No longer ‘Dunk City,’ Florida Gulf Coast back in NCAA

For the first time in the Joe Dooley era, Florida Gulf Coast is back in the NCAA Tournament.

Florida Gulf Coast defeated No. 7 seed — and ineligible for the postseason — Stetson 80-78 in overtime in what was just a tremendous, back-and-forth game that saw eight lead changes and 16 ties throughout. Eventually, a defensive stand and a tremendous block on what looked like an open lane to the rim sealed the deal for the Eagles.

That block clinched the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for Florida Gulf Coast, which needed to win despite the fact that Stetson was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles’ win avoids an awkward situation for the Atlantic Sun, as had they lost North Florida would have been the representative as the regular season champion despite losing to Florida Gulf Coast by 33 points on Thursday night.

It’ll be their first trip back to the Big Dance since that magical 2013 run. Those expecting a redux of Andy Enfield’s Dunk City teams will likely be pretty sorely mistaken, as the Eagles under Dooley have reshapen their image under their coach. Instead of uptempo, high-speed, transition basketball, this team largely plays pretty slow and doesn’t necesssarily have any of the high-flying theatrics of yesteryear.

That’s fine though, as they have built arguably the best defense in the Atlantic Sun and one of the most efficient offenses around it. Basically, this team looks like a mid-major version of a Bill Self team, which makes sense given that Dooley was a Self assistant for a decade.

Can they pull an upset? Let’s learn a bit more about the Eagles.

Player to watch: The Eagles’ best player is Marc-Eddy Norelia, a 6-foot-8 forward who transferred to Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 from Tulane after that tremendous run to the Sweet 16. He’s a 225-pound banger initially from Haiti who averages 17.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, and was a first team All-Atlantic Sun performer. A solid player who gives them the kind of inside presence that they need.

The Vitals:

    • Record: 20-13 overall, 8-6 in the Atlantic Sun (No. 4 seed)
    • Most recent tournament appearance: 2013 (Dunk City became a phenomenon. The Eagles were a No. 15 seed who defeated No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State on their way to a Sweet 16 berth under Enfield)
    • Jerry Palm predicts: 16 seed
    • RPI: 216
    • KenPom ranking: 171
    • Sagarin ranking: 185
    • Best wins: Massachusetts, North Florida (twice)
    • Worst losses: Lipscomb, Jacksonville, Stetson
    • Notable stat: 252. This is the second time Florida Gulf Coast has made the NCAA Tournament, and there are obviously going to be a lot of comparisons over the next two weeks to the first two runs. However, I’d caution those comparisons given simply how different the two teams are. The Enfield team was an uptempo, wide-open offense that did a lot of its work in transition. This iteration is slower and a bit more methodical under Dooley, with a tempo currently ranked 252nd in the country. They’re in the middle of the pack nationally in points in transition compared to that previous team which finished in the top-10 nationally.

Closing quip: Good for Joe Dooley, who took over a team from what has become the stuff of legend and reshaped it into his own image. That time at the helm has finally paid off, as he’ll get his shot to knock off a giant just like his predecessor. This group will likely have a tougher time as what is shaping up to be a 16-seed. But hey, maybe lightning can strike twice in the same place. If any school is going to be the first to defeat a No. 1, why not Florida Gulf Coast?

Joe Dooley has Florida Gulf Coast back in the dance. (USATSI)
Joe Dooley has Florida Gulf Coast back in the dance. (USATSI)

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