College Basketball Nation: Andy Enfield

Weekend homework: Hollywood rivalry

January, 3, 2014
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Most meetings between crosstown rivals UCLA and USC in basketball haven’t had compelling enough storylines to pique national interest. That’s not the case this season.

USC hired Andy Enfield, who parlayed his unprecedented success last postseason in guiding No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast into the Sweet 16, bringing his Dunk City brand of hoops to the West.

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Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesAndy Enfield turned up the heat on the USC-UCLA basketball rivalry with his comments.
It turns out that the fast-paced, in-your-face style of play wasn’t limited to the court.

Two statements have the potential to ignite the UCLA-USC basketball rivalry more than in any of the previous 238 meetings.

Enfield, in an article published in the December issue of Men’s Journal, launched the first salvo when responding to a booster’s question about going head-to-head with UCLA and its first-year coach, Steve Alford: “I don’t worry about them. I’ve made it to one Sweet 16 in two years, and he’s made it to one Sweet 16 in 18 years.”

That was intentionally done for an audience. But Enfield’s first verbal jab reportedly happened behind closed doors. He told his team during an October practice attended by a San Jose Mercury-News reporter, “We play up-tempo basketball here; if you want to play slow, go to UCLA.”

Here’s the part where you can insert your own metaphor about a perfectly scripted rivalry for Hollywood.

Enfield tried to walk his practice quote back during Pac-12 media day, saying that he was being sarcastic and “it certainly was not to disrespect Steve or what he’s doing.” Enfield went on to say: “I understand the UCLA-USC rivalry is great for college basketball, as well as all the other sports within the city, and we look forward to being part of that. But I certainly respect what they’re doing and what I said was meant … for my team and for my team only.”

Maybe, but we all heard it now. And surely they did in Westwood, too, no matter how much Alford and the Bruins might try to downplay it.

UCLA can’t feign indifference in this one. USC has won five of the last 11 meetings in Pauley Pavilion (with one Trojans win vacated due to sanctions). Sunday's game is in Pauley.

The Bruins, led by Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, are more talented on paper. But one thing Enfield won’t have to worry about is pace. UCLA averages 85.5 points, which is their highest output since the 1995 national championship team. So much for playing slow.

Season of Change: USC speed?

October, 28, 2013
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Now that you know what you need to watch in every conference in the country, we turn our attention to the theme of change -- from coaching changes to player development to good old-fashioned rules. First up: How quickly can USC get quick?

Ground was broken for the Galen Center, USC's first on-campus basketball arena, in October 2004. A month later, USC hired former Utah coach Rick Majerus. The implication then was clear: After 100 years spent as an afterthought, and half a century in an old municipal gym, a new day had come.

Nine years later, the venue is the only thing about USC basketball that has changed.

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Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesCan Andy Enfield turn around USC?

Whether former Florida Gulf Coast coach and human meme Andy Enfield can finally change this trajectory is an open question that won't be answered in one season. (For more on Enfield's long-term task, see Dana O'Neil's piece today.) More pressing for our purposes, though, is what Enfield will change right now -- whether he can shape his current players in the image of the thrilling run-and-dunk FGCU team that got him to L.A. this spring.

This looks, at first glance, like an immensely difficult thing to do. In 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12, Kevin O'Neill's USC teams were among the slowest and most risk-averse in the country. They ranked outside the top 300 in adjusted tempo each season. They played truly tough, physical defense and truly putrid, inept offense. The end result was unwatchable.

Enfield won't want his teams to be unwatachable even if said unwatchability was effective. In Year 1 of a rebuild, it's the nightmare scenario. But here's the good news: These Trojans might not be -- or need not be -- as speed-challenged as you think.

Even before O'Neill was fired in mid-January of last season, he was letting USC get up and down the floor in totally uncharacteristic ways; when associate head coach Bob Cantu took over, the Trojans didn't slow. The end result was an adjusted tempo of 67.5 possessions per game -- a drastic increase from 2011-12 (61.4). Meanwhile, FGCU wasn't always blitzing people at breakneck speed: The Eagles averaged 69.1 possessions per game, 42nd most in the country. The easy storyline -- a run-and-gun coach taking over a roster of players used to 55-trip grinders -- isn't as drastic as you might think.

What's more, USC's best returning players, guards J.T. Terrell and Byron Wesley, are comfortable at pace. Per Synergy scouting data, the Trojans ended 15.3 percent of their offensive possessions in transition -- second most of any play type. Of those 365 plays, Terrell and Wesley combined to run on 186 of them. As a duo, they averaged around a point per trip.

This is easily Enfield's best hope of getting the Trojans to at least be entertaining in Year 1. Neither Terrell nor Wesley set the world ablaze on the break last season, but they were better in that context than any other, and this season they will be running not as a matter of disorganization but with an entire philosophy at their backs.

Enfield has plenty of changes to make at the Galen Center. Some are overhauls. Others are tweaks. Believe it or not, the Trojans' transition might be closer to the latter than the former.


The SoCal recruiting war is upon us

September, 13, 2013
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Something has always stood in the way. For decades, it was John Wooden's unapproachable dominance. For just as long, it was USC's inability to care about basketball. In recent years, even the Trojans' most engaged hoops moments -- a flashy new arena, the inspired hiring of Rick Majerus, apparent recruiting momentum under Tim Floyd -- have almost always fallen flat.

