Florida Gulf Coast took a hit to its starting lineup on Monday as head coach Joe Dooley announced that redshirt senior forward Jamail Jones has been suspended for three games.
The 6-foot-6 Jones will miss all three games of the school-hosted Gulf Coast Showcase, which includes a Monday night game against Marist. Jones was suspended for a violation of team rules.
Losing Jones will certainly hurt the Eagles as he recorded a double-double the first two games of the 2014-15 season and is averaging a team-high 9 rebounds per game to go along with 14 points per game.
This obviously won’t hurt Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun, which they are favored to win this season, but it will be interesting to see how they play without him for this stretch.
Bernard Thompson received an alert from his phone on a Friday afternoon.
It was March 21, and the message was from the SportsCenter app, informing him that Mercer had defeated Duke, 78-71, on the second day of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Thompson, the all-Atlantic Sun guard from Florida-Gulf Coast, had elected not to watch the game after Mercer had dashed his team’s hopes of a return trip to the NCAA tournament by winning the A-Sun title on Florida Gulf Coast’s home floor 13 days earlier.
The roles had been reserved for the two rival A-Sun programs. In 2013, Florida Gulf Coast went on the road and topped Mercer in the conference championship game before becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. The Eagles’ high-flying offense made them overnight sensations, being labeled forever as “Dunk City” (coined by a certain college basketball website).
Chase Fieler has graduated, Eric McKnight and Dajuan Graf have both transferred and Filip Cvjeticanin is out for the season after undergoing back surgery, leaving the heralded senior back court of Thompson and Brett Comer as the only members from that 2013 Cinderella run on the FGCU roster this season. Despite a mostly new supporting cast, the original Dunk City duo is looking to put FGCU back in the national spotlight this March.
“I think the dynamics had changed a little. We went from a team that was really always an underdog and now the pressure had shifted. Now we were a team that had won the league,” second-year head coach Joe Dooley told NBCSports.com. “I think the experience of us having gone through that will help us this year.
“At our level it’s hard because it’s usual a single-bid league. The guys understand that trying to prepare to win the regular season in our league gives us the best change to play at home (in the conference tournament), but you can’t take anything for granted.”
Thompson, Comer and the rest of the FGCU program were fueled in the offseason workouts by the missed opportunity, understanding that a slow first half against Mercer, in which they spotted the Bears a 16-point halftime lead, meant the difference between the NCAA tournament and the NIT. Thompson, Comer and Jamail Jones, the third returning starter, give FGCU an experienced perimeter attack, but it’s the addition of the newcomers that should continue to make it an exciting brand of basketball to watch.
“I think this is going to be the most skilled team that’s been here,” Comer said. “Talent-wise it’s amazing here.”
In a league that’s thinned out as Mercer and East Tennessee State both defected for the Southern Conference, leaving the A-Sun with only eight teams, Florida Gulf Coast has stockpiled pieces around its three returning starters. Whether it be the playing style or the fact that the team’s home court, Alico Arena, is less than a mile away from the beach, Florida Gulf Coast has been a consistent landing spot for high-major transfers. Half of the roster began their college careers elsewhere before arriving in Fort Myers.
Jones (Marquette) and Nate Hicks (Georgia Tech) made their contributions last season as transfers. This year, Julian DeBose (Rice) and Brian Greene Jr. (Auburn) add depth to the perimeter. A trio of big men — all 6-foot-8 or taller — Marc-Eddy Norelia (Tulane), Eric Moeller (Central Florida/Missouri) and Demetris Morant (UNLV) give the Eagles a versatile frontline, allowing them to keep their fast-paced, highlight-filled style of play intact.
“We’re really excited about our frontline,” Dooley said. “Marc-Eddy sat out last year and was a real energy guy in practice. Nate played a lot of minutes. Demetris we were fortunate he was given a waiver by the NCAA, and he is long and as athletic as any guy I’ve coached. Then, Eric Moeller has very good skills and I think he has a big upside. They’re all young, they’re all sophomores. We have a bright future on our frontline.”
