JOE BIDDLE: Gators next to try and ground the Eagles

JOE BIDDLE: Sunday Notes: August 3, 2014 (Image 1)

After allowing the first weekend of NCAA Tournament games to soak in, it's time to embrace the madness that is March.

Did anyone get that license plate number of Florida Gulf Coast's Eagles? They came out of nowhere, a team that lost twice to Lipscomb University, then lost to East Tennessee State and Stetson late in February.

Lipscomb had an RPI of 236 and it beat Florida Gulf Coast, 74-64 before Stetson, with an RPI of 223, beat the Cinderella team of the NCAA Tournament, 80-71. During the season they lost to five teams with RPIs above 200. There was little evidence that the Eagles could get off the ground against the Big Boys of college basketball.

They have been, however, the tournament's perfect storm, knocking off 2-seed Georgetown before eliminating San Diego State.

They are the talk of the tournament. I Googled Florida Gulf Coast basketball Tuesday afternoon. It had attracted more than 97 million hits.

After those two games were in the books, Belmont Coach Rick Byrd mused: “They don't get to be the surprise team any more.''

Byrd's Bruins beat the Eagles three times last season, once in the Atlantic Sun tournament championship game.

Byrd is impressed with a couple of things that have contributed to Cinderella's rising star.

“Their match-up zone they'll play confounds teams and causes a lot of problems,'' he said this week. “They've got good athletes and feed off lob plays.''

Byrd also points to sophomore guard Brett Comer. He says Comer initiates 75 percent of their plays.

“You can't let him create shots for others,'' Byrd said. “You have to make him make the shots.''

Now they face 3-seed Florida, a team that won the SEC regular season. In Billy Donovan, Florida has a coach that has had time to interpret the Eagles' strengths and, more importantly, their weaknesses.

The school had a huge pep rally when the team returned to the Fort Myers campus. The players have been going to class and I would imagine hearing a non-stop buzz about just how cool they are.

They are playing on house money and if they can stay loosey-goosey and repeat how they played in the first two games, they could advance.

But is the house of cards about to implode?

The 15-seed has gone where no other has managed. An upset over Florida will create an off-the-charts earthquake. They will be the biggest thing to hit the Sunshine State since Juan Ponce de Leon.

Despite some early round upsets, there are still three No. 1 seeds alive. There are also three 2-seeds, three 3-seeds and two 4-seeds standing.

Should Florida Gulf Coast skin the Gators, it will meet the winner of the Kansas-Michigan Sweet 16 game.  
Just as anonymous as the Florida Gulf Coast team was before the Big Dance, the same could be said about its second year coach, Andy Endfield.

As an NBA assistant coach who specialized in the art of shooting, Endfield met successful model and cover girl Amanda Marcum, who grew up a die-hard sports fan in Oklahoma. Their first date was attending a St. Johns' basketball game.

Their first meal was shared at Taco Bell afterwards, not exactly a recipe to impress someone who had graced the covers of Maxim, Elle and Vogue. He bought her a burrito.

After having three children, the family is settled in Fort Myers. That was before their tranquil life exploded, and unleashed a national media barrage.

Who knows how far this adventure will lead? The Eagles are a dangerous team on a roll. Their feet haven't hit the ground.


Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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