Majerus, who passed away in 2012, withdrew from the job after five days, citing his already flagging health (and, later, his mother's disapproval of the distance). Floyd's greatest recruiting success, landing star O.J. Mayo out of the ether, was subsumed by accusations that he hand-delivered an envelope of money to a Mayo handler; he resigned while under NCAA investigation in 2009. (Eventually, the NCAA ruling forced USC to vacate the 2007-08 season … during which USC won all of 21 games. If you have to vacate a season in which you won fewer than 30 games, you are doing it wrong.) Then came the Kevin O'Neill era, about which the less said the better.

Of course, it has not been the most enjoyable era of UCLA basketball, either. Sure, while USC was hiring and then not-hiring Majerus (and how different this story could have been had he taken the job) the Bruins went to three straight Final Fours under Ben Howland. But Howland lost control of his program soon after. George Dohrmann's famous Sports Illustrated piece ("Special Report: Not the UCLA Way," which is now every sports information director's go-to cold sweat nightmare) spelled impending doom, and one last-ditch recruiting class couldn't save the day.

This spring, UCLA fired Howland and hired New Mexico coach Steve Alford. That didn't go so well, either. It did, however, coincide nicely with USC's hiring of Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield.

A UCLA program brought low. A USC program with an aggressive, exciting young coach with nothing to lose. A great modern leveling has put both programs in places they aren't particularly accustomed to: recruiting against each other.

This competitive dynamic has been playing out in gyms and over text messages all summer, but it took until September for the first public salvos to be fired. On Sept. 2, Indianapolis native and top-50 2014 wing Trevon Bluitt committed to UCLA, the first proof of Alford's concept that his Indiana connections would give the Bruins a pipeline in the midwest. (Alford hired Bluiett's former high school coach, Ed Schilling, as an assistant.) Bluiett committed after a visit he shared with Louisville decommit and the No. 7-ranked 2014 point guard, Quentin Snider, whom analysts predicted would sign with UCLA.

Recruiting is a constantly shifting mass of causes and effects, actions and reactions. On Wednesday, Jordan McLaughlin, the No. 18 player in the ESPN 100, committed to USC. McLaughlin, who attended Etiwanda High in San Bernandino, Calif., was long considered a favorite to select UCLA. But the firing of Howland at UCLA and hiring of Enfield at USC -- and Enfield's ability to sell McLaughlin on a roll as his flashy uptempo distributor and, yes, UCLA's increased focus on Snider -- convinced the highly-touted point guard to choose the Trojans instead.

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Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesNew USC coach Andy Enfield and the Trojans added point guard Jordan McLaughlin, the No. 18 player in the ESPN 100, this week.
Then, on Thursday, Snider surprised almost everyone by choosing Illinois. (John Groce reportedly worked hard to get Snider on campus one last time before he made his decision. It paid off. Don't look now, but Groce is going to get Illinois good again in a hurry.) More cause, more effect: On Friday, Jeff Goodman reported that Isaac Hamilton, who initially signed with UTEP, had chosen his Southern California destination after all.

This is where things get especially confusing. Hamilton, you see, was the prize of UTEP's 2013 class. UTEP, as you may know, is coached by Tim Floyd. This summer, Hamilton had second thoughts about his letter of intent -- his family said he wanted to stay closer to home, wanted his ailing grandmother to be able to see him play. They were also "triggered," Hamilton's father said, by rumors that Floyd could return to USC. (For some reason, USC AD Pat Haden had called Floyd about the USC job. Your guess is as good as mine.)

In July, Floyd out-and-out accused USC of tampering:
Floyd is suspicious. He said he was called by two Pac-12 coaches and one WCC head coach saying Isaac was going to get out of his NLI. He called new USC coach Andy Enfield and told him to back off of Hamilton and said on June 4 he got a text from the Hamiltons saying that Isaac wasn't going to go to the first summer session and was concerned about what that would mean. […]
"I called Andy Enfield and he told me he's not taking Isaac Hamilton, that 'we're out of that.' But I told him the damage had already been done," Floyd said.

As recently as last week, Floyd was sticking to his guns.
"I'm sorry his grandmother is having health problems," Floyd said in July. "But what I'm doing, I'm doing for UTEP and for everyone else. The NLI is in place so you can field a team. Young people don't have to sign a national letter of intent. You can sign a scholarship paper. The policy is in place to protect the institutions after they've spent all this money in recruiting and built their schedule around and turned down other players."

Floyd's refusal to let Hamilton out of his NLI doesn't mean he can't play somewhere else. But it does mean he has to wait a season to play, and pay tuition while doing so. Which meant that a former USC coach was preventing a would-be USC player from playing at the school because he, the old USC coach, thought a new USC coach had been tampering. See? Confusing.

Even more confusing? After all that, Hamilton didn't even choose USC. He chose UCLA. From Jeff Goodman's report:
Hamilton, who is from Los Angeles, said he wanted to play closer to his ailing grandmother. He was thought to be headed to Southern California, but the Trojans backed off and UCLA wound up admitting him just one day after new Bruins coach Steve Alford lost out on guard Quentin Snider to Illinois.

Causes and effects, actions and reactions. Elite recruits from California choosing between USC and UCLA; allegations of tampering leveled at a school that didn't even get the player they allegedly tampered with.

I think this means it's official. Begun, the SoCal recruiting war has. It's about time.
1. New Butler coach Brandon Miller couldn't have had the summer lay out better for him with the decision by assistants Michael Lewis and Terry Johnson to stay on the Bulldogs staff. It's unclear if either had a shot to go with former coach Brad Stevens to the Boston Celtics, but the point is moot now. A much bigger coup is that the team's scheduled trip to Australia is still on for August. Miller didn't know the Butler players -- he came back to the school in April after spending a year at Illinois as a special assistant and the year before that doing pharmaceutical sales. The trip gives him 10 practices and four games Down Under. "I couldn't ask for a better time to be here,'' Miller said during our ESPNU college basketball podcast Tuesday. "We've got our Hinkle campaign (to update the famed arena), the Big East, and the new locker room, scoreboard and chair-back seating. The Australia trip is a huge advantage. It gives us a chance to bond."

