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Florida Gulf Coast University's basketball squad was welcomed back to campus with much hoopla Monday morning after advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament. Players Sherwood Brown and Eric McKnight spoke about juggling their tournament run with their classes, while fan Julie Grills explained why she's rooting for the Eagles.
Before this weekend, most people in America did not even know that Florida Gulf Coast University even existed. The public university was established in 1991, making it barely older than the players on its basketball team.
But those players did more to spread awareness of FGCU than pretty much any other action taken by the school in its two-decade existence, shocking 2-seed Georgetown on Friday night before becoming the first 15-seed to ever advance to the Sweet Sixteen with an 81-71 win over 7-seed San Diego State on Sunday.
"Words can't describe this feeling as being a 15 seed, the first 15 seed to ever do this," FGCU point guard Brett Comer said. "I don't think it's really sunk in to any of us yet. I feel like maybe it will tomorrow, but right now we're on such an emotional high it's hard to come down from."
It wasn't just the fact that Gulf Coast won, but how they won. During their upset of Georgetown, the school's official Twitter feed posted, "When people ask you where FGCU is, just tell them Dunk City, Florida!" The Eagles put on a highlight reel that would impress even the Miami Heat, throwing up alley-oops for thunderous slams that showed the basketball world FGCU was never intimidated by the likes of the Hoyas.
The city of Fort Myers has gotten into the act as well, adding "#DUNKCITY FLORIDA" to the header on its official webpage Monday morning.
"We're doing something special out here," said FGCU senior guard Sherwood Brown. "We've been told that this is what college basketball is all about."
"We're really blessed and we're really happy to be here right now," Brown added. "But we've still got a lot more games to play, hopefully, so we're going to go back home and get our heads back straight and get ready to play against the University of Florida."
UF will be a handful for FGCU. The cross-state Gators have won both of their tournament games handily, beating Northwestern State 79-47 and and Minnesota 78-64.
Billy Donovan's Florida squad has one of the best defenses in the nation, holding opponents to just 38% shooting from the field (fifth lowest in the country) with the third-best scoring defense in Division I. The Gators are also one of the best three-point shooting teams left in the tournament, and they don't hurt themselves with fouls or turnovers.
And Donovan knows a thing or two about ending a Cinderella run. His Gators beat George Mason in the 2006 Final Four, when the Patriots became the first 11 seed to make it to the Final Four.
But no one gave FGCU a chance to beat Georgetown, so you can bet Donovan and the Gators are not taking the Eagles lightly.
Before the tournament started, the New York Times' Nate Silver gave FGCU just a 3.3% chance of making the Sweet Sixteen. He now projects Gulf Coast has a 5.8% chance of beating the Gators.
Those are long odds, but crazier things have happened.