March 27, 2013

Direct Kick: FGCU, really?

By Denis House
Sports Editor

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Everyone who had Florida Gulf Coast University making it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen raise your hands. Anybody? I thought not.

Thanks to teams like the Eagles, and LaSalle, Wichita State, Ole Miss and Harvard, my bracket, along with countless others, has been busted. At least it’s good to know that I’m not alone.

If there ever was a Cinderella story, it is FGCU. This is their first NCAA tournament. In fact, they only became eligible for posteason play last year. The university has only been around since 1997.

Yet they were still able to beat the No. 2 seed in the South Georgetown, then knock off San Diego State, a team ranked in the Top 25. So is it a fluke that they have advanced this far, or where the Hoyas and Aztecs overrated? By doing that, the Eagles became the first 15th-seeded team to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, where they will now face in-state rival and third-seeded Florida Friday night. Could FGCU be a team of destiny? Right now, I wouldn’t bet against them.

This tournament has been a strange one so far. We almost had the first 16th-seed beat a No. 1 seed when Southern University gave Gonzaga a run for its money before falling, 64-58. Gonzaga was then eliminated from the tourney when it lost to Wichita State, 76-70. This didn’t surprise me, as I had Gonzaga falling in the second round. Only I had them losing to Pittsburgh, a team that didn’t even make it to the second round. In fact, I had Pitt going all the way to the Sweet Sixteen against Wisconsin. Neither team is still alive in the tourney.

From the looks of things, I would have to say it’s Louisville’s to lose. The Cardinals have looked very strong so far, but they still have a tough road ahead of them. To make it to the final game, the Cards will have to defeat Oregon, then beat the winner of the Michigan State-Duke game. Neither will be an easy task.

The other two No. 1 seeds, Kansas and Indiana, will have a tough road to get to the finals. The Jayhawks will have to win over Michigan, then beat the Florida-Florida Gulf Coast University winner. If the Hoosiers want a chance to play for the national title, they will have to win over Syracuse, then defeat the Marquette-Miami (Fla) winner.

Ohio State, a No. 2 seed in the West, might have the easiest road. The Buckeyes next play Arizona. If they survive that game, they would play the winner of the Wichita State-LaSalle game.

In one of my brackets I have Louisville winning it all, in the other, Indiana. So that probably means it won’t be one of those two teams.

• For everyone who thought Kentucky got the shaft by not being picked for the NCAA tourney, last week’s first-round exit in the NIT proved the Wildcats were not an NCAA tourney team.

•UCLA and Minnesota are looking for new coaches after the Bruins fired Ben Howland and the Gophers released former UK coach Tubby Smith. Both firings came as a surprise to me. Ironically, it was Minnesota that bounced UCLA from this year’s tournament.

Howland had just finished his 10th year with the Bruins, comprising a record of 233-107, including four conference titles, and from 2006-08, UCLA made it to the Final Four in each season. But the Bruins had missed the NCAA tournament in two of the three years before this year’s tourney. After landing the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, he was given a year to turn things around, but that didn’t happen. Of course, having two players transfer out of the program at midseason didn’t help matters, then second-leading scorer Jordan Adams was injured, leaving the Bruins with a seven-man rotation.

Smith had built a good program in Minnesota, but could never get the Gophers to the elite in the Big 10. Still, many were shocked when he was let good. Smith never got the credit he deserved at UK (even though he won a national title), and that carried over at Minnesota. He made Minnesota basketball relevant again.

• Kentucky fans will be pleased to know that ESPN recruiting guru Dave Telep has called the 2013 recruiting class “the greatest ever,” even better than Michigan’s “Fab Five” in 1991.

Julius Randle committed to UK last Wednesday, which gave the Wildcats the Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7, 11 and 18 players in the ESPN 100. He will be joined by point guard Andrew Harrison, twin brother shooting guard Aaron Harrison, small forward James Young, center Dakari Johnson and power forward Marcus Lee. And if UK lands Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 player on ESPN’s 100, well, there’s that old saying about the rich getting richer, especially if some of this year’s team decides to stay another year in Lexington, as they have hinted to.

With that wealth of talent, UK should win the national title next year.

• Interesting fact about recruiting classes. Of the Top 25 from last year, 11 didn’t make this year’s NCAA tourney, while five lost in the first round and two in the second round. Seven are still alive. They are: Arizona (No. 3 class), Indiana (No. 6 class), Duke (No. 2 class), Michigan State (No. 11 class), Michigan (No. 12 class), Syracuse (No. 14 class) and Kansas (No. 16 class).