The two teams played nearly a month ago with the home team gaining some revenge for a loss last year in the biggest game of that season.
An overflow crowd saw a superb defensive effort as Mercer beat Florida Coast 68-55 at Hawkins Arena in a mighty ballyhooed battle of the A-Suns top two programs, that finished first and second in the regular season a year ago and played in the conference tournament championship.
Here we go again.
The first- and second-place teams in the A-Sun go at it against Friday night at Alico Arena in Fort Myers, Fla., in front of what should be another overflow crowd, this time with a national TV audience to go along with it.
Still, both teams are trying to keep their emotions and focus even keel.
Were treating this like a normal game, Florida Gulf Coast forward Chase Fieler said, echoing the same thought of Mercer center Monty Brown. Our preparation, we dont change from team to team. We dont let up on one team and try to prepare way more for another team.
Obviously from a fans standpoint, its bigger for them, but we try to make sure we prepare the same way so we go into every game with the right mentality.
Players say that, but practice no doubt this week has been at least a little different in the short but intense rivalry.
The Eagles have beaten Mercer twice in the A-Sun tournament, highlighted by last years championship game win.
Most basketball fans know what followed. Florida Gulf Coast won twice in the NCAA tournament, and the college basketball world soon got a big crush on Florida Gulf Coast.
This years meetings grew in anticipation when the A-Sun changed the tournament format to campus locales with the higher seeds hosting, and then when the teams were picked first and second (Florida Gulf Coast first) in the preseason.
Seeding has never been so big, and thats why the first meeting was announced as a sellout almost two weeks ago. For Fridays game, every seat at Alico that had a price tag attached to it -- every one not set aside for students -- was bought and paid for.
I heard they sold out in like 15, 20 minutes, the non-student section parts, Mercer forward Bud Thomas said. So, I mean, its going to be a pretty hostile environment.
All 1,500 student tickets have been grabbed, and the word scalping is being used in the Naples-Fort Myers area. Standing-room only capacity is 4,633, and its doubtful the doors will shut when thats reached.
We all see the Tweets and newsletters about, Gulf Coast is sold out, and its a white out, standing room only, Mercer senior center Daniel Coursey said. It is a fun game, Im sure, to watch. It is fun to play, especially in an atmosphere like it was the last time and has been in the past.
Everything Florida Gulf Coast accomplished in two weeks last March with flashy wins over Georgetown and San Diego State as a 15th seed in the NCAA tournament continues to linger. Lost in that is that Mercer leads the series 11-4 and has knocked off more big-name regular-season opponents the past two years. Some of that is likely to come up during the ESPNU broadcast.
Of course, this is just one game. Both teams play Sunday and twice next week. Still, its big. One reason is because this is the end of the budding rivalry for a while, thanks to Mercer moving to the Southern Conference just as things were heating up. Being apart, however, doesnt mean there wont be bragging after the season.
Mercer has a one-game lead on Florida Gulf Coast in the A-Sun, thanks to the Eagles stumble at East Tennessee State 13 days ago. Should the Eagles win on Friday and forge the tie for first, and both teams win out (Mercer at Stetson on Sunday, at home against North Florida and Jacksonville, Florida Gulf Coast against Kennesaw State on Sunday and at Lipscomb and at Northern Kentucky), the tiebreaker -- record against the team next in the standings -- goes into effect.
East Tennessee State and USC Upstate are tied for third, a half-game ahead of North Florida.
Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman knows what his team will face, but he is confident in his senior-led groups ability to draw on its experiences to stay calm.
When you have the guys that we have, and theyve been where theyve been and the places theyve played in, I think our guys will respond, Hoffman said. I feel good that theyre going to give an amazing effort. And you hope thats good enough.