It was hard to live up to the excitement that was Thursday, with four overtime games on the first day of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. On Friday afternoon, Mercer, the No. 14 seed in the Midwest Region — nicknamed the Bracket of Death — upset No. 3 Duke, 78-71, delivering the most shocking result of the tournament so far.
In 2010, Duke won the national title. Since then, Coach K and Co. has had two Round of 64 exits. The first being in 2011 when Patriot League champion Lehigh, led by C.J. McCollum, ended the Blue Devils’ title defense. After Friday’s thrilling win, Lehigh sent this message to the Bears:
Mercer had the talent to be in the NCAA tournament last year, but the Bears were upset in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament. That team would go on and become Dunk City with a run to the Sweet 16 in 2013. Florida Gulf Coast also sent along its praise:
Mercer’s improbable win comes one day shy of the one-year anniversary of Florida Gulf Coast’s win over Georgetown. The Eagles emerged on the national scene with dunk after dunk. Remember who gave them that nickname?
After last season’s surprising Sweet 16 run from Florida Gulf Coast, the Eagles — and the rest of the Atlantic Sun — will be one to watch as we get closer to the NCAA Tournament. While Dunk City returns key pieces in Bernard Thompson, Brett Comer and Chase Fieler, Mercer and USC Upstate are talented enough to compete with the Eagles for the A-Sun tournament title and the automatic tournament bid. Florida Gulf Coast tied Mercer atop the league standings in the regular season and the two teams met for the conference tournament title last season. Is Dunk City on another collision course with Mercer in the title game?
Although the Eagles tied Mercer atop the Atlantic Sun at 14-4, Florida Gulf Coast holds a huge advantage in the tournament by having home-court advantage. The Eagles have lost one game at home all season and it came December 1st against non-conference Iona. Can Dunk City make another magical run?
And if they lose?: Mercer
The Bears split the season series with Florida Gulf Coast and have one of the league’s best players in senior point guard Langston Hall. In Atlantic Sun play, Mercer led the league in field goal percentage offense and defense as well as three-point percentage offense and defense and they tied Florida Gulf Coast for the league’s best mark in defensive rebounding percentage. Mercer’s talent and balance will give them a legitimate chance.
Lipscomb: Although they’re a five seed, Lipscomb has four straight wins, including a 21-point drubbing of Florida Gulf Coast at home on February 27th.
USC Upstate: The three seed has the trio of Torrey Craig, Ty Greene and Renardo Glenn and they are as talented a trio as there is in the Atlantic Sun.
Torrey Craig, USC Upstate: The conference’s leading scorer is a major offensive threat and also a top-five rebounder.
Langston Hall, Mercer: Hall is having a fine senior season as he leads Mercer in points and is also the A-Sun leader in assists.
Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast: The Eagles’ floor leader is second on the team in scoring and second in the conference — behind Hall — in assists. And don’t forget the lobs that drive Dunk City.
After getting run out of the sparkling new Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday night, the FGCU Eagles entered Tuesday morning’s game against Hartford in need of a victory to avoid an 0-2 start to the Joe Dooley era. And in the first 20 minutes FGCU looked like a team that yearned for the comfort of their beds, trailing for much of the first half before taking a 27-26 lead into the halftime break.
Whatever was said in the locker room lit a fire under the Eagles, most notably senior forward Chase Fieler. After scoring a team-high ten points in the first half Fieler added 20 more in the second with a solid array of shots (and dunks), finishing with 30 points and 11 rebounds to lead FGCU (1-1) to the 65-51 victory. Fieler made 13 of his 18 shot attempts, bouncing back well after struggling mightily in FGCU’s loss at Nebraska.
As a team FGCU shot nearly 62% from the field in the second half, and their work to find higher-quality looks from the field was enough to offset the 23 points and nine rebounds put up by Hartford’s (0-2) Mark Nwakamma. FGCU’s effort on the defensive end shouldn’t be ignored either, as they forced nine second-half turnovers. Point guard Brett Comer, who turned the ball over six times against Nebraska, tallied eight points without a single turnover.
