Someday, a 16-seed is going to beat a one-seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Somehow, someway, it's going to happen. So, is that day upon us? After annihilating Fairleigh Dickinson by putting up the most lopsided First Four victory since its inception, the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles are riding a dominating paint presence into Raleigh to take on the top-seeded Tar Heels of North Carolina. Could this finally be the moment a one-seed goes down at the hands of a 16-seed?
For those of you that weren't living under a rock in March of 2013, you're surely familiar with FGCU's run to the Sweet Sixteen. The Eagles stole America's hearts as the Cinderella of the tournament, earning the nickname Dunk City in the process. Their high-flying acrobatic dunks was a style rarely seen from such a low seed, and their free play allowed them to beat both Georgetown and San Diego State rather easily.
Well, FGCU is back in the Big Dance, but they don't feature the same fast-paced circus show that they gained national attention for. With their methodical offense and their suffocating defense, the Eagles of now are much better fundamentally than the Dunk City team. After serving as an assistant coach under Bill Self at Kansas for ten years, Joe Dooley is in his third season as head coach of the Eagles.
Since taking over after Andy Enfield departed for USC, Dooley has preached strong defense and limiting turnovers on offense. This season, Dooley's style was more apparent than ever as FGCU was the Atlantic Sun's best defensive team and was tied for the third best team in the conference for least amount of turnovers per game.
Now after dominating in Dayton, the Eagles, who were the first 15-seed to ever make it to the Sweet Sixteen, have a chance to accomplish a feat arguably even more impressive. Ever since the NCAA Tournament field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, a 16-seed has never beaten a one-seed. Florida Gulf Coast would once again put its name in the history books in a big way if they're able to pull off the W over North Carolina.
While the Dunk City team was admittedly more exciting to watch, the FGCU of now is just as dangerous. Led by junior forward Marc-Eddy Norelia, a transfer from Tulane who's averaging 17 points and nine rebounds per game, FGCU punishes opponents in the paint. Backed by junior Demetris Morant, a transfer from UNLV, and sophomore Antravious Simmons, a transfer from VCU, the frontcourt for the Eagles is deep and talented. As a starter, Morant represents a true Dunk City style player with his ridiculous leaping ability, but has developed a conventional post-up game under Dooley. Simmons on the other hand, who describes himself as a "banger" with his linebacker-like frame, comes off the bench and bullies his way under the basket. Can this trio match up with Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks? Well, if they stay out of foul trouble, they can definitely make things much more difficult than the typical bigs that mid-majors feature.
If FGCU is going to pull off the impossible against UNC, their bigs are going to have to continue to play huge. Despite the whole "North Carolina is a National Championship contender with a bunch of five-star recruits on its roster" fact, they're more similar to Florida Gulf Coast than you might realize. The majority of both of the teams' damage comes from inside the arc. In fact, both FGCU and UNC are in the top-five for percentage of points from two-pointers, with the Eagles at 61.2-percent and the Tar Heels at 61.9-percent. Neither team relies on three pointers, but if it comes down to a three-point shooting contest, the Eagles are shooting 34.6-percent compared to the Tar Heels' 31.4-percent.
While those numbers are all fine and dandy, North Carolina is still North Carolina, and Florida Gulf Coast is still Florida Gulf Coast. UNC usually has enough steam to make a tournament run on pedigree alone. So, how can the Eagles pull off what's never been done in March Madness history? Well, they're going to need a helluva lot of luck, and maybe even some divine intervention. Also, FGCU will have no choice but to knock down open three-pointers, because basketball.
However, this FGCU team is not your typical mid-major NCAA Tournament team, and that's why they could provide a worthy foe for North Carolina. Unlike other potential Cinderella teams, the Eagles don't rely on hot shooting from behind the long line. Instead, they're going to have guards like freshmen Zach Johnson and Reggie Reid pound the ball inside to Norelia, Morant, and Simmons, and let them go to work. The Tar Heels are the obvious favorite to win this game, as they should be, but it doesn't look like it's going to be a cakewalk. Still though, if Joe Dooley's Eagles can muscle up in the paint and knock down the trey when it's there, that, along with a few miracles, could possibly, maybe, be just enough to lift FGCU to the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history.