The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles are the best thing to happen to the NCAA tournament in a long time. Here's everything you need to know about them.
So, why are they so great?
Obviously, it's an incredible Cinderella story. A 15 seed has never made it to the Sweet 16. Remember when George Mason and VCU made their Final Four runs and became America's sweethearts? They were both 11 seeds, veritable powerhouses compared to these Eagles. If FGCU wins just a couple more, it will undoubtedly become the most memorable underdog in tournament history.
But what really makes the Eagles great is how they have been winning. This isn't a a case of a longshot getting hot from behind the arc for a few games, or skating by much better teams thanks to a few fluky plays. This is the story of an athletic, balls-to-the-wall team outclassing "better" teams, and doing it with style. The Eagles win by running the break, attacking the rim, forcing turnovers, and never being afraid to throw alley-oops. Everything that's fun about watching basketball, FGCU is designed to do. Here, just see for yourself:
It's no wonder they had a rap song called "Dunk City" created in their honor.
Holy shit, those guys are awesome. But who's that guy? You know the one.
So, you probably couldn't help but notice that flying white boy, the one who left a crater in Georgetown's institutional memory with this vicious alley-oop, and also did this. That's Chase Fieler, the 6-foot-8 junior forward who is the team's best high-flying finisher as well as a perfectly conceptualized Florida bro. When he's not finishing devastating alley-oops, Fieler likes to lay out on the beach "four or five times a week." The beach that's just a few steps from his dorm room.
What about that point guard? He seems pretty great too.
That's Brett Comer. Comer was a high school teammate of Austin Rivers, and he averaged 8.1 points and 6.6 assists per game a sophomore for FGCU this year. He's reached another level in the tournament, though, and has been shredding teams with slick passes and his ability to push the break. He put up 12 points and 10 assists against Georgetown on Friday, and dished another 14 dimes to go along with 10 points against San Diego State. As fun as it is to watch his teammates throw down dunks and alley-oops, many of Comer's passes have been just as awesome. He plays fast and free, has a Steve Nash-like ability to keep his dribble in traffic, and is the engine that drives FGCU's offense.
Comer's story isn't all sunshine. His father, who had been his AAU coach, died of lung cancer three years ago. In the aftermath, Comer suffered from anxiety, mood swings, and bouts of depression. He spoke to Sports Illustrated about the experience of watching his father die: "I feel like it literally killed me. That's stuff I'll never be able to forget for the rest of my life."
And what about that guy with the dreadlocks? He looks fun.
That's Sherwood Brown, a 6-foot-4 guard who plays bigger (he averaged 6.6 rebounds per game this year) and can always be counted on to bring some added entertainment value to the game. Here he is blowing kisses to the crowd after last night's victory:
And here he is taking a break from the Georgetown game to dap up Kevin Harlan:
Brown, the only starting senior, is more than just a showboat. He and fellow guard Bernard Thompson have been a fantastic one-two scoring punch in both of Florida Gulf Coast's tournament games. He poured in 24 points against Georgetown to go along with nine rebounds, and hit San Diego State with 17 points and eight boards.
These guys seem like they have a lot of fun.
They do, and that's another big reason why their performance in this tournament has been so enjoyable. It's refreshing to see a college team succeed without forgetting the fact that they are, you know, college dudes. These aren't the young men of Duke, souls sucked dry by the Krzyzewskian ethos, servants to The System. These are guys who like to dunk and play basketball and have fun and entertain, which is the entire point of basketball. How can you not like a team that celebrates like this?
That dancing team manager is everything that is good about the world.
What about their coach? He's got to be a pretty cool guy if his players are so happy.
Yes, Andy Enfield is a super cool guy. After the San Diego State game, he told reporters that he doesn't want his team to take things too seriously, and that he prefers them to play an open, free-wheeling style. He also gave the best dead-pan quote of the tournament before the game. From ESPN:
"Do you know where I can find a Diet Coke?'' he asked. In no particular hurry to go anywhere, he chatted about kids and Philadelphia and eventually wound around to how his Florida Gulf Coast team was feeling before its game against San Diego State.
"Well,'' he said about as matter-of-factly as he asked for that Diet Coke, "if we play well we should win.''
The worst thing about March Madness is the TV-enabled beatification of the coaching class, which by and large is made up of grim, glowering fascists who left their sense of humor back at the 1989 Nike ABCD Camp. Maybe Enfield will wind up like everyone else, but so far, he's been a delight. Maybe that has something to do with his unconventional background. A former assistant coach for the Bucks and Celtics, Enfield left the NBA to help found a tech startup that made him a millionaire before his 40th birthday. He then got back into the coaching game, working as an assistant at Florida State before taking the head coaching gig at FGCU. He's also married to a former Victoria's Secret model, whom he took to Taco Bell on their first date.
OK, this team is great. I'm all in. But is there anything that isn't likable about them?
Well, not the team in particular, but FGCU itself is kind of strange. The university has only had on-campus students since 1997, and the economics department is aggressively, evangelically pro-capitalism. Like, every-student-gets-a-copy-of-Atlas-Shrugged pro-capitalism. It's the Chicago school of economics with a better tan. Here's a really weird website that is run by one of the economics professors and gives off a bit of a 9/11 Truther vibe. But let's not concern ourselves with that right now. Let's just enjoy the Eagles, dunk by irreplaceable dunk.