It’s always difficult to do too much reading into games like this, because the 7:00 a.m. start time is something foreign to all involved. But if FGCU is to win the Atlantic Sun and make another NCAA tournament appearance, the leadership of veterans such as Comer, Fieler and Bernard Thompson will be of high importance. After a sluggish first half, the Eagles “smelled the coffee” and took care of business.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.
America is familiar with common Florida destinations like South Beach and Disney, but last March, basketball fans quickly became aware of the brand-new Sunshine State landmark known affectionately by college basketball enthusiasts as “Dunk City.”
Head coach Andy Enfield bolted for USC in the offseason and senior leader Sherwood Brown exhausted his eligibility but the good news for Dunk City is the return of four starters, led by the dynamic junior backcourt of Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson.
Comer and Thompson started all 37 games during Florida Gulf Coast’s 26-11 season in which they won the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The Eagles were a transitory Division I program beginning with the 2007–08 season and granted full D-I membership before the 2011-12 season, so for the Atlantic Sun program to receive at least four nationally televised games during the 2013-14 season is a testament to the power of Dunk City and how the nation took notice.
“Now I tell people that I go to FGCU and they’re like, ‘Oh, Dunk City!’ I could just tell them I go to Dunk City they say, ‘Oh, you go to Florida Gulf Coast!’ I like the name and it represents us well,” Thompson said. “We dunk and we have a high-flying style of play. So I think it’s good for us and our school since our school is so young and the nickname helps us.”
Former long-time Kansas assistant coach Joe Dooley takes over for Florida Gulf Coast at head coach this year as the Eagles become the hunted. They’re the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic Sun thanks in large part to the passing of Comer and the all-around skills of off-guard Thompson. Comer was 14th in the nation in assists, averaging 6.6 dimes per contest last season, as many of his passes and lobs led to Dunk City throwdowns. The 244 assists Comer dished out were the second-most for a single season in Atlantic Sun history and he was the A-Sun Conference Tournament MVP.
Comer’s backcourt teammate Bernard Thompson is often on the receiving end of his point guard’s creative passes as the two close off-court friends have been in the Florida Gulf Coast program together since they were freshmen. Thompson won the A-Sun’s Defensive Player of the Year award as a sophomore and is the team’s leading returning scorer at 14.3 points per game. At 102 total steals last season, Thompson was second overall in the country in defensive thefts. Roommates the past two years, Comer and Thompson will take the Eagles as far as they can go this season.
“It’s nice to have Bernard back there. We both came in together and we’ve both grown together too. We create a lot off of each other here and we’ve been doing this for three years,” Comer said. “And having guys like Chase (Fieler) come back and our transfers will be coming in, so we’ll have a good core coming back and some new pieces here.”
Chalk up another assist to Comer for mentioning his teammates, as he’ll have plenty of weapons — besides Thompson — to work with this season. Fieler, a senior forward, averaged 12.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season while accumulating 59 dunks that helped him garner a 56 percent field goal percentage and forward Eric McKnight is a 6’9″ junior that put up 60 percent field goal shooting and adds a shot-blocking presence to the group. Marquette transfer and 6’6″ junior Jamail Jones is a former top-100 recruit that’s eligible this season and will replace Brown’s presence in the lineup and Georgia Tech transfer Nate Hicks adds a versatile 6’10” inside-out option.
“(Hicks is) good. He’s versatile and for someone his size, he can step out a little bit and knock down shots, so that helps us out a lot,” Thompson said of Hicks.
But new coach Joe Dooley, who is incorporating a similar high-paced attack for the Eagles this season, knows that his backcourt will make all the difference if Florida Gulf Coast is to make another NCAA Tournament run this season.
“We’ve got some experience back, four starters and those guys have a pretty good feel for how to play together,” Dooley said. “You have a point guard that’s a two-year starter and you have a two-guard that’s a two-year starter and they have some familiarity playing in the conference and playing together and hopefully they’ll make another jump this year.”