2. The 2013-14 season will be crucial for the Atlantic 10's efforts to continue the momentum it built last season with La Salle's run to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 from the First Four. The top three teams return in Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Louis and La Salle, though the league loses Xavier and Butler. The A-10 will need that top three to stay on top, with a deeper second tier in Richmond, Saint Joseph's and Massachusetts. George Mason is the wild card in its first year in the league (Davidson joins in 2014-15). Dayton, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure are all more than capable of cracking the aforementioned crew. The A-10 gets overshadowed by the Big East and might at times by the American. That's why this is an important year for the A-10 to re-establish its foothold in the East.

3. USC made it official with the transfer of UNLV's Katin Reinhardt. As with Darion Clark, transferring from Charlotte, Reinhardt will have to sit out next season. The Trojans, meanwhile, are trying to get Maryland transfer Pe'Shon Howard eligible immediately. Don't be surprised to see this kind of roster-building under Andy Enfield. He'll have to balance transfers, those who can play immediately and players he can stash for a year in his effort to create balanced classes. Oregon has made this an art in the Pac-12. Arizona State has gotten into the mix in attempting to climb up faster. Enfield is well-versed in compiling a roster in a variety of ways. To ensure USC is a viable player over the next two seasons, the Trojans will have to take some gambles.

Video: Better hire -- USC or UCLA?

April, 2, 2013
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Seth Greenberg, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless discuss USC's hiring of Andy Enfield and UCLA's hiring of Steve Alford.

 
ARLINGTON, Texas -- At 11:46 p.m. CT on Friday at Cowboys Stadium, a group of Florida fans rose from their seats and began a rather sobering chant.

“Al-most mid-night!,” they yelled. “Al-most mid-night!”

Standing on the nearby court, Florida Gulf Coast’s players could only hang their heads. The clock was about to strike 12 on one of the better Cinderella stories in NCAA tournament history. The first No. 15 seed ever to advance to the Sweet 16 finally came off its cloud in a 62-50 loss to Florida.

“We made history,” guard Brett Comer said. “We did something that nobody in the nation thought we would do. I just hate that it has to end.”

The rest of America -- other than Florida fans, of course -- likely feels the same way.

The Eagles might have lost, but they hardly looked out of place or outclassed against third-seeded Florida, which advanced to the Elite Eight for the third consecutive season. The Gators (29-7) play Michigan at 2:20 p.m. ET Sunday for a chance to go to the Final Four.

FGCU came out on fire and led 15-4 at the 13:38 mark of the first half. And it was 24-14 after Christophe Varidel made three straight foul shots with 5:23 remaining. Florida, though, ended the first half on a 16-2 run and controlled the game after intermission.

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Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSherwood Brown, the lone senior among FGCU's starters, buries his head after the Eagles' loss.
“When they started their run, we didn’t have the energy we did in the other two games,” Eagles forward Chase Fieler said. “It got us down. We weren’t playing with the same energy, the same fire we showed before.

“They’re a great team and they did a great job of slowing us down and making us run our plays from five feet deeper than we wanted to. They got us out of our game.”

Indeed, Florida’s overall defense and physicality in the paint ended up being too much for the Eagles, who had 20 turnovers and were outrebounded on the offensive glass 13-5.

“I thought we did a great job of putting pressure on those guys and making them feel uncomfortable,” Florida guard Mike Rosario said.

Rosario scored 15 points while backcourt mate Scottie Wilbekin added 13. Three FGCU players (Sherwood Brown, Fieler and Varidel) all scored in double figures for a team that shot 45.5 percent from the field.

“I think that, for whatever reason, they felt like the two teams they played before us (No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State) disrespected them,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I don’t know if that’s true or not. But we certainly went into the game with a lot of respect for them.”

Brown is the only senior in the Eagles’ starting lineup, so there’s a good chance we haven’t heard the last of Florida Gulf Coast (26-11), which might have been under-seeded at No. 15. Coach Andy Enfield’s squad beat eventual ACC champion Miami during nonconference play.

“We learned that we can play with anyone in the nation,” Comer said. “We learned that we can literally do anything that we put our minds to if we play with the right energy.

“We did some things here that will never be forgotten.”

 
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A quick look at Florida's 62-50 victory over Florida Gulf Coast in a South Regional semifinal Friday at Cowboys Stadium:

Overview: FGCU's moment in the national spotlight is over. At least for this season. The first No. 15 seed in history to advance to the Sweet 16 saw its magical NCAA tournament run end at the hands of the third-seeded Gators.

The Eagles (26-11) committed 20 turnovers against Florida's menacing defense and never could respond after the Gators closed the first half on a 16-2 run. Michael Frazier II made back-to-back 3-pointers to ignite Florida's march, which turned a 24-14 deficit into a 30-26 lead.

Florida (29-7) surged ahead by as many as 13 points in the second half, but Andy Enfield's FGCU team kept the score respectable and never completely went away.

The Gators advanced to play Michigan in the South Regional final at 2:20 p.m. ET Sunday at Cowboys Stadium. This will mark the third consecutive season Billy Donovan's squad has appeared in the Elite Eight. Florida has not advanced to the Final Four since 2007.

Key player: Mike Rosario scored 15 points for Florida and Scottie Wilbekin added 13. Sherwood Brown (14 points), Chase Fieler (12) and Christophe Varidel (10) tallied double figures for Florida Gulf Coast.

