Florida Gulf Coast in a Sunshine State Indeed

I’m sure I’m like a lot of people with 11 teams remaining in my initial NCAA Sweet 16. I had the emotional pick in the Billikens, so I missed that, but I do have the chalk in Louisville, Indiana and Kansas remaining.

I did not pick Florida Gulf Coast University, FGCU, to make it to the Sweet 16. If you’re saying you did, you’re lying, you made a mistake, or you have no clue about college basketball, which is fine. I’m sure there were people who liked the four letters together and picked FGCU just for fun. I’m open enough to admit that before this tournament, I had no idea what FGCU stood for.

I know what it stands for now. It stands for fresh, gritty, complete and underrated. This No. 15 seed is the most athletic you’ll ever see. In the Eagles’ 10-point win over San Diego State, leading scorer Sherwood Brown led five players in double figures, and terrific point guard Brett Comer dished out an amazing 14 assists.

This school completed the transition to Division I just two years ago, and more amazingly, the institution is just 16 years old. The first FGCU student, Mariana Coto, was admitted in January 1997. To put it in perspective, think of SIU-Edwardsville being a Sweet 16 team this year, the first year it, like FGCU, could play in its postseason tournament. Because the institution is much older, the odds of the Cougars making it this far aren’t nearly as long as the odds of the Eagles making it. It’s one of the most amazing stories in NCAA tournament history.

Other quick hits from the first weekend of the tournament:

** Of the 16 teams that were top-four seeds, 10 remain. When you look at 12-15 seeds, there are three left: FGCU, LaSalle (the last A-10 team standing) and Oregon, which knocked off No. 4 seed SLU. This is the first time in history four 12-or-lower seeds have made the Sweet 16, although we can all agree Oregon should have been seeded higher, can’t we?

** The future of the Billikens and Mizzou should be interesting.

At SLU, the first order of business is to determine who the coach is going to be. Jim Crews did a masterful job in taking over for an ailing Rick Majerus before the season started. But we need to keep in mind that Crews was happily retired before Majerus brought him aboard as an assistant. We don’t know if he wants to be back, and we don’t know how badly SLU wants him. Hopefully there’s mutual interest in his return. The situation on campus has been tenuous, with the faculty of the university issuing a no-confidence vote in President Fr. Larry Biondi. Coaches want to know what a school’s commitment to athletics is, and that commitment generally comes from the top. If Crews doesn’t come back, are other candidates going to be suspicious of what SLU’s future is?

At Mizzou, the whole season went haywire because the Tigers never developed any chemistry. Was this a shortcoming on the part of coach Frank Haith, or was it a product of a host of transfers who were playing separate games all year long? Next season is going to be an important one at Mizzou. Is Haith a great recruiter who can’t get the most out of his team (witness what Jim Larranaga has done with Haith’s players at Miami), or has he just had a run of first-round bad luck the last two years? Norm Stewart’s Tigers were eliminated in the first round in three straight years, but Norm was the fan’s guy.

Now, expectations are higher, and Haith isn’t a Missouri and a Mizzou guy. He’s going to have to meet those expectations, or the pressure will be ratcheted up quickly.

Three of the top four seeds are still alive, and we’ve had plenty of madness. There’s still more to come, because FGCU is still alive. As long as we have the Eagles, along with the amazing Wichita State from the St. Louis-based Missouri Valley Conference, we have some drama for next weekend.