Florida Gulf Coast made the madness memorable

mlough@macon.comMarch 31, 2013 

Every time I saw something on the tube, I actually got some goose bumps.

And every time I saw something, I imagined one or 10 people who worked at a college or 15, near and far, throwing something.

By the time Friday night’s tipoff against Florida came, yeah, I was a little worn out with the barrage of all that is Florida Gulf Coast.

I feel like I’ve seen Andy Enfield more in 10 days than I saw Bob Hoffman in 10 weeks.

My next haircut, I was worried I’d ask for a Sherwood Brown (oh, the laughter that would’ve ensued). I still kind of want Brett Comer to lob the ball to me so I can dunk (oh, the laughter that would’ve ensued).

There has been some complaining about Florida Gulf Coast’s hijacking of the NCAA tournament.

Get over it. Enjoy it. Grow up and respect the accomplishment, just as you’d want opponents to grow up and respect your accomplishment.

The conference’s membership -- meaning presidents and athletics directors first and foremost -- must embrace it and encourage embracing it, publicly and privately. And deal with the fact that it took a newbie to raise the conference’s profile so incredibly much. Who knew it wouldn’t be Belmont’s men or Florida Gulf Coast’s women to break the NCAA seal?

The trickle-down effect will be huge for the A-Sun and its hoops.

Mercer and Lipscomb have been mentioned regularly throughout the past several days, as the team that won the A-Sun regular-season title and as the team that swept the team that thumped Georgetown and San Diego State. Hoffman has been consulted from coast to coast, from ESPN to radio in San Diego.

Florida Gulf Coast’s loss Friday night was no shock, nor would a win have been. No doubt some folks who have sweated in orange and black watched the game Friday night and nodded their heads, “Yeah, that’s kind of how we did it.”

Florida beat Florida Gulf Coast the same way Mercer beat Florida Gulf Coast: patience, fundamental defense, discipline, teamwork. The Gators weathered an early barrage, stuck with the game plan, refused to let an off night shooting get in the way and defended.

That’s pretty much how Mercer won the regular season and played a pair of NIT games.

Of course, Florida Gulf Coast did more to itself than Florida did, committing way too many unforced mistakes. Nevertheless, it hit me last weekend: anticipation for next season even before the Final Four.

Might we have an honest-to-goodness rivalry in this conference with Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast? Who can break whose heart? Make no mistake, they’ll be first and second in the preseason polls, and the pressure will be huge on both. Fortunately for Mercer, it’ll be greater on Florida Gulf Coast (and with eight seniors, it’s still pretty hefty on the Bears).

Frankly, if both games next season aren’t turn-people-away affairs -- barring early-season implosions -- then something is seriously wrong.

The Eagles did what the Belmont didn’t do, what East Tennessee State certainly hasn’t done and what veteran conference programs haven’t come close to doing: shoot the A-Sun profile out of a cannon.

No, Mercer wouldn’t have gotten the same national love with two wins for a variety of reasons. Mercer plays a style for those who read, while the Twitter world gobbled up Florida Gulf Coast (which is much, much more than just Dunk City).

Mercer is a purist’s dream while Florida Gulf Coast made a highlight editor’s job easy. Those differing styles add to what the two teams can do for the conference.

The Eagles have added some juice that even Belmont couldn’t provide. Combine the storm of how it all went down this March, in a variety of areas, and there is legitimate chance for us to be talking about the A-Sun being a two-bid conference next year.

There are no locks, of course, and the glorious world of the NCAA tournament is littered with the carcasses of Cleveland State, Nevada, Kent State, Southwest Missouri State, Loyola Marymount, Richmond and Princeton. Those not enamored with shiny objects know that the Eagles will be different next year, despite losing only two seniors. There are newcomers, and there will be expectations.

And there will be memories, for those in this conference and those who love basketball and underdogs. Thanks, Florida Gulf Coast, for the ride. Now, get the target sewed on to those uniforms.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or mlough@macon.com

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