash at the Division I level as well.
The women's basketball team went to the NCAAs last year and was upset in the conference title game this year. The men's and women's soccer teams both went to the Division I tournaments last fall. The baseball team recently swept a three-game series at perennial national power Florida. The softball team won a game in the NCAA tourney last spring. Even the swimming team is riding high, with five straight league titles.
In short, you don't want to be the coach at FGCU who doesn't have an office littered with trophies.
"We felt like we had to win this year just to keep up with everyone else at the school," Enfield said.
So Enfield loaded up the schedule, not with easy wins, but with teams that would make the Eagles better come tourney time. And the start of their season was downright brutal.
Just look at Florida Gulf Coast's first three games against Division I opponents — there was a NAIA team in there as well, the lone bit of planned breathing room — and how they were against VCU, Miami and Duke, a power trio that will take a combined 80 wins and average seed of 3 into this week's start to the NCAA tournament.
VCU and Duke both rolled to easy home wins. Miami went into Fort Myers and lost 63-51.
The Hurricanes are a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs, just like Georgetown.
And Miami coach Jim Larranaga might have a word of warning for the Hoyas.
"The expression, 'they had nothing to lose and everything to gain' — very, very true," Larranaga said. "My experience in the NCAA tournament is this: The higher seeds have to play just as well in the early rounds as they think they might have to play if they got to the Final Four. Because if you don't, that team you're playing can beat you. They're in the NCAA tournament for a reason. ... And especially the underdog, they don't feel any pressure at all."
Well, the Eagles would argue that last point. They feel pressure. They just don't show it that often.
Enfield likes to run high-energy, sometimes high-comedy practices. His team is encouraged to be loose, which has clearly helped camaraderie. But when it's game time, the moods must get serious.
It's a formula that might not work for every team, but it does for the Eagles.
"We're enjoying it," said senior guard Sherwood Brown, the team's leading scorer. "But we have bigger goals than just getting here."
A year ago, with a sub-.500 record, the Eagles got to the Atlantic Sun title game in their first try, held a halftime lead before letting the game slip away. It fueled them throughout this season, carrying them through both the good times and the rough patches.
"We know we have nothing to lose," Brown said.
The Eagles were the first team to officially clinch a spot in the field of 68, and by tip-off Friday night they will have spent nearly two weeks sitting around, getting healthy and getting ready.
Enfield isn't worried about rust. His approach, he said, hasn't changed during this layoff.
"We have to do the things necessary in our game plan," Enfield said. "We don't have to play a perfect game against Georgetown but we have to play well. And I've told them, 'Hey, if you're good enough to beat Georgetown, you will. If not, they'll win the game.' We try to keep it pretty simple around here."