Key stat(s): Florida forced 20 turnovers and won the battle of the offensive boards, 13-5.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Leading scorer Sherwood Brown was a walk-on. Guard Bernard Thompson’s awkward shot scared most schools away. Dunking phenom Eddie Murray scored 11 points in an entire season two years ago.

Point guard Brett Comer led the Atlantic Sun Conference in assists this season. Not bad for a guy who had no idea how to play the position when he arrived in college.

These are the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 -- and the team you’ll be rooting for Friday evening.

Unless you’re a Florida fan, of course.

The third-seeded Gators (28-7) will try to avoid becoming FGCU’s latest upset victim when the teams square off in the South Regional semifinals at Cowboys Stadium. Andy Enfield’s squad opened NCAA tournament play by defeating 2-seed Georgetown and 7-seed San Diego State.

“We know the nation is behind us,” Murray said. “Everybody loves a Cinderella.”

Especially this Cinderella, with its motley crew of a roster filled with basketball vagabonds and unlikely success stories. The Eagles’ personalities make them easy to root for -- and their loose, high-flying, slam-dunking style of play has made them the must-watch team of the tournament.

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Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsLeonard Livingston and FGCU are enjoying the ride to the Sweet 16, where No. 3 Florida is next.
“Our main goal is to have fun,” Comer said. “You’ll see Sherwood Brown with some kiss-blowing, some flexing. You’ll see Christophe Varidel do a heel click after a 3. It’s just the way we are.”

And that’s fine with Enfield.

“It’s the personality of our players and our team and our culture,” he said. “What you’re seeing is genuine. They enjoy being here. They enjoy playing the game of basketball.”

The Eagles (26-10) have certainly earned the respect of their opponent.

“It’s tremendous what they’ve done,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s been a great ride for them. NCAA tournament-history-wise, this has never happened. It’s a state-of-the-art, new thing.”

And the Florida Gulf Coast campus is relishing it.

When forward Chase Fieler walked into the bookstore on the school's Fort Myers campus this week, he said the place was so packed he could hardly move.

“You can’t really describe the atmosphere on campus,” he said. “It’s just been a busy week, with the attention and the media being around. It’s exciting.

“At the first news conferences [last week], people weren’t really sure what questions to ask us. They looked at us with blank stares. Now they’re asking us how we’re preparing for a No. 3 team, or they have questions for us personally. No matter what happens from here on out, this is something we’ll never forget.”

WHOM TO WATCH

Florida’s Erik Murphy, Patric Young, Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario each average between 10.3 and 12.8 points per game. Guard Scottie Wilbekin is the Gators’ defensive specialist. Florida Gulf Coast’s Eddie Murray and Chase Fieler have produced some of the NCAA tournament’s best dunks thus far.

WHAT TO WATCH

Florida Gulf Coast is the first 15-seed to advance to the Sweet 16, so it’d obviously be a huge feat if the Eagles ended up in the Elite Eight. Florida has lost in the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons.

STAT TO WATCH

Billy Donovan’s Gators have been brutal in close contests this season. Florida is 0-6 in games decided by single digits.

Andy Enfield, the 'Dunk City' shot doctor

March, 26, 2013
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Andy Enfield had a cushy job and a nice living in the New York financial world, but somehow, he knew everything was supposed to lead back to basketball.
The kids started counting the makes while the man kept on talking.

One in a row, two in a row, five, 20 -- with each swish Andy Enfield never lost his train of thought, never interrupted his dialogue with the kids who quickly were hanging on his every word.

"He's shooting left-handed, making shot after shot and backing up further and further and the kids are all cheering," said Don Woodring, a high school girls' coach who witnessed Enfield in action. "Then all of a sudden, after he's making one after another at halfcourt, he stops and says, 'Oh by the way, I'm actually right-handed.'

This was about 16 years ago -- or around the same time that Enfield's current employer was opening its campus doors -- at a tiny public high school in New Jersey that you wouldn't go searching for unless you had to.

Read more on Enfield from Dana O'Neil.
1. Wichita State's Gregg Marshall doesn't have to move since he has a stable, lucrative deal. He now heads the dominant team in the Missouri Valley Conference, and if he wants to leave, he can stay until the right, plumb job comes along. But La Salle's John Giannini and Andy Enfield of Florida Gulf Coast are in a different situation. La Salle is a very difficult program to sustain, as evidenced by how long it took it to get back in the tournament. The A-10 is certainly changing with Xavier, Butler, and possibly more teams, leaving. If Giannini could get a Big Ten gig then he'd have to go. Enfield will never be hotter than he is right now, regardless of what happens this weekend. If he's content to stay put then that's fine. But he's a viable candidate in the Big Ten (Northwestern and Minnesota) where both ADs are looking for the next big thing. Both Northwestern and Minnesota have favorites in Chris Collins of Duke and Shaka Smart of VCU but Enfield and Giannini could end up being dark horses in these two searches or others. Lehigh's Brett Reed could have moved a year ago after upsetting Duke. He stayed put. His star player C.J.McCollum got hurt and the Mountain Hawks didn't make the field. That shouldn't change Reed's candidacy but you don't hear his name this month.

2. Smart has now become the most-coveted coach. If he wanted to push he could likely have the pick of the Minnesota, UCLA or USC jobs. Or he could stay put at VCU. I wouldn't be at all surprised by the latter. Smart could have had the Illinois job, but stayed at VCU. He coached the Rams to the third round of the NCAA tournament. His "Havoc" style of play is a major hit. It puts people in the seats because it is entertaining to watch to see the Rams win. The Shaka watch at all locales will be on high alert over the next week. This shouldn't last long. He'll either stay put, like Pitt's Jamie Dixon did, or he'll be on the fast-track to a higher league. If that were to happen then that would be a major blow to the A-10.

