They are everybody's new favorite team, this school with the clunky name and the joyous game. Florida Gulf Coast University, the first No.15 seed to ever get to the NCAA’s Sweet 16, plays the University of Florida Friday at around 10 p.m.
The Gators are 13-point favorites – the largest point spread among the Sweet 16 games. But I hope Florida Gulf Coast wins again – not only that one, but the next three after that, too. Because if the Eagles can pull it off, they will become the best NCAA tournament story ever.
FGCU, located in Fort Myers, Fla., was only established in 1997. It has only been eligible for the NCAA tournament for two years.
All of the Eagles’ high-flying players are older than the school. They have scored almost 20 percent of their baskets in this tournament on ferocious dunks that have made millions of Americans chest-bump in delight.
They play basketball the way we all think we could play it if we could grab the rim with both hands – celebratory and creative, with an appreciation for the moment that often seems lost on the blueblood schools that get to this point of the tournament nearly every year. The players sign autographs in the stands after games. They do chicken dances on the bench. They literally click their heels.
Now they probably will lose, either Friday night or not long after. Although widely known as the team that beat Miami earlier this season, Florida Gulf Coast also has a secret that gets lost in the YouTube “Dunk City” shuffle. This team can be maddeningly inconsistent. FGCU lost twice to Lipscomb (12-18) this season, as well as to Stetson (15-16), East Tennessee State (10-22) and Maine (11-19).
But I hope the Eagles keep winning. Because this has serious potential. This is a basketball story that could be better than N.C. State in 1983. Better than Villanova in 1985. Better than George Mason in 2006 or Davidson in 2008.
(Read more about FGCU in my column in Friday's Charlotte Observer).