Thompson and Comer spend plenty of time away from the court playing Call of Duty, getting food or just hanging out, but together in the same backcourt, they know where each other is going to be at all times.
“Brett just has tremendous, tremendous vision. He’ll see me and we just read each other,” Thompson said. “It’s just a great chemistry that we have; a great bond that we have. You’ll see it on and off the court. It makes it a lot easier for me and him that we know each other’s tendencies.”
Because of their chemistry and experience, the Eagles have expectations that exceed the results of last season’s group. It’s hard to contemplate another Sweet 16 run — or beyond — but Dunk City is trying to follow-up on last season’s run with another run that matches or exceeds that effort.
“We want to win the conference regular season — which we didn’t do last year — and we want to win the conference tournament again and we want to make the NCAA Tournament and make more noise,” Comer said of the team’s expectations. “I think that we showed that we have good players and we can compete with anybody.”
But in a state that LeBron (currently) calls home, Dunk City is just happy to have found its place on the national basketball landscape for the time being.
“We had people come out-of-state just to see us, just to come get our autograph,” Thompson said. “And the fans, the Dirty Birds (the student fan base), just come out to everywhere we play just to support us. It’s just been good that we’re recognized and when you go somewhere people are like, ‘Florida Gulf Coast,’ and know it’s us. So that feels good just to get the recognition.”
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
Can Florida Gulf Coast return to postseason glory after last season’s magical Sweet 16 run? That’s the big question in the Atlantic Sun for the 2013-14 season as “Dunk City” will attempt to show that they have more staying power than past NCAA Tournament upset darlings. Thanks to four returning starters, led by the junior backcourt of Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson, and forwards Chase Fieler and Eric McKnight, the Eagles are the returning favorites in the league after last season’s 26-11 campaign that saw 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast upset Georgetown and San Diego State in the NCAA Tournament.
The main competition for Dunk City comes from Mercer. The Bears won the Atlantic Sun regular season crown last season (14-4) and finished 24-12 while beating Tennessee in the NIT. Efficient senior floor leader Langston Hall had a 2.28 assist-to-turnover ratio last season and will lead Mercer in their attempt at revenge after falling to Florida Gulf Coast in last season’s A-Sun Conference Tournament title game.
Versatile wing and A-Sun leading scorer Torrey Craig (17.2 points per game) returns to give USC Upstate a shot at the conference title. The Spartans return all five starters from a 9-9 team in the league and have multiple scoring options, including senior forward Ricardo Glenn (10.5 points, 8.1 rebounds per game).
Guards Keith McDougald (13.1 points per game) and Jarvis Haywood (11.5 points per game) give Jacksonville a formidable returning backcourt, East Tennessee State returns four starters and promising sophomore forward Lester Wilson (13 points, 5.3 rebounds per game) while North Florida, Lipscomb, Stetson and Northern Kentucky played much better during A-Sun play than the nonconference portion of their schedules last season. Kennesaw State looks to turn it around after five games behind ninth place in the league last season.
PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Bernard Thompson, Florida Gulf Coast
The 6’3″ junior shooting guard is the returning leading scorer (14.3 points per game) and second leading returning rebounder (4.4 rebounds per game) for Florida Gulf Coast and was also the A-Sun’s Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore. Thompson ranked second nationally in steals with 102, started all 37 games last season for the Eagles and also shot 38 percent from three-point range.
FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Torrey Craig, USC Upstate: Versatile wing is former conference player of the year on pace to crack 2,000 career points.
Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast: Point guard that makes Dunk City go led conference in assists (6.6 per game) and was A-Sun Tournament MVP last season.
Keith McDougald, Jacksonville: The 6’1″ senior plays much bigger and stepped up in A-Sun play to average 15.4 points per game while accumulating two games of 13 rebounds in conference play.
Langston Hall, Mercer: One of the more efficient guards in America, the 6’4″ senior averaged five assists a game and shot 84 percent from the free-throw line.
1. Florida Gulf Coast
3. USC Upstate
5. East Tennessee State
6. North Florida
9. Northern Kentucky
10. Kennesaw State