FGCU enjoying its place in history

Confident Eagles are having fun as the first 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16

Updated: March 25, 2013, 9:14 AM ET
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- About an hour before the tip of his game, Andy Enfield was wandering around outside the press room in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Arena.

"Do you know where I can find a Diet Coke?'' he asked. In no particular hurry to go anywhere, he chatted about kids and Philadelphia and eventually wound around to how his Florida Gulf Coast team was feeling before its game against San Diego State.

"Well,'' he said about as matter-of-factly as he asked for that Diet Coke, "if we play well we should win.''

[+] EnlargeAndy Enfield
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsAndy Enfield believed his team could win on Sunday, despite the history that no 15-seed had ever reached the Sweet 16.

It's hard to decide which was more out of whack about that little scenario -- the fact that a head coach had to go searching for his own Diet Coke an hour before his game, or his certainty that Florida Gulf Coast would win and make it to the Sweet 16.

In 75 years of drawing up brackets, no 15-seed had ever won two games. In fact, counting the Eagles, only seven (out of 122) had won one game.

Yet just like Enfield predicted, here's FGCU, an 81-71 winner over San Diego State, heading to Dallas for a Sweet 16 date with its intrastate big brother, Florida.

This isn't a Cinderella story.

This is the ugly stepsisters, the ones no one knows the names of, winning the hearts of the prince.

During FGCU's game, one CBS graphic referred to the school as Florida Golf Coast, and when he started his remarks after the loss, San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said, "Florida State is a very, very good team and they played terrific."

Players and coaches were understandably offended, but before Friday night, the upstart university was about as familiar as Drizella and Anastasia Tremaine (Cindy's sisters).

"I mean, c'mon, North Carolina just lost, for heaven's sake,'' said Barbara Enfield, Andy's mother. "And here we are, 'FGC Who?'"

Truly, before Friday the Eagles were the directional university with the hot coach's wife.

By Sunday night, former lingerie/swimsuit model Amanda Marcum sat on a bench in the FGCU locker room while Christophe Varidel iced his knee and no one paid her any mind.

Seen one supermodel, seen 'em all.

Seen one 16-year-old university become the first 15-seed to make the Sweet 16?

Yeah, not so much.

FGCU is the ultimate bracketbuster, a team that plenty of people didn't know existed, let alone considered picking in their NCAA pools.

"This is about the only thing I got right in my entire bracket,'' said university president Wilson Bradshaw, whose FGCU warm-up and jeans getup was absolutely fitting his basketball team that loves to break the staid rules of the game.

[+] EnlargeFlorida Gulf Coast/San Diego State
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsBernard Thompson gets between SDSU's Chase Tapley (22) and Jamaal Franklin.

That a 15 finally made it to the Sweet 16 isn't a complete stunner. It's been coming. In the past two years, three 15-seeds have won their first-round games.

But if a 15 was going to make it, you kind of figured it would be with at least one, if not two, buzzer-beaters or unlikely finishes.

Florida Gulf Coast beat both Georgetown and SDSU by a definitive 10 points (and it seemed like more), ripping off highlight-reel dunks in keeping with their new "Dunk City" video fame like it was playing an exhibition game against a JV CYO team.

This from a team that twice lost to Lipscomb this season.

"Yeah, they're our kryptonite,'' Eddie Murray laughed. "I'm just glad we're not playing them in the Sweet 16.''

Florida should feel the same way about the Eagles, because America's little darling has no clue, nor does it care, that it shouldn't be doing this.

The Eagles' game looks like wild abandon. It's not. It's more like calculated joy, combining the crazy idea that basketball can and should be fun with the control and knowledge of when to pick your spots for the crazy.

The first half against the Aztecs was tight, but then in the second, much like they did against Georgetown, the Eagles stepped on the gas. They forced turnovers and got easy buckets and when they saw SDSU's wide eyes, they went for the jugular.

It came in the form of calculated fun, naturally -- Brett Comer, who dished out 13 more assists to finish with 23 for the weekend, casually offered a dropped pass to Chase Fieler, who was trailing him on the break. Fieler scooped it in the lane and kept going right to the rack.

It didn't have the oomph of the dunk that ignited the crowd against Georgetown, but the impact was every bit as demoralizing, making the score 52-46.

"They play with a swagger and they have a right to do that,'' Fisher said. "You can have that look and feel, but you have to compete and play to earn your spurs, and they've done that.''

[+] EnlargeFGCU
Elsa/Getty ImagesIt's clear that Florida Gulf Coast players are enjoying every minute of their success.

The Eagles celebrated wildly in the locker room immediately afterward. At one point they chanted 'Amanda' after Marcum walked into the locker room -- "We were just chanting anyone's name at that point,'' Murray said.

And they gathered enough cups of water to give Enfield a good enough soaking to drench his dress shirt. Usually that might not sit well with the unflappable coach, who still gets his suits tailored like he did in his Wall Street days.

"Yeah, I don't think he minded taking one for the team with this one,'' Chase Fielder said.

But after the celebration died down and the reality set in, there wasn't an ounce of surprise or wonder among the players.

To a man, they said they expected to win.

"No, not at all," said Varidel, draped in the flag of his native Switzerland, which he'd swiped from his brother in the stands. "We knew we could win. We have a lot of confidence. We know we can compete with anybody. We get that from our coach.''

Enfield could just be the most unassuming brazen man in the country.

His entire life is a steppingstone of audacity -- the courage to think that a Division III player could teach NBA players how to improve their shots; the confidence to jump-start a company from scratch and build it into a $100 million product; the assuredness to woo a supermodel over a first-date Taco Bell burrito and an NIT game; and the certainty that a little school that rose like a swamp-drenched phoenix out of nowhere could compete with the big boys just two years after joining their ranks.

And so the notion that Enfield is the man -- previously anonymous and now at the top of a lot of athletic directors' wish lists -- to have done this probably shouldn't be a surprise.

"With Andy, you never know,'' his mother, Barbara, said. "I mean, why not?''

Why not, indeed? And why not more?

Florida Gulf Coast is now 80 minutes from the Final Four.

Yes, that's crazy talk, but FGCU has cornered the market on crazy and redefined the NCAA tournament's upstarts.

Cinderella is a wallflower.

It's Drizella's day to shine.

Dana O'Neil | email

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