FGCU

Chase Fieler leading the way for FGCU both on and off the court

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With head coach Andy Enfield now running things at USC and leading scorer Sherwood Brown out of eligibility, some may have doubts as to whether or not FGCU can build on its’ impressive 26-win 2012-13 season. But first-year head coach Joe Dooley wasn’t left with a bare cupboard, with one of his key returnees being 6-8 senior forward Chase Fieler.

As a junior Fieler, a native of Parkersburg, W.Va., averaged 12.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest for a team that reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. And during the offseason Fieler continued to show signs that he’s both willing and able to carry the FGCU banner both on the court and in the community, according to Seth Soffian of the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press.

Whether on court helping FGCU become the first No. 15 seed in NCAA tournament history to reach the Sweet 16, in the stands leading cheers for other FGCU teams or off campus working or lending his time to others, Fieler has won over legions of fans in his four years in Southwest Florida.

“When I have a son or a daughter, I want them to grow up and be like him,” said FGCU associate head coach Marty Richter, who has known Fieler since joining FGCU’s coaching staff 2½ years ago. “I’m going to use him as an example to show my kids one day. He does everything.”

From his sophomore to junior season Fieler improved his scoring average by more than five points per game, and his field goal percentage jumped nearly nine points up to 56.3%. Having a player of Fieler’s caliber (as well as guards Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson, to name two other returnees) is a major asset for coach Dooley, but not only because of the on-court skill. When a player with the influence of Fieler is in the new coach’s corner, establishing your own program while building on the recent run of success becomes a more manageable task.

What can FGCU do for an encore? Four of their five starter from last season return to Fort Myers, and the Eagles will have a challenging non-conference slate that should have them prepared for a run at the Atlantic Sun regular season title (FGCU finished a game behind Mercer last season). And if FGCU is to accomplish the goals they’ve set out for themselves, Fieler’s leadership will be a key factor.

Despite recent hoops success, FGCU dealing with conference instability

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In the weeks following Florida Gulf Coast’s run to the Sweet 16, things were looking good for the Atlantic Sun Conference. Seemingly far away from the influence of big-time college football that’s changed the way in which college athletics is shaped, the league looked ready to take full advantage of its recent on-court success.

But realignment has a funny way of changing things when you least expect something to happen. At the end of May it was announced that ETSU and Mercer would be leaving the league to join the Southern Conference, a reaction to the SoCon losing both the College of Charleston and Davidson (VMI also joined, leaving the Big South to do so).

With both A-Sun members deciding to restart their respective football programs, making the move to a league that sponsors the sport (at the FCS level) made sense. But where does that leave FGCU, which doesn’t have a football program? That’s a tough question for the powers that be to answer despite FGCU’s recent success, due to the absence of the sport that has called the shots of late.

But according to Seth Soffian of the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press, the hope for FGCU has to be that their accomplishments (even without football) will lead to more attention. But most important is FGCU’s need to make sure their current home regains stability, even with the possibility of more options down the line.

As the A-Sun evaluates its future amid an ever-changing landscape, FGCU appears to have options, more than just helping keep its current league viable.

“Right now everybody’s hoping things start to settle,” said FGCU athletic director Ken Kavanagh. “It’s been very disconcerting across the country, all these changes. You just keep working forward and hoping we’ve got the numbers we need (in the A-Sun). The situation is out of our control right now.”

For much of the conference realignment era (going back to 2004 when the ACC added Miami and Virginia Tech, with Boston College moving a year later), football’s been the sport that’s called the shots. But it hasn’t been until recently that basketball’s been impacted in a major way.

So while there really isn’t a whole lot a school like FGCU can do, what a non-football school can control is its on-court performance. Because even if that doesn’t result in a move to a conference of higher regard, it will serve to strengthen the school’s athletic department as a whole.

Freshman Jordan Neff leaves FGCU to attend school closer to Georgia home

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A few months before the FGCU Eagles went on their NCAA tournament run that captivated fans throughout the country, 6-7 forward Jordan Neff signed his National Letter of Intent to play for the Atlantic Sun school.

Having led North Cobb (Ga.) High School to a 26-5 record, the Kennesaw native was a newcomer many were excited about even with the change in head coach from Andy Enfield (now at USC) to Joe Dooley. However, plans have changed.