3. The A-10 had to act swiftly in adding George Mason to replace Butler or Xavier. The A-10 made a play a year ago for Mason but decided to go with VCU and Butler instead. Those turned out to be sound moves. A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade said there was nothing wrong with a 13-team league citing the odd-number Big Ten (11) and ACC (9) for years. Mason fits the A-10 profile and had to get out of a CAA, which is being poached like a carcass by various conferences. The A-10 continues to look for basketball-centric schools for its long-term survival. Meanwhile, the CAA missed out on luring Davidson along with the College of Charleston. The CAA could really use Davidson now and it might be worth trying to make another play. What these latest moves prove yet again is that every conference is out for itself. Please spare us any further commentary from a conference commissioner about being pilfered by other leagues. They all do it to the league below them. They are all guilty of trying to steal from one league to strengthen their own.

News and notes from Philadelphia

March, 23, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- By now most everyone with electricity has heard about Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield’s wife, former model Amanda Marcum. The two met by chance when Enfield gave Marcum and a friend a lift to a 2003 NCAA tournament game in Boston. Their first date might be one for the ages.

They went to an NIT game on the Queens campus of St. John’s. Enfield hoped to impress Marcum by taking her out to a nice dinner before tipoff, but when he got to Queens, he realized he didn’t have a clue about where to eat.

He decided to hit the student union, figuring there would be a chain restaurant there. There was.

“The only thing that was open was a Taco Bell,” he said. “I got her a nice little burrito and we sat behind the bench and I figured if she still likes me after Taco Bell and a basketball game ...”

Roommates turned frenemies

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Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesRyan Kelly will meet his former roommate, Doug McDermott, on the court for the first time since they attended Amar'e Stoudemire's camp last summer.
If one was a snorer, we will not find out. If one was a slob, they aren’t spilling the beans.

“He was just a normal roommate,” Duke’s Ryan Kelly said of Creighton’s Doug McDermott, his bunkmate at Amar’e Stoudemire camp in Chicago this summer. “It was nothing exciting.”

It could be a different story on Sunday, when Duke and Creighton go head-to-head for a shot at the Sweet 16 and Kelly guards one of the nation’s best scorers.

That the two players -- one is from North Carolina and plays in the ACC, the other is from Iowa and plays in the Missouri Valley -- know each other personally speaks to how small the basketball world has gotten.

Between high school summer-league teams traversing the country and all-star camps like the one in Chicago, there’s little anonymity among most of the nation’s top players anymore.

“Ryan was a great roommate -- always reminded me what time we had to leave or be in the lobby,” McDermott said. “I got a chance to pick his brain a little bit because we kind of play similar. When we got to the gym, I saw some of his moves and he taught me some of them. It will be cool playing against him.”

Steve Fisher knows FGCU

While the rest of the world tries to figure out just where Florida Gulf Coast is, San Diego State coach Steve Fisher is already clued in about his round-of-32 opponent.

He actually has a condo in nearby Fort Myers. (Yes, feel free to ask why a man who lives in San Diego needs to have a condo on another beach.) He bought it back when he got his first head-coaching gig and has held onto it since, making at least one visit a year there with friends after the season ends.

Fisher watched the university literally rise from the swamp and even toured the campus.

More important for this NCAA tournament, Fisher knows what the Eagles are all about. He’s thoroughly uninterested in their seed or their underdog status and more interested in their personnel and how they play.

“If we were playing a shirts and skins game with all 64 teams and you brought all the teams out there and watched them warm up, you’d be hard-pressed to say, ‘Well, this is a team that’s not supposed to win,” he said. “They’re good. They’re talented. They’re well-coached and they played terrific last night.”

Quote-worthy

“We’re not the Yankees. [Seth] Curry doesn’t come back every year. We still don’t have [J.J.] Redick. [Christian] Laettner left a long time ago. If he was Mariano Rivera, we’d still have Laettner.” -- Mike Krzyzewski on comparisons to his team’s dominance -- and perceived national dislike -- with the New York Yankees.

Editor's Note: To read O'Neil's feature on Florida Gulf Coast's Brett Comer, click here.
PHILADELPHIA -- She thought that maybe March 6, 2010, would provide the toughest moment. That was the day Heather Comer’s husband, Troy, had circled on the calendar, the one he practically begged doctors to tell him he would see before lung cancer claimed his life.

That was the day of the Florida 6A state high school basketball championship, and Troy Comer knew in his gut that his son, Brett, would be playing in it.

But doctors don’t make those kinds of guarantees, and cancer doesn’t care much about a calendar. Troy Comer died on Jan. 29, 2010 -- six weeks too early to see his son win a state title.

A year later, Brett’s high school team played in the championship game again. Surely this, Heather thought, this has to be the toughest moment.

But then along came high school graduation and a Division I basketball scholarship offer for Brett.

And most recently and most memorably of all, there was Brett Comer tossing up the silliest, least orthodox and single greatest alley-oop pass in NCAA tournament history to help Florida Gulf Coast upset second-seeded Georgetown on Friday night.

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Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsGeorgetown's physical defense certainly didn't faze Florida Gulf Coast's Brett Comer on Friday night.
In the stands, Heather Comer stopped wondering if this was the toughest moment, or what the toughest might be.