Dooley, who took over this team in 2013 after Andy Enfield left for USC, spent 10 seasons on the bench at Kansas. Despite the decade of dominance the Jayhawks have put forth in the Big 12, Dooley isn’t sure if he’s every coached a pair of first-team all-conference players in the same back court before. It’s a luxury to have, the foundation for the future with multiple high-major transfers is set, coupled with the experience of two of the most decorated players in the program’s brief history in Thompson, the school’s all-time leading scorer and Comer, the all-time leader in assists.
“It’s vital,” Dooley added. “Their our best players, their who were building around. They’ll carry us as our frontline big guys catch up.”
Despite not watching a minute of the Mercer-Duke game, both Thompson and Comer understood what their rivals were experiencing, as both can recall the sights and sounds from the Wells Fargo Center locker room after FGCU knocked off Georgetown and San Diego State in a three-day span back in March 2013.
“I was actually happy for them,” Thompson said. “I felt the moment. I know how it feels. I know the excitement and what they were going through. You live for moments like this, to upset big teams. Just to be in that type of atmosphere, it’s a great feeling.”
Just like how the whole Dunk City phenomenon began, two of the last remaining pieces want to go out with a bang. Come March, Thompson doesn’t want to follow the NCAA tournament through his phone like he did this past spring. He’d rather have his cell on ‘Airplane Mode’ because Dunk City intends on taking flight one more time.
During the Atlantic 10 media day, I spoke with Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg about his team’s three-point dependence. Since he arrived at UMass, Kellogg’s squads were content to jack a high percentages of threes, consistently posting a three-point attempts percentage in the mid-30s. After asking Kellogg whether this trend would continue for the sixth year, he stressed the team would ease their diet of long-range indulgence: “We need to be even more selective from three this year because of the level of play [in the conference].” Against VCU, the Minutemen attempted eight threes, but whiffed on all eight (as he explained in the post game presser, “Once we were 0 for 6, I told my guys to stop shooting 3s. I told them, ‘Why settle? Get to the free throw line'”), the first time since March 2006 that a UMass team has failed to hit a three. As he maintained during the preseason, though, UMass is now more offensively efficient because of their refusal to settle — the squad’s three-point attempts percentage is 25.6 percent, one of the nation’s lowest rates, and just 20 percent of their A10 points come from beyond the arc (compared with the percentage of points, 60 percent, within the three-point line). In the win versus the Rams, UMass both got to the line (20 of 27) and didn’t force their offense (48 percent), scoring .94 PPP against a team that prides itself on wreaking defensive havoc.
Siena 67, Manhattan 63: If the Jaspers had made little more than half of 42 free throws they attempted versus Siena, Steve Masiello’s team would have secured the victory. The win is significant for two reasons: it muddies the top tier of the MAAC, as Manhattan is now third in conference play with two home games remaining; this is the biggest win for Jimmy Patsos at Siena, and since only ten other DI teams have less experience than this season’s squad, Siena should quickly ascend the MAAC rankings.
Florida Gulf Coast 75, Mercer 61: Is FGCU ready to make another run? Similar to last year’s squad, the Eagles lost to Mercer in their first regular season match-up before winning the next game (and in the case of the 2013 team, also winning the third game, which was the conference tournament title). Defense is analogous to success for new coach Joe Dooley, and the Eagles strove to limit Mercer to one offensive possession at a time, corralling an impressive 34 defensive rebounds.
Iona 80, Rider 77: With under fifteen minutes remaining in the second half, Iona, thanks to a made three from Sean Armand, led Rider by thirteen points. A scant fourteen minutes later, that lead was cut to three, and the Gaels, rather than let an opportunity to put a game between itself and Manhattan slip away, was forced to desperately hold on to the win. Iona’s usual suspects — Sean Armand and A.J. English — had twenty point games, but the real star was Rider’s Jimmie Taylor, a guard who scored 13 straight points in the final minutes.
Starred Travis Bader (Oakland)
The 6-foot-5 wing threw off the mental handcuffs Wright State had placed on him during Oakland’s recent loss, converting four of six threes and attempting twelve free throws in a win over UIC.
Jimmie Taylor (Rider)
A budding long-range star, Taylor scored 19 points overall in the loss, and was instrumental in Rider’s comeback.
