Hats off to Andy Enfield and the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles for a thrilling ride through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The upstart program from the Atlantic Sun has become the best Cinderella story in years, maybe in the history of the big dance. Not only did they become only the seventh 15 seed to knock off a #2, they kept the party going by becoming the first 15 seed to make the Sweet Sixteen. And how about this? Neither game was really even close. What Enfield and his staff have done in their short time in Fort Myers is nothing short of incredible and his team deservedly has plenty of swagger right now.Plenty questions arose as FGCU was stealing the show during the tournament’s action-packed first weekend. FGC-Who? Isn’t that a Juco? How did Andy Enfield get a wife like that? Even Charles Barkley wanted to know, “Where the hell is Florida Gulf Coast?” Many people, after watching the Eagles play so well, asked how FGCU could suffer regular season losses to teams like Stetson, East Tennessee State and Lipscomb (twice).
The answer is that while the Eagles looked invincible on their way to a historic Sweet Sixteen appearance, they do have weaknesses. Unlike Georgetown and San Diego State, teams in the Atlantic Sun were able to expose these weaknesses and ground the Eagles’ high flying act at times this season. Here are a few things the Florida Gators must do on Friday night in order to make sure Cinderella’s clock strikes midnight in Dallas.
- Make FGCU play a halfcourt game-With Brett Comer pushing and bigs Eddie Murray, Chase Fieler and Eric McKnight filling lanes, the Eagles are terrific in transition. Florida has to limit their fast break baskets. In Lipscomb’s two wins against the Eagles, the Bisons made it a point to “get a jam” on Comer in the backcourt, meaning they didn’t allow him to catch an outlet pass with a head of steam. Every time Comer catches an outlet pass, there needs to be e a Gator right in front of him so he has to work to get the ball up the court.
- Give Comer a gap-While the Gators want to pick Comer up deep in the backcourt, they don’t want to over-pressure him. It is very difficult to speed Comer up and get him out of control. He doesn’t beat you with jumpshots, so give him a gap and keep him in front. Once he gets in the paint, it’s danger, so Florida should beware of gambling or he will make them pay.
- Make Comer finish-Brett Comer is big and strong enough to get in the paint and finish some plays, but I don’t think he can beat you doing this. What he really wants to do is draw defenders and kick to open shooters or throw lobs to the Eagles’ post players. When Comer gets in the paint, the Gators should stay locked into Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson on the wings and keep a body on the high-flying bigs. Comer will make some plays in there, but by making him finish, you avoid the highlight reel dunks that energize this team. What really gets this team going is when Comer starts spreading the ball around like Tom Brady, getting everyone involved.
- Attack them inside-While the Eagles’ frontcourt players are extremely long and athletic, none of them are very physical. Lipscomb center Stephen Hurt went for 36 points and 22 rebounds in two victories against FGCU this season. Fieler and McKnight each fouled out of both games. Patric Young is more physical and needs to be aggressive offensively.
- Don’t be scared to zone-Billy Donovan has played zone defense throughout this season, and it could be effective against FGCU. In their two tournament wins, FGCU has shot 39% from 3-point range, but during the regular season, the Eagles ranked fifth in the Atlantic Sun in 3-point percentage (34%) and 3’s made per game (6.75). Playing zone also helps keep Comer and company out of the paint and slows down their fast-paced attack.
After their win against San Diego State, Coach Andy Enfield said, “When you have Brett Comer, Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson in your backcourt, you are pretty good.” These guys certainly make the Eagles go. Florida must contain these three to advance to the Elite Eight and bring the party in Dunk City to an end.
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