On Wednesday afternoon the school announced that Neff has decided to leave the program, citing family concerns as the reason for his departure. Neff, who averaged 16.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game last season, will attend Gordon State College (Ga.) according to the Naples (Fla.) Daily News.

“I’d like to thank coach Dooley, the staff and my teammates for helping me improve on and off the floor the past few months,” Neff said in the release announcing his decision. “While this is a difficult decision for me to make, I know that at this time it is the right one for not only me but also my family. I wish my teammates and FGCU all the best this year.”

While the loss of a valuable commit is never celebrated, FGCU won’t be crippled by Neff’s departure. The Eagles lost just two seniors from last season’s team (guard Sherwood Brown and forward Eddie Murray), and with four starters returning there’s more than enough experience for coach Dooley to work with.

There’s also the addition of Marquette transfer Jamail Jones, who’s now eligible to play after sitting out the 2012-13 season per NCAA transfer rules. With Neff’s decision to leave the program FGCU will add just one freshman this year, 6-7 forward Logan Hovey, with three Division I transfers sitting out the 2013-14 campaign.

Report: Nebraska to open Pinnacle Arena against Florida Gulf Coast

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Florida Gulf Coast was one of the best stories of the 2013 NCAA tournament, becoming the first 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16 and earning the moniker “Dunk City” (thanks to Troy Machir) with their attractive style of play and penchant for above the rim finishes.

And next season the Eagles, under new head coach Joe Dooley, will be the visiting team in Nebraska’s first game at the new Pinnacle Arena in downtown Lincoln. With four starters returning from last year’s team, FGCU is more than capable of spoiling the debut for Tim Miles’ program.

Guards Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson return, as do forwards Chase Fieler and Eric McKnight, with guard Sherwood Brown being the lone starter lost from the Eagles’ Sweet 16 team.

While Nebraska has not officially confirmed the news, according to Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal-Star an announcement regarding the Huskers’ first game in their new arena is expected to come some time next month.

Overall, the 2013-14 home schedule sets up to be an attractive one for Nebraska.

Nebraska, which has sold out its first season at Pinnacle Bank Arena, will host at least five teams that made last year’s Sweet 16 – Florida Gulf Coast and Miami in the nonconference, and Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State in Big Ten Conference play.

Other Big Ten teams visiting Lincoln next season are Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois and Penn State.

With their debut season sold out and key players such as Ray Gallegos and Shavon Shields returning, the hope amongst Husker fans is that next season Miles’ program can take a step towards being a consistently competitive team in the Big Ten.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.

FGCU’s emphatic second-half run ends San Diego State’s season

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Entering Sunday’s contest against 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast, San Diego State ranked among the best teams in the country in regards to defensive efficiency (11th per kenpom.com).

But in a 17-0 second half run the Eagles shredded the Aztec defense and the end result was an 81-71 FGCU victory, giving Andy Enfield’s program its first-ever trip to the Sweet 16. This is also the first time a 15-seed has reached the Sweet 16, with the 1997 Coppin State Eagles (82-81 loss to Texas) coming closest to achieving the feat before Sunday.

Next up for FGCU is a game against South Region 3-seed Florida on Friday at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex.

While this can be seen as a missed opportunity for Steve Fisher’s program to reach the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years it’s important to note that FGCU was the better team on the floor.

FGCU shot 55.9% from the field and Bernard Thompson led five Eagles in double figures with 23 points. SDSU managed to hang with the Eagles for the first 30 minutes, leading 35-34 at the half, but unlike FGCU the Aztecs could not avoid that decisive cold streak on the offensive end.

Jamaal Franklin (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Chase Tapley (17) led the way for San Diego State, which shot 45.2% in the second half, but their offense was no match for the Atlantic Sun tournament champions during that 17-0 run.

For the season SDSU shot 43.8% from the field entering Sunday’s game, and against Oklahoma on Friday night the Aztecs shot 42.9%. In order to beat FGCU with a similar effort San Diego State needed to get stops, and they were unable to do so.

Entering the offseason the Aztecs have some important personnel issues to address, most importantly the graduation of both Tapley and James Rahon and Franklin’s NBA Draft prospects. However with players such as J.J. O’Brien, Winston Shepard and Xavier Thames expected to return the talent is there to contend in the Mountain West next season.

There will be disappointment in the aftermath of their loss to Florida Gulf Coast, but there’s no doubt that San Diego State ran into a better team on this night.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.