Is Florida Gulf Coast the most surprising Cinderella of all time?

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Every tournament needs a Cinderella. It’s one of the great recurring subplots that March Madness supplies and it usually helps shape the tournament’s identity.

No. 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast is in the midst of what could be the greatest Cinderella story in NCAA tournament history. The University was founded just 16 years ago in 1997. The men’s basketball program was formed just 11 years ago in 2002. The Eagles became a full Division I member in 2011.

And now, in just their second year of postseason eligibility, Florida Gulf Coast is headed to the Sweet Sixteen, having defeated No. 2-seed Georgetown 78-68 and No. 7-seed San Diego State 81-71.

But it’s not just getting to the Sweet Sixteen, which the Eagles are doing as the first No. 15-seed this far in NCAA tournament history (until this season, 15 seeds were 6-112 overall in the NCAA tournament). It’s how they’re doing it, with highlight-reel dunks and a run-and-gun game plan, winning by an average of 10 ppg. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the wife of the head coach is a former-supermodel.

MORE: Get to know Florida Gulf Coast

With the exception of the Final Four runs from VCU, Butler and George Mason, it can be argued that the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles are putting together the most impressive Cinderella performance of all time. Sure, there are Cinderella teams that had better seasons and better teams than FGCU, like Cornell’s 2010 squad that made it to the Sweet Sixteen behind the trio of Louis Dale, Ryan Whittman and Jeff Foote.

Davidson’s 2008 team led by Steph Curry also falls in to this category. But both Cornell and Davidson were known commodities heading in to the tournament and had put together impeccable regular seasons. The same can be said for UT-Chattanooga, who as a No. 14-seed, knocked off No. 3-seed Georgia and No. 6-seed Illinois en route to a berth in the Sweet Sixteen. But the Mocs had previous NCAA tournament experience having been there in both 1994 and 1995.

Then there’s the 1990 Loyola Marymount team. Still mourning the loss of teammate Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble led the Lions on a run to the Elite Eight in which they defeated Michigan, the defending National Champions, 149-115. But like Davidson. Loyola Marymount had NBA talent. Bo Kimble was drafted eighth overall by the Clippers following the season.

The Gonzaga teams of the late nineties and early aughts were regular season and tournament champions and had future pros. The 1998 Valparaiso team had Bryce Drew, who went on to a have a solid NBA career. The 2006 Bradley Sweet Sixteen team had future-draft pick Patrick O’Bryant. Miami (OH) had Wally Szcerbiak in 1999.

The Eagles have no future pros. Sherwood Brown, their best player was mostly recruited by low and mid-major programs, and was categorized as having the potential to be a solid mid-major scorer. Bret Comer received interest from Colorado State and UMass, but decided to stay local following the death of his father. The same can be said about Chase Fieler, Eddie Murray and Bernard Thompson, all of whom were only lightly recruited coming out of high school. The Eagles don’t have a Steph Curry or a Bryce Drew. Not yet at least.

Heck, Florida Gulf Coast didn’t even win their conference’s regular season. Despite their non-conference win over Miami, this was a team that lost to a 12-18 Lipscomb team twice. They also lost to an East Tennessee State team that finished with 22 losses.

MORE: Coach Andy Enfield’s wife is now a hot topic

You have to go back 14 years to find a Sweet Sixteen run from a double-digit seed as improbable as Florida Gulf Coast’s. In 1999 Southwest Missouri State (Now Missouri State) lost seven conference games and finished with a 22-11 record. The Bears were led by current-New Mexico head coach Steve Alford, and featured a similar ragtag cast of characters that stock Florida Gulf Coast’s roster. The 1998 squad had the same meager expectations as FGCU this season and finished second in their conference. Yet after holding Wisconsin to just 32 total points in a 43-32 first round NCAA tournament win, the Bears crushed No. 4-seed Tennessee by 30 points in the second round, 81-51. They would lose to eventual national runners-up Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, 78-61.

But of all the Cinderellas who came come before us, none of them have been quite like FGCU. This is an Atlantic Sun team we are talking about. The Northern Iowas, and George Masons of the world came from strong mid-major basketball conferences. The Atlantic Sun is a low-major, home to many fledgling Division I programs. A team from the Atlantic Sun Conference isn’t supposed to win a NCAA tournament game, especially not two against the likes of Georgetown and San Diego State.

MORE: Should Florida Gulf Coast have been a 15 seed?

Other than the fact that they had a favorable match-up against a Georgetown team with a fragile tournament psyche, very few if any, both within the industry and out, that thought this Eagles’ team could even win one tournament game.

We won’t know until after next weekend just how special this run is. But up until this point, history suggests that out of all the Cinderella stories that March has written, the one we’re currently reading may end up being the best.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.