Jamail Jones (Florida Gulf Coast)
Jones isn’t one to hang out on the interior all game and grab defensive rebounds — the wing has grabbed more than five defensive boards just a handful of occasions in 2014 — but his play on the glass (ten defensive rebounds) helped stymie Mercer’s offense.
Struggled Briante Weber (VCU)
Weber, whose spent this season transitioning to VCU’s full-time, true point guard, hit a large speed bump, committed six turnovers.
Steven Spieth (Brown)
Referees ruled Spieth had foul a Maodo Lo by impeding his path to a loose rebound, and Lo, an 84 percent free throw shooter, made both attempts to break to tie and give Columbia a home win.
Oakland has always been known more for its offensive, and not defensive, schemes, but the former Summit League member limited UIC to just over one point per possession and only twelve two-point field goal makes.
-It’s possible to make both the struggled and notables list in the same night! When Briante Weber recorded three steals, he became the first Ram to surpass 100 steals in a single season. He is swiping five steals per 40 minutes, and since VCU still has four regular season games remaining (not including the A10 tourney and a possible postseason appearance), Weber should boost this record substantially.
Florida Gulf Coast controls defensive glass in win, now tied for ASun lead
When Florida Gulf Coast made their run through the Atlantic Sun tournament, and then the first three rounds of the NCAAs, last season, ASun observers were heartily surprised. Sure, then coach Andy Enfield’s squad was an offensive treat, but Mercer, that was the team to beat in the conference! While FGCU lost to the Bears in their first ’13 match-up, the Eagles ultimately defeated the Bears in their second contest, and then in the ASun tourney.
This trip down memory lane is necessary to the 2014 ASun race because it appears that history might repeat itself. Mercer held sole possession of first place before tonight’s tilt against second-place FGCU, but both teams are now tied for first (12-3) after the Eagles defeated Mercer, 75-61. Now coached by former Kansas assistant Joe Dooley, FGCU was able to defeat the conference’s most efficient offense by absolutely dominating Mercer on the defensive glass. Led by ex-Marquette wing Jamail Jones (who had ten defensive boards), FGCU grabbed 70 percent of their opponent’s misses and held Mercer, a team that has converted more than 50 percent of their twos in league play, to just 39 percent within the arc. Dooley’s squad put on a defensive clinic, which perhaps isn’t a surprise considering he has transformed FGCU on that end.
Opposing teams have struggled mightily with their halfcourt offense when facing the current FGCU iteration. They don’t force many turnovers, and they aren’t great at limiting additional possessions, but the Eagles and their airtight man-to-man hold offenses to 43 percent from two. Since FGCU doesn’t foul either — their defensive FT rate ranks second within the ASun — teams have to hope they are connecting from deep to keep their offensive efficiency rate above one point possession.
The Eagles final three games are against the conference’s bottom tier, and one now has to wonder if FGCU will again make a run through their remaining games and then the ASun tourney. If they do, the Eagles will a new nickname, one that accurately captures their stingy defense.
After just one year of Division I eligibility, Florida Gulf Coast has already landed a former Top 100 recruit.
Jamail Jones, a 6-6 forward who spent his last two seasons playing for Buzz Williams at Marquette, has transferred to FGCU and will be eligible to play at the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
“Jamail has the unique combination of size, athleticism, and skill level that can help him become an exceptional scorer and versatile play-maker,” head coach Andy Enfield said in a statement. “He fits in perfectly with our other talented young players in our up-tempo style of play. I could not be more excited than to welcome Jamail and his wonderful parents to the FGCU basketball family.”
Jones averaged 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in his two seasons at Marquette, after attending high school at Montverde (Fla.), a national basketball powerhouse located in central Florida.
FGCU is building a strong foundation for itself, in the infancy of its Division I existence, also bringing in Nate Hicks, a 6-10 transfer from Georgia Tech, and 6-9 Iowa State transfer Eric McKnight.
Hicks will have to sit out the 2013-14 season, alongside Jones, but McKnight will be eligible for this upcoming season, after sitting out in 2011-12.
Those new additions will be added to a core that returns 85% of its scoring and 84% of its rebounding from last season.
The Eagles finished 15-17 last season, including 8-10 in the Atlantic Sun.