Watch the news, pick up a paper, or browse the internet and you might not know who the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles’ opponent in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2013 NCAA Tournament is. You’d read about the little team that could; the school that is less than 25 years old and was known by few outside of the state of Florida’s borders until about one week ago. You might not see much about their opponent because you’d be reading about their head coach’s wife or about how the Eagles will most definitely advance to the Elite Eight. You would hear all about this underdog that has suddenly become the heavy favorite. And that makes the Florida Gators and their fans very happy.
No one wants to talk about the Gators. No, the focus is instead squarely on Florida Gulf Coast and a wonderment of just how far the Eagles can go. It’s not so much whether they can beat the Gators, but what will happen when they do beat the Gators. Oh, Florida is favored and you’d be hard pressed to find someone to argue that the Gators are the squad with less talent, but you wouldn’t know that this week. All you know is that Florida Gulf Coast is on a collision course with a national championship.
Well folks, that’s not going to happen. The Eagles are not going to win it all. By the time we all wake up on Saturday morning, Florida Gulf Coast could be out of the tournament altogether. Of course, the other side of that is that the Gators could be done. And that’s very true. I’m not guaranteeing a Florida win; that’s not like me in the least. I’m not saying Cinderella’s run is definitely over. I’m just wondering aloud if those out there are truly looking at the matchup, and I’m happy that many aren’t.
The Eagles’ advantage is their energy and athleticism. If you’ve only watched a small handful of Florida games this year, you know the Gators come out of the gate to start the second half with a speed of roughly half of what they normally play. In the third round, Florida saw a 21-point lead over Minnesota nearly evaporate. Once the Gators found their rhythm (a little too deep into the second half for my liking), they disposed of the Gophers and moved on. But there’s a red flag staring us all in the face and that’s that Florida could have lost that game and has lost others like it. I can’t say it will catch up with the Gators because it already has in the past. But it can’t happen against the little team that could. Can it?
Oh it can, but again that’s where planning and experience comes into play. The Gators need to make the game theirs early. They need to control the flow of the game and work to expose the Eagles’ weaknesses while not allowing Florida Gulf Coast to run for 40 minutes. Get the ball down low and allow Patric Young to control the basket. Get the ball to Erik Murphy and force his defender to come out to guard him. Florida can (and dare I say should) win this game and end Cinderella’s run.
The Gators have ended the dreams of more than one Cinderella in the past. Just one season ago, 15-seed Norfolk State upset 2-seed Missouri only to fall to the Gators in the next round by a staggering 34 points. In 2006, George Mason upset 6-seed Michigan State, 3-seed North Carolina, 7-seed Wichita State and 1-seed Connecticut on its way to the school’s first Final Four appearance. The Gators beat them by 15 in the national semifinals. Teams on rides like this tend to run out of stream. The wave they are riding dies and they become little more than a good story that had an expected end.
There are many out there that don’t want Florida Gulf Coast’s story to end just yet. The entire nation seems to be cheering for the Eagles. But there’s a group of us that aren’t. We are Florida fans and are fully behind the orange and blue. We’ve seen our own team win their first two games in the tourney by a combined 46 points. We know the Gators are the better team and hope they prove it on Friday night. We aren’t enamored by the hype and have even become angered by the ego. One week ago, we enjoyed Dunk City. Now, we’re glad the Gators are suddenly flying under the radar. Our team is the favorite that has become the underdog. And we’re all okay with that.