Commentary | Billy Donovan and his UF Gators will put Cinderella FGCU to rest

adell@bradenton.comMarch 29, 2013 

The fairy tale ends tonight.

Dunk City becomes Sunk City, and the Cinderella from Fort Myers loses her glass slipper.

Florida Gulf Coast University has taken the country on a great ride. But its trip to the Sweet 16 will go up in smoke.

The Eagles are victims of their own success. They've created so much hysteria in becoming the first 15th seed to advance this far in the NCAA tournament that quite a few people now see them as the favorite over Florida.

Gators head coach Billy Donovan has spoken to his players as if they are the underdog and noted how the state is talking more about FGCU than Florida.

But they are going to play Billy Ball tonight, and Donovan has proven to be nothing short of a genius when he has time to prepare for an opponent.

Donovan has won 10 straight games in either the Round of 16 or the Final Four when he has that extra time to prepare for an opponent. And while FGCU went home to all the hoopla after its third-round win, Florida stayed in Texas to prepare for this game.

These Gators are 0-6 in games decided by 10 points or fewer, and that stat has to be riveted in the head of every FGCU player. On the flip side, Florida is 26-1 in games decided by 10 points or more.

FGCU might be considered the best double-digit seed in tournament history, and the Gators aren't getting much respect. Critics say Florida makes poor decisions, can't shoot free throws and doesn't know how to close out close games.

Eagles guard Brett Comer suggested it would not be a big deal if his team loses, but real big if Florida goes down, perhaps trying to add more pressure to the Gators.

Donovan wasn't biting.

"I don't view it that way. We've got to go out and compete and play. The name of the game this time of year is to survive, move on and advance," he said. "I think our staff and our players totally understand how good they are."

This might be the most disrespected Gators team since Donovan took over the program in 1996.

FGCU also has won every battle off the court. Eagles head coach Andy Enfield is married to a former super model wife he took to Taco Bell on their first date. He owns a multimillion-dollar company, which reports say make him the wealthiest college basketball coach in the country, and he will be the most sought-after coach this side of Shaka Smart when his season is over.

These Eagles are America's darlings and have made the country forget that 12th-seeded Oregon must be giving Louisville's Rick Pitino sleepless nights this week.

There are quite a few reasons Florida will win, perhaps convincingly.

Besides having one of the country's best coaches, the Gators know how to play defense. They rank first among the remaining tournament teams and third overall in scoring defense, allowing only 53.8 points per game.

The Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective, which is dedicated to the quantitative analysis of sports strategy and management, declared FGCU dead before this week, which has created a boatload more of Eagles fans. Who doesn't want to prove a bunch of smug Ivy Leaguers wrong!

It's "Survival Analysis" gave FGCU a 7.3 percent chance of reaching the Sweet 16, a 1.4 percent chance of getting to the Elite Eight and a 0.2 percent chance of reaching the Final Four.

There have been seven teams seeded either 13th or 14th who won their first game, and all lost their second so FGCU stands alone.

You could explain that by arguing the Eagles were under seeded, but their regular season resume didn't warrant anything higher.

The Harvard geeks point out that the NCAA tournament is not an extension of the regular season, and only some factors should be considered in making tournament predictions.

You can argue that FGCU beating Georgetown was not unexpected because in their last five tournament appearances under head coach John Thompson III, the Hoyas have lost to double-digit seeds and never made it out of the first weekend.

Even the woeful University of South Florida beat the Hoyas this year.

The Harvard geeks say when Florida plays at its peak level, it is the best team in the country and similar to the Joakim Noah-led Gators who won the national title in 2007.

On the other hand, these crystal ball stalwarts had Georgetown in the Sweet 16 meeting Florida.

So you want to ride FGCU to the Elite Eight?

Go ahead. It's why we call this time of year shear madness.

Just bring a seat belt.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at@ADellSports.

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