“There are always moments, and I think every time something like that happens, Brett and I know we’re both thinking about his father," Heather said Saturday, the day after her only child made history. “It’s really taken us both three years where, just a few months ago, we sort of looked at each other and realized, ‘He’s really not coming back, is he?’ It doesn’t stop."

Life, though, keeps going, and for Brett Comer it is going in a way that must have his father elbowing his fellow angels, saying, "That’s my boy."

In FGCU’s first NCAA tournament game in history, Comer dished the ball for 10 assists. Even crazier, against Georgetown’s smothering defense, he committed just two turnovers, a line that would have made both the father and the coach in Troy Comer immensely proud.

“He would have eaten that up," Brett said with a smile.

As soon as Brett discovered basketball, Troy discovered coaching. Troy didn’t play -- "No, no, no, he couldn’t play for anything," Brett said, laughing. “He knew X’s and O’s. He knew what you were supposed to do, but he couldn’t do it."

But he loved the game and loved spending time with his only child.

Brett isn’t sure when he picked up a basketball, but the nuances of the game always have intrigued him.

Years ago, a family member gave him some old tapes of Pete Maravich. Instead of shelving them like plenty of his generation might, Brett watched with rapt attention.

“The way he passed the ball really fascinated me," he said.

Little wonder, then, to watch Comer is to watch a player whose game earns style points but is based as much on intuition as it is development.

“Sometimes Coach [Andy Enfield] will say, ‘I don’t know how you made that pass,'" Comer said. “Honestly, sometimes I don’t know how I made it either. It’s just my instincts taking over."

His father, like Enfield, tolerated some of the mistakes that come with such daring, and Brett is pretty certain his dad would approve of the oddly timed dish to Chase Fieler.

The two were extraordinarily close, Heather said, and in Troy’s obituary, Brett is referred to as Troy’s "best friend."

Little wonder that Troy’s sudden passing -- he was gone barely a year after he was diagnosed -- devastated Brett.

“My father was a ninth-grade coach and a high school coach, and I remember as a first and second grader getting on the team bus and going with him to games," Enfield said. “Brett had that kind of relationship with his father, so I understand that connection but I can’t imagine him not being here with me."

Brett was angry at first -- his dad was a smoker and son naturally wondered what role that played in his premature passing -- but he internalized much of his grief. By the time he got to Florida Gulf Coast, a guy most knew as engaging and funny had become almost an introvert.

Heather worried but couldn’t persuade him to get help.

“I know he hid it to protect me, but finally a few months ago, he said, ‘Mom, I need to talk to someone,'" Heather said. “He agreed to talk to a grief counselor."

That was in November, a decision that had such a profound effect on Brett he can practically pinpoint the day that he started to feel, if not better, at least OK.

Just this month -- more than three years after his dad’s passing -- he talked about it publicly for the first time, sitting down with Fort Myers News-Press reporter Seth Soffian.

“It's not something you ever completely get past, but I started to deal with it better after the St. John’s game [on Nov. 24]," Brett said. “After that point, my coaches, teammates and someone else I was talking to helped me get past it. It felt normal, almost. I had a clear head. I was able to think."

And finally, three years later, Heather Comer had her moment. Not the toughest one but the best one, the one when she knew her son would be OK.

“As a mother, it’s always so hard when there’s something wrong that you can’t fix," she said. “I worry about him. I want him to be happy. I think he is."

Editor's Note: For Dana O'Neil's news and notes from Philadelphia, click here.
PHILADELPHIA -- An old retiree gifted Andy Enfield the sign that now hangs above his office door. It reads like a challenge but it’s more Enfield’s motto:

“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.’’

It’s a strange slogan for a man who didn’t miss much as a college basketball player. Enfield, who played at Division III Johns Hopkins, still holds the NCAA record with a 92.5 career free throw percentage, blessed with such a sweet stroke he parlayed into a shot-doctoring job with the NBA for a time.

But Enfield is as much a risk taker as he is a sureshot, a guy blessed with the audacity to take chances and the confidence to usually make them.

He has shoehorned his way into an NBA coaching gig, begun a startup software contract management company that was worth $100 million when he opted out, went back to coaching as a Division I assistant, took a head coaching job at a university in its infancy, and two years into its Division I status, brought it to the NCAA tournament.

Oh, did we mention he’s also married to a one-time lingerie/bathing suit model?

[+] EnlargeFGCU's Andy Enfield
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsFlorida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield holds the NCAA career record for free throw percentage, worked on Wall Street and married a magazine cover model.
Florida Gulf Coast might be the underdog 15-seed against Georgetown in Friday’s second-round game, but in the seedings of life, Enfield is a 1.

“He is the most confident person I’ve ever met,’’ said Enfield’s wife, the former Amanda Marcum who has graced the covers of Maxim, Elle and Vogue.

Most low-major coaches have bios that read like a cross between Sisyphus and Job. They spend years toiling in anonymity, collecting paychecks that barely cover the rent only to get a chance at a job that is so ungodly hard it takes years to become even relevant.

Not Enfield. He is charmed by most anyone’s standards but Midas-blessed by the usual career track of a basketball coach.

While completing his master’s degree at the University of Maryland, he developed a shooting video that earned him entry into the NBA. He worked with more than 100 players at one point, gaining enough of a reputation that Rick Pitino eventually hired Enfield as a full-time assistant with the Celtics.

Asked if the old-time shot doctor ever challenged his current team in shooting contests, junior Chase Fieler laughed.

“No, we try to keep our confidence up,’’ he said.

If Enfield’s passion was basketball, his real background was business, and when a former friend suggested they partner on a startup company called TractManager, Enfield bought in with his own money.

