BLAIR KERKHOFF

Florida Gulf Coast is fresh breeze in tournament

Updated: 2013-07-18T21:11:59Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

Presidents and regents from colleges off the beaten path had to be blowing up their text messaging Sunday night.

If Florida Gulf Coast University can do it …

In an NCAA Tournament opening week that produced dominance by No. 1 seed Louisville, a Big Ten party and a Mountain West retreat, the biggest buzz was supplied by the 20-year-old school in Fort Myers, Fla., that is in its sixth year of Division I athletics.

“We’ve been told that this is what college basketball is all about,” said the Eagles’ Sherwood Brown.

Wow, so fresh and confident they have to be told normal isn’t defeating Georgetown and San Diego State to become the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16.

And the story gets better; Florida Gulf Coast is matched against the goliath from its state, the Florida Gators, in a Friday contest at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The Eagles are experiencing what Valparaiso felt some 15 years ago, Davidson in 2008, Cornell in 2010, from happy to be in the tournament to advancing to the second weekend as the event’s darling.

But it’s not just that FGCU — yes, the school has earned familiar acronym status for the remainder of the tournament — won, it’s also the how.

The Eagles play with a freedom and fearlessness that defies the also-ran profile of most double-digit seeds. They must lead the tournament in lob slams. They defended the Hoyas’ Otto Porter better than most Big East teams, and shot 56 percent to beat the Aztecs.

Plus the personalities. Coach Andy Enfield started his own company and became a millionaire. He married a fashion model.

Point guard Brett Comer, who logged 14 assists Sunday, plays for his dad. Troy Comer died of lung cancer three years ago and Comer finished his high school career in Florida, playing in the backcourt with Austin Rivers, after spending his first two seasons at Blue Valley Northwest.

Now, Eagles are among the final 16 teams standing in a tournament that moves forward with as many double-digit seeds as top seeds.

Louisville’s demolition of North Carolina A&T and Colorado State reinforces the Cardinals’ favorite’s role. And the rest of the field must have shuddered when coach Rick Pitino didn’t share his fans’ enthusiasm after the second victory.

“We can play much better,” he said.

Awaiting in Indianapolis at the Midwest Regional is a dangerous opponent in 12th-seeded Oregon, which has played the underseed disrespect card to victories over Oklahoma State and Saint Louis.

The West Regional in Los Angeles is the only one without a top seed. Gonzaga fell to hot-shooting Wichita State, and the ninth-seeded Shockers meet 13th-seeded La Salle in what looks like a BracketBusters meeting. Ohio State, the second seed, takes on No. 6 Arizona in the other game.

Along with the Florida skirmish in the South Regional, Kansas emerged from its blue-blood meeting with North Carolina on Sunday and takes on Michigan.

Let’s take a moment to praise the Big Ten. The best conference throughout the season marched four teams into the Sweet 16, and a Big Ten tournament in Atlanta is possible with the teams spread across the regionals. Based on seeding, Indiana and Ohio State will be favored to advance, but don’t count out any of the battle-tested teams.

The Big East is going out strong with three survivors. The Pac-12, one of the weaker major conferences, surprised by advancing two.

And the Atlantic Sun has as many teams remaining as the Atlantic-10, and that team — Florida Gulf Coast — is, during the NCAA Tournament, what college basketball is all about. So the players say.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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