Florida Gulf Coast University is the most exciting version of the Cinderella story there's ever been. With two thrilling NCAA tournament upsets, and featuring a colorful cast of characters and a series of mind-bending alley-oops, we take a look at how the Eagles have fully captured our attention.
The mystery surrounding FGCU stems largely from its underwhelming record. The Eagles finished second in a weak conference and lost six games to teams that finished below .500. They beat one good team — Miami — very early in the season, and were throttled by the three other tournament teams (VCU, Duke, and Iowa State) they faced during their non-conference schedule. There was simply nothing that hinted at the two things that have now become widely held beliefs — this team is well coached and they have talented players.
Head coach Andy Enfield was a former NBA assistant turned shooting coach before finally landing back in the college ranks. His experience at the highest level of the game is evident in the team’s style of play, particularly on offense. Enfield runs a high-octane system set on pushing the ball up the court at all times, spacing the floor, and running a high volume of pick-and-rolls. It is actually eerily similar to the mid-2000s Phoenix Suns.
Later this week, we'll get down to actual science and go through every bracket pick by pick. (And don't worry — the rage I feel toward the committee for putting four of the tournament's best teams in the Midwest Region, a.k.a. "The Group of Death," will still be strong. They will have to answer to Shane Ryan.)
But today, I'm speaking more generally. Rather than look at the bracket or obsess about matchups, this is about identifying the essential core trait of all 68 tournament teams. Could they win the title? Are they tragically flawed? Are they doomed from the get-go? Are they Wisconsin? All will be revealed, and when the 68 are properly grouped, we'll be ready to take the next step.
Let's start with the worst of the worst, and make our way up. Each team's seed is in parentheses.
I have a confession — and that is, in most ways, I am wholly unqualified to write this. One day into our bracket to determine the most hated college basketball player of the past three(-ish) decades, and Patrick Ewing, the ’80s no. 1 seed, is done. The Grantland staff is full of Big East lifers who had a disdain for those Georgetown teams and Ewing’s college career. I did not — mostly because I was born more than two years after it ended. My sole connection to the 1985 NCAA tournament is that I count Rollie Massimino’s grandson among my close friends. That’s about where my Georgetown familiarity ends. And actually, I think that’s sort of the point.
In case you were busy trying to remember Della Reese's name (it's Della Reese), here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Despite an off night from LeBron James, his Miami Heat got their 18th consecutive win, 105-91, over the Indiana Pacers. After the game, diminutive Heat point guard Mario Chalmers, who led his team with 26 points, said, "Finally, it's my Miami Heat." Chalmers beamed and pointed at himself with both thumbs until Heat forward Chris Bosh patronizingly patted him on the head, saying, "Sure it is, little buddy." Chalmers sulked away as both Bosh and Dwyane Wade laughed at his expense. "Why won't they let me have this?" Chalmers asked himself while crouched inside of his locker.
Indiana won a thriller in Ann Arbor to take home the Big Ten championship, beating the Michigan Wolverines, 72-71. Michigan point guard Trey Burke's potential game-winning layup hung on the rim, bouncing three times before falling out, costing him and his team a share of the Big Ten title in what might be his last regular season game as a member of the Wolverines. So in case you find yourself talking to Trey Burke at some point in the next 20 years, now you'll know exactly what he's replaying in his mind while he stares off into the distance with a glazed-over look in his eye.
Confession time: I have a bad relationship with GIFs. I'm 100 percent alone on this one, I know, especially among young Internet sports types. But to me, GIFs are like "Harlem Shake" videos — hilarious visual gag at first, until you become so inundated that you go numb and begin to hate the person who bought you your first computer and sent you on this horrible, soul-killing journey into the heart of the Internet. (Important note: This is for comedy GIFs only it doesn't go for the ones that are just meant to show a sweet dunk, a great goal, or any of the other sincere uses of the form.)
Watching a GIF, I get the weird sense that I'm being manipulated, as though I'm laughing begrudgingly at a stand-up comedian whose only bit is to hit himself in the face with a baking pan. The endless repetition is supposed to be what gives the image its humor, but something about it drives me crazy. It's like we're making snark-commodities out of human moments. (Actually, pretend I just said something along the same lines, but less pretentious.)
