Jerry's World in Arlington, Texas is the site for the South Regional and just like everything else in Texas it will be a big event. Florida has made its way back to the sweet 16 and used Thursday’s practice and workout to get familiar with the surroundings. One of the most important aspects of playing basketball in a football stadium is the site lines. It’s especially important for three point shooters and the depth perception. Billy Donovan has had many teams in this type of setting so expect the Gators to blend in nicely. The set up will allow over 40,000 fans to make their way inside the mammoth football complex. The Gators are shooting 38% from behind the arc on the season which places them in the top 25 in the country.
After arriving in Dallas early this Thursday morning it was quite evident that the story was Florida Gulf Coast and their run to the sweet 16. The small school from Ft. Myers is not only the story of the region, but the entire country. This region alone features two teams with great history and tradition in Kansas and Michigan. Both programs were ranked number one in the polls this season. Florida has two National titles and consecutive elite eight appearances and has been on the scene for over a decade under Billy Donovan. However the local fans are gobbling up tickets to see “Lob City" south and FGCU. I expect the fans of Michigan and Kansas to jump behind the Eagles making it a road game for the Gators.
First Billy Donovan has had great success in the tournament by following a strict philosophy of not looking at seeds. It’s almost similar to what Chip Kelly did at Oregon with his faceless opponent mantra. Here is what Donovan had to say about playing Cinderella. “The country may give a team a label, but we never do that, Donovan said. We look at a team on film and see what they do and the things that we have to do. We’ve got to prepare for this game like we would any other game.”
Gator players gave plenty of praise to Florida Gulf Coast, but you could tell being in the open locker room for 30 minutes that they felt a little bit slighted. They quickly pointed to the success of the Eagles offense in the second halves of games. You could tell they were all talking the same language and look forward to the challenge of being the underdog.
About Florida Gulf Coast:
They have won 14 of 16 and their 7 game win streak is the 4th longest in the country. They are 14-2 when they have five or more dunks in a game and have 144 for the season. FGCU is the first team since Florida in 1987 to win their first two games in the NCAA tournament. Florida Gulf Coast joined the Atlantic Sun in 2007, and this season marked only its second year of eligibility for Division I postseason play.
Final Thought from Thursday
Lots of talk about the state of Florida being a basketball state with three teams in the sweet 16 but it’s a football state folks. It’s a better place to go play college basketball than 20 years ago and Billy Donovan deserves all the credit for that. But on the high school level, the best athletes play football in Florida because of the weather and the outdoors. Vince Carter is one of the best that ever played in Florida and he left the state to North Carolina. However that was before the renaissance we are seeing across the state in college hoops. Maybe today he would stay home and play at Florida or even Florida Gulf Coast.