The company was soaring one night in 2003 when, at the request of a friend and his wife, he offered a woman a ride from New York City to Boston to watch the NCAA tournament.

She was going to root for her team from back home, Oklahoma State; he was going to get his basketball fix.

“It wasn’t like I was standing on the side of the road hitchhiking,’’ Amanda Enfield laughed. “I was going to fly up with a friend for the weekend. Her husband said a friend from the gym was driving.’’

When Amanda hopped in the car, she happened to be working as a model at the time -- a highly-sought, well-paid model whose portfolio included various magazine covers and Victoria’s Secret.

Plenty of ordinary mortal men might have been overwhelmed.

“No, he wasn’t intimidated at all,’’ she said.

Two years later the couple was married.

And yes, feel free to insert the jokes about "Enfield has outkicked his coverage" here.

He’s heard them all.

“I don’t joke around with him about his wife,’’ Fieler said. “He does control my playing time.’’

A year after his wedding, Enfield switched gears on his new bride, shelving his multimillion-dollar job on Wall Street in exchange for an assistant coaching gig in Tallahassee, Fla.

“It wasn’t planned, but I knew he was into basketball, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise,’’ Amanda said. “And I like sports, so it worked.’’

Enfield jumped onto what many considered Leonard Hamilton’s sinking ship at Florida State.

Instead, in his five seasons, he helped the Seminoles to three NCAA tournament berths.

“It was supposed to be a dead-end job,’’ Enfield said.

He could have held on for a good job, or at least one that had some roots older than a springtime weed.

Instead, Enfield opted to move down the Gulf Coast, to a school that quite literally didn’t exist until 1997, taking a $157,500 salary -- a slight pay cut from his Wall Street days.

Now home to a school with a dorm that quite literally overlooks a beach-fronted lake, FGCU’s early days were slightly less appealing.

“I would go to little three-on-three events,’’ said senior Eddie Murray, who grew up in nearby Fort Myers. “There was a couple of dorm rooms, but there were wild animals crossing the road. I’ve seen everything from wild boar, bobcats and alligators.’’

In his early days, Enfield would call recruits and explain that he was the head coach at Florida Gulf Coast University, a Division I school. A good 15 minutes into the pitch, they’d stop him.

“They would think we were Gulf Coast Community College in the panhandle,’’ Enfield said.

Few will make that mistake after this week.

FGCU is no fluke. The Eagles finished 24-10 this week, counting among their victories one against second-seeded Miami.

Now thanks to the coach’s unique backstory, and -- let’s be honest -- his pretty wife, Florida Gulf Coast has forced its way into the national media.

By Friday afternoon, the Eagles will have spent two hours advertising their fledgling university and even younger Division I basketball program in an infomercial against Georgetown.

Florida Gulf Coast isn’t supposed to win, of course, but with the charmed track of Enfield’s life, do you want to bet against the upset?
One man’s observations from another eventful Saturday afternoon of college basketball …

1. I don’t trust Florida anymore. Sometimes, the numbers lie. Sometimes, a team with dazzling stats fails to justify the analytic mechanisms that elevate it. That could be the case with Florida. The BPI, the RPI, Ken Pomeroy and Sagarin all love the Gators. Per the film, however, I see problems. The same Florida team that amassed a plus-18.8-points-per-game scoring margin in SEC play entering Saturday’s 61-57 loss at Kentucky (more on that soon) and crushed Marquette and Wisconsin in November has suffered four road losses in February alone. The Gators were outplayed by Arizona and Kansas State off campus in the nonconference portion of their schedule. Sure, they’ve spent of a chunk of the season punching teams in the mouth, but they’re 0-5 in games decided by six points or fewer and haven't beaten a single top-50 RPI team in a road game. And we really haven’t seen that dominant version of Florida, which began SEC play with historic margins of victory, in a month. Who are the Gators now? Well, the final minutes of the Kentucky loss told their story. They’re balanced and talented, but they fumbled in the last stretch of that loss because they couldn’t find that catalyst, that Ben McLemore/Marcus Smart/Doug McDermott/Trey Burke, to lead them beyond the funk that ruined the moment. They did not score in the last seven-plus minutes of the second half. They were the veterans, but they played like freshmen. It’s tough to believe in this program’s postseason potential when it continues to suffer road losses against hungry SEC opponents that don’t match them on paper. Guess what they’ll have to do to advance in the NCAA tournament? Beat hungry underdogs outside Gainesville. Yes, Kentucky re-entered the bubble convo with this win, but Florida did little to prove that it’s worthy of its statistical hype. Again.

2. Marcus Smart and the national/Big 12 POY conversation. Listen, I think Trey Burke deserves national player of the year, but I might change my mind if Victor Oladipo outplays him tomorrow. Here’s the general Burke argument -- and it’s a convincing one -- that circulates within college basketball media circles: “If you take him off that team, there’s no way they’re top 10 and competing for a Big Ten title.” And that’s accurate. I can’t argue against that. Here’s another one to consider: “If you take Marcus Smart off Oklahoma State’s roster, you probably have the team that finished 7-11 in league play last season and not the 13-5 team that’s competed for the Big 12 title in 2012-13.” Smart is the Big 12 player of the year. I like McLemore, Jeff Withey and Rodney McGruder, but Smart deserves the honor following his performance (21 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals) in Saturday’s 76-70 win over Kansas State, a victory that jeopardized the Wildcats’ hopes of winning a Big 12 title. He should be a legit candidate for national POY, too.

3. The sad conclusion to Georgetown-Syracuse. Following his team’s 61-39 loss at Georgetown on Saturday, Jim Boeheim told reporters, “I’m pretty much ready to go play golf someplace. If I was 40 years old, I would be real upset. I’m not 40 years old. That should be obvious.” That comment and his team’s lackluster finish to the regular season (1-4 in its last five) will continue to fuel the retirement speculation that’s surrounded Boeheim for years. John Thompson III might have won national coach of the year honors with his team’s Big East title-sealing win. But the lopsided effort -- the Hoyas’ largest margin of victory against Syracuse since 1985 -- offered a melancholy ending to this classic rivalry. Georgetown will join the Catholic 7, and Syracuse will move to the ACC next season. The two may reconnect in the future, but their battles won’t be regulated by league affiliation. So this could be the end, and as a college basketball fan, I wanted to see drama, overtime, controversy in the final seconds, a buzzer-beater, a comeback … something. This rivalry deserved that. Instead, we were treated to the sight of one impressive squad smashing an opponent that failed to show up for the conclusion of this storied series.

4. Marquette wins its most crucial bizarre game of the year. The Golden Eagles love the theatrics that tend to define college basketball in March. Their 69-67 win at St. John’s was their fourth overtime game of the season in Big East competition. It was their third conference win by three points or less. Marquette hasn’t forged the prettiest path to the Big East title, but it earned a share of the crown with another gritty victory Saturday. St. John’s launched an impressive comeback in the final minutes that sent the game into overtime. Buzz Williams just smiled as his team prepared for the extra period; he’d been in that position multiple times this season, so his squad didn’t panic. With the game on the line, Vander Blue drove into the lane and beat the buzzer with the layup. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is what Marquette does. A team that was picked to finish in the middle of the standings earned a share of the Big East title. Wow. The Golden Eagles are clearly tough enough to make noise in the NCAA tourney, too.

[+] EnlargeJim Crews
AP Photo/Bill BoyceJim Crews guided a hurting Saint Louis squad to a share of the Atlantic 10 regular-season title.
5. Jim Crews for national coach of the year. Last season, I covered Saint Louis’ NCAA tournament appearance in Columbus, Ohio. Once Rick Majerus left the podium for a pregame media session, it took him 30 minutes to re-join his team. Fans wanted to talk to him. Other coaches wanted to talk to him. Friends wanted to talk to him. Reporters wanted to talk to him. He was an icon for that program and the entire sport. So when he took an indefinite leave of absence from the team in the months prior to his death in December, the Billikens had lost so much more than a coach. Sure, they had promise, but Crews didn’t have an easy task on his plate. He had to gain the trust of this talented group (he was an assistant in 2011-12) as it prepared for a battle in an Atlantic 10 beefed up by the additions of Virginia Commonwealth and Butler. He didn’t have one of his key players (Kwamain Mitchell injured his foot last fall) for the first two months of the season. But Crews overcame those obstacles. On Saturday, the Billikens secured a share of the conference crown with a 78-54 victory over La Salle. They’ve won 12 of their past 13. Their balance, defense (22nd in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy) and experience could lead to a deep run in March. Sounds like a national coach of the year effort to me.

6. Meet Derrick Marks. In the final seconds of a 69-65 win that might have pushed his Boise State squad into the field of 68, Marks made a split-second decision to contest Xavier Thames' layup with 21 seconds to go. If Thames had made that shot, the Aztecs would have cut Boise State’s lead to one point. But Marks made plays like that all afternoon. The sophomore guard is just one of the reasons that the Broncos could win a game or two in the NCAA tourney -- I’m putting them in the field, although I’m not so sure about San Diego State anymore. Leon Rice’s program is healthy now (eight guys earned minutes against the Aztecs). The Broncos possess an offense that’s ranked 24th in adjusted offensive efficiency per Pomeroy, and they’ve won five of their past six games. Watch out for the Broncos in the coming weeks. Huge victory for that team.

7. Get ready for drama in Nashville. Next week, the SEC tournament will take place in Nashville. This league is packed with bubble squads, and I think that will add to the drama in what could be the most exciting conference tournament of them all. Proof? On Saturday, Alabama beat Georgia on a half-court buzzer-beater, Tennessee overcame a late deficit to secure a key win over Missouri and Kentucky kept its NCAA tournament dreams alive with a victory over Florida. The chaos will continue in Nashville.

8. Florida Gulf Coast becomes first team to dance. The Eagles earned the field’s first automatic NCAA tournament berth with an 88-75 victory over Mercer in the Atlantic Sun tourney championship. This is an Eagles squad that finished 8-10 (tied for sixth) in the conference last season, but their first victory of the 2012-13 season came against a top-10-bound Miami team. Kudos to Andy Enfield’s program.

9. Creighton-Wichita State III. The two Missouri Valley Conference power players split their season series this season. Despite their respective struggles, they were still the league’s top two programs. Their most recent matchup, which the Bluejays won, determined the regular-season champion. Creighton’s 64-43 victory over Indiana State and Wichita State’s 66-51 win over Illinois State in Saturday’s semifinals of the MVC tournament guaranteed a third matchup between the league’s top two teams in Sunday afternoon’s final.

10. Louisville makes statement without five overtimes. So the rematch between Louisville and Notre Dame didn’t match the hoopla of the first game. We didn’t get five overtimes. We didn’t even see one. But the Cardinals continued to support the notion that they’re going to be a very dangerous program in the NCAA tournament with a 73-57 victory over Notre Dame. It was the seventh consecutive victory for a team that’s ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Pomeroy. As a team, the Cardinals shot 51 percent from the floor against the Fighting Irish, and Gorgui Dieng registered 20 points (8-11 FG) and 11 rebounds. The Cards are playing like a Final Four team.

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