Believe me, I’m tired of all the timeouts, too. Is there anything more exasperating than flicking through four different channels and finding a commercial on every single one?
But despite its many flaws, I still love the NCAA Tournament. At a time when big money compels schools to switch leagues the way fans switch TV channels, the little guy can still rise up and beat the bully.
I’ve said for years that the opening Thursday and Friday of the NCAAs are the best two days in sports. Late Friday, I had a big smile on my face. Really, how could you beat what happened on the first two days this year, when the oldest and newest teams in Division I won a game for the first time?
On Thursday, the nation’s oldest college won a game for the first time. Harvard, which was founded in 1636 and had made the field only twice before, shocked New Mexico, the No. 3 seed in the West.
On Friday, Florida Gulf Coast, a 15th seed from the Atlantic Sun, upset Georgetown. Gulf Coast is the youngest of the NCAA’s 347 schools playing Division I sports. The college, located in Fort Myers, was founded in 1991.
It was a great story, but that was supposed to be the end of it. Gulf Coast would celebrate its one shining moment for 48 hours and come crashing to earth, like so many other one-shot Cinderellas through the years. The Eagles would lose the next game and leave the Big Dance to the big boys.
Gulf Coast didn’t get the memo. The Eagles showed up Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, cocky and confident, and shocked the world all over again. The Eagles pulled away from another favored opponent in a withering second half and beat seventh-seed San Diego State, 81-71.
Florida Gulf Coast, in its second year in Division I, became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Two days earlier, they had become just the seventh No. 15 to win a game. This team is no fluke. They were the better team against San Diego State, same as they were against Georgetown. They’re quick, they play solid defense in the post, and they have a couple of dynamic guards in 6-foot-4 senior Sherwood Brown and 6-3 sophomore point guard Brett Comer, who had a career-high 14 assists.
Gulf Coast, audacious in its cobalt blue and green uniforms, became the nation’s darling Friday. Their coach, Andy Enfield, gave up a lucrative career on Wall Street to coach the Eagles. His wife, Amanda, is a former supermodel.
In a conservative era when coaches micromanage every fraction of a second in a game, the Eagles play with a refreshing verve. They throw more lobs than any team I’ve seen. Boy, is Gulf Coast fun to watch. Watching them dunk those lobs, it brought me back to the “Phi Slama Jama” Houston team of 30 years ago.
Now FGCU gets a shot at Florida in the Sweet 16. The story just keeps getting better. Florida Gulf Coast has two years in Division I. Florida, led by Billy Donovan, has two national titles.
No team seeded 13th or worse has ever made it to the “Elite Eight.” The music generally stops early for the Cinderella teams. By the second round, it’s the middle-range teams that become the tournament sleepers.
Gonzaga used to be America’s darling. This year, they came into the tournament as the top seed in the West and the nation’s top-ranked team. Critics said the Zags were a soft No. 1 seed, and they showed it by getting upset by Wichita State on Saturday, 76-70.
Indiana, the top seed in the East, struggled to get past Temple on Sunday. Kansas didn’t look the role of a No. 1 seed against Western Kentucky in its first game. Ohio State, the No. 2 seed in the West, needed a buzzer-beater to beat 10th-seeded Iowa State on Sunday.
There’s more parity in college basketball than ever. The first week of the NCAAs proved it. Gulf Coast slammed the reality home. When a team that wasn’t even in D-I a couple of years ago can make a run, you know things are wide open.
There are about a dozen teams that had a claim to No. 1 during the regular season. The gap between those teams and the teams in the 30-40 range is narrower than ever. You could see it in those 1-9 and 2-10 matchups.
Nothing would surprise me from here. Any of the 16 remaining teams could make the Final Four in Atlanta. No team is invulnerable. I’m not going to rule out Florida Gulf Coast. If you changed the uniforms and put some established names on their jerseys, like “Illinois” or “Oklahoma” or “Oregon,” people would have taken them for a typical contender. They didn’t even win the Atlantic Sun regular season. Mercer did.
That’s the beauty of the tournament. No matter the size or age of the school, or the power of the conference, everyone has a chance.
Every once in awhile, a team comes along like a revelation, reminding us that some pretty good basketball gets played in obscure places.
It’s pretty fun, you must admit. The Gulf Coast players seemed to be having a ball. Late in Sunday’s game, as they were pulling away from the Aztecs, a guard named Christophe Varidel was actually kicking up his heels as he ran back down the floor.
As someone who loves this tournament for the underdog stories, for the little guys, I felt like kicking mine up, too.