This is my only soapbox. I only care about destroying the GIF culture. But after all that big talk, I have to admit that I still laugh at the really good ones that transcend the medium, like Ben McLemore dancing. And the reason I'm mentioning it now is that I violated my own principles and yeah, made a GIF. I couldn't help it:
I know I should have stuck to my guns, but the way the cameraman went into soft focus on Kelly and readjusted to the fan doing the White Raven arms — it's like he was begging me to make a GIF. He was my serpent, and his comic shot was the forbidden apple. I hope this isn't the start of a slippery slope, but in three months you'll probably find me lying face down in a dark Internet cafe, dead from a GIF overdose.
In case you were out walking your dog, really walking him, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
LeBron James netted his first game-winning shot since coming to Miami, and the Heat ran their winning streak to 16, beating the Orlando Magic, 97-96. "He's a bad man," Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said after the game. "That's gotta be the baddest thing a man has done in Florida since well probably not that long."
Miami isn't the only team in pro sports with an impressive winning streak. The Chicago Blackhawks have now reached the midpoint of the shortened NHL season without a loss in regulation, getting a last-minute, game-winning goal from Daniel Carcillo to beat the Colorado Avalanche, 3-2. The streak has gotten so much attention that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman commented on it publicly, saying, "I really shouldn't say this, but for the sake of our sport, I hope they run the table all season. Nothing would bring me more pleasure than recognizing that amazing effort by putting an asterisk next to it in the record book." Bettman then kicked an adorable golden retriever puppy named Scruffles on the way home to his mansion. He then congratulated himself on a day well-spent by pouring a bottle of Opus One Cabernet on a rug before demanding his servants clean it up.
In case you were out grilling in the rain to prove to yourself you could withstand the rigors of living in ancient times, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The San Antonio Spurs blew a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead, falling to the Phoenix Suns in overtime, 105-101, snapping an 18-game home winning streak. Spurs point guard and noted Frenchman Tony Parker, who was serenaded with MVP chants in the third quarter, said after the game, "How can one be 'most valuable' when we are all merely sacks of meat containing hearts that only continue beating out of a fear of change. Hopefully, our late collapse taught the people of San Antonio that lesson, and if it did not, que sera, for they are already dead in the eyes of our already living future selves." Parker then pulled out a pack of Gauloises, only to find it empty. "Cruel irony, if this does not serve as proof of a merciless God, which it does not, then what could?" Parker then folded the empty pack into a balloon and used it to hover slightly off the ground.
First, I wanted to tell you that I'll be calling anyone who reads this column a "Shuffle-uffagus." It seemed like the coolest choice.
Second, I have to report that I've been on a golf course all weekend — watching and reporting on the action down in Arizona — so I watched exactly zero college games. I promise you this is the last time it will happen this year; the quick break from my season-long game face is over, and it's time to finish strong. But since I didn't watch any games, I won't be attempting any analysis. Instead, I'll count down the top 10 games happening this week. Please note that this is a Monday-Friday joint. Last week, people got upset that I didn't include Syracuse-Georgetown, even though that game was on a Saturday and I specifically said week, not weekend. So be forewarned, all right? We'll do the top 10 weekend games on Friday.
In case you were busy celebrating your big Oscars win by drunk-dialing Matt Damon and yelling, "How ’bout dem apples!" here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Georgetown and Syracuse played their penultimate rivalry game as members of the Big East, with Georgetown getting the win at the Carrier Dome, 57-46. While they won't be members of the same conference much longer, the two schools both suggested the possibility of future games against each other. But let's get real; we all know how this ends up. For a month or two, they'll call each other every night. But slowly, Georgetown will find itself getting very close with Marquette, as they share a faith and a set of values. Syracuse, meanwhile, will plan to come down for a game in D.C., but they won't be able to make it due to a prior commitment in New York with Duke. And as things will get serious with Georgetown and Marquette (they had been saving themselves, after all), Syracuse will drunk-dial Georgetown and say things they don't mean about Allen Iverson, and Georgetown will throw the whole Gerry McNamara thing in Syracuse's face. The two schools won't be on speaking terms for years, as Syracuse, abandoned again, will wind up in a co-dependent and destructive relationship with UConn.
In case you were busy fixating on that piece of popcorn stuck between your molars, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The San Antonio Spurs took down the Bulls in Chicago, 103-89, despite missing their trio of future Hall of Famers, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. When asked about the challenge his team faced, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, "It doesn't matter; I could wring 40 wins in the NBA out of the San Antonio Silver Stars. Seriously, I started some French guy named Nando de Colo at the point today. None of our scouts had ever heard of him. Apparently, he's a friend of Tony's. They met at a Parisian falafel stand last winter, debated the nature of existence until 6 in the morning over a pack of Gauloises and three bottles of Malbec, before deciding that we're just shadows of an unforgiving god who vomited our spirits into this hellhole we call Earth. Whatever. Tony tells me to sign him up; guy's never even heard of basketball before, but apparently he's a hell of a freestyle walker, and in our system, he gets seven assists in his first start." Popovich then offered to play any of the reporters in the room at small forward against the Cavaliers to prove his point, but there were no takers.
The Charlotte Bobcats ended the Boston Celtics' seven-game winning streak with a 94-91 home win. Byron Mullens powered the Bobcats' upset with 25 points and 18 rebounds. Celtics forward Kevin Garnett was apoplectic after the game, saying, "Who let Nowitzki come down to Charlotte and wear some Mullens jersey so he could clown on KG? Y'all know I got the best sense of smell on this team, and something here was stinking to the high heavens." Garnett then broke into the Bobcats' locker room and started yelling "Sprechen sie Deutsch" at Mullens in a hapless effort to secure some sort of confession.
On a day with trade rumors swirling around the team, the Brooklyn Nets got a huge conference road win over Indiana in overtime, 89-84. "Everyone was a little on edge with all the speculation, but for some reason, I'm kind of used to it," said Nets forward Kris Humphries, who was ineffective in limited minutes and is rumored to be included in proposed deals with Atlanta and Charlotte. "Relatively speaking, this media attention seems pretty nice."
Marquette fell at Georgetown in a battle of soon-to-be Catholic 7 rivals. The game was decided late when all the players huddled at midcourt and deemed Georgetown the most prepared to be a communicative vessel for God. The referees then released a could of white smoke into the Verizon Center, which activated the sprinkler system and caused the game to be called with a final score of 63-55.
Kansas ended its three-game skid with an 83-62 win over in-state rival Kansas State. Ben McLemore had 30 points for the Jayhawks, and center Jeff Withey broke Greg Ostertag's school record for career blocks. "I view Greg as a bit of an idol," Withey said after the game. "I, too, wish to one day play center in the NBA, establish myself as a bona fide quality defensive player, sign a massive contract, and immediately stop trying. Also, I fully expect Glenn Robinson III to do something like this to me in the tournament this year."
Michael Vick renegotiated his deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, and will join new head coach Chip Kelly as the Eagles attempt to bounce back from a disappointing four-win season. Philadelphia fan Burt Gortowski reacted with uncharacteristic calm to the news, as he decided to only throw one rock through Kelly's window as a show of support for the new coach. "I think that Vick's game could work coming out of Kelly's blur offense," Gortowski said as he picked through the "throwing pile" of empty Yuengling bottles and rocks that he keeps in his backyard, "but just in case he doesn't, I don't want to be the one guy who didn't throw a rock through Chip's window. How would I be able to show my face around the Wawa?"
Liverpool squandered a number of scoring opportunities, including a Steven Gerrard penalty, before conceding twice to fall to West Bromwich Albion, 2-0, at Anfield. West Brom keeper Ben Foster, who had seven saves in the win, said after the match, "Liverpool is one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League, and a real threat to get back into the Champions League, so you know you have to bring your top game …" before collapsing in a heap of laughter. "Oh man," Foster continued, "I almost kept it together for that one. No, but seriously, Stewart Downing wasn't nearly as bad as I expected, so I did have to try almost all match long."
Kobe Bryant took to Twitter to admonish one of his fans (@PacSmoove) for calling a fellow Lakers fan "gay." Kobe went on to say, "If you really want to hurt someone with words, you can't be homophobic. I learned that lesson the hard way; it's wrong and only makes you look ignorant. What you have to do is get personal, learn about your foe, what they care about, and what they're ashamed of. Then you'll be ready to hurