College Basketball Nation: Eric McKnight
October, 8, 2013
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com
Elsa/Getty ImagesChase Fieler is one of four key members of last year's "Dunk City" squad returning for FGCU.It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season — from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: What does Dunk City do for an encore?
The story of the 2013 NCAA tournament came baked in about 18 different layers of awesome. It had everything. Not only did the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles beat No. 2-seeded Georgetown and No. 7-seeded San Diego State in the rounds of 64 and 32, respectively, they throttled the Hoyas and Aztecs. Not only were said throttlings delivered, FGCU delivered them by pushing the pace and throwing alley-oops -- not walking it up and hoping for a close game, as so many would-be Cinderellas do -- in a style counter to the slowdown trend pervading college basketball. Not only did the Eagles have an intriguing, smart young coach (Andy Enfield), he had a camera-zooming model of a wife. Not only was FGCU a tiny school no one had heard of, it was a) founded in 1991, six years after this writer was born, and b) it had beach shacks for dorms. Not only was Florida Gulf Coast dubbed "Dunk City," it had local news stations and public works employees playing along. This was peak awesomeness. It was almost too much -- the key word being "almost."
Then, in the Sweet 16, Florida handled its panhandle brethren with relative ease, and it was back to reality. Sure, sure, FGCU basked in the glory for a while. But Enfield was quickly lured to USC and replaced by former Kansas assistant Joe Dooley. Now, as we enter Year 1 of the post-Dunk City era, the biggest Atlantic Sun preseason question goes a little like this: Does Dunk City have a second act?
On its face, there's no reason why it shouldn't. The Eagles return most of their core from last season, including (especially) point guard Brett Comer. Comer, the former AAU teammate of Duke star Austin Rivers, makes Dunk City go; it is both the consistency (Comer finished the season finding teammates for buckets on 45.0 percent of his possessions, second-best in the nation) and the creativity (you remember) of Comer's passing that makes the whole thing go. There are also the finishers: guard Bernard Thompson and forwards Chase Fieler and Eric McKnight are all back. The only notable loss is senior Sherwood Brown. So, that's easy then, isn't it? FGCU is the obvious favorite to win the A-Sun, right?
Not so fast. Don't forget the last part of what made March so face-melting: FGCU wasn't always that good. Or, at the very least, it wasn't as good for most of the season as league-mate Mercer, which won the A-Sun regular-season title at 14-4 and spent most of the season ranked atop the league's efficiency standings. Bob Hoffman's team will lose a huge piece in senior guard Travis Smith, who shot 43.3 percent from 3 last season, but it brings back every other starter, all four of whom will be seniors this year.
Which makes it eminently possible that a team that captivated the entire country for two weeks in March, and that returns the key pieces from that run, won't make it back. And not necessarily because it will be worse, but because another team in its league could be better. Dunks or no -- and just to be clear: there will be a lot of dunks -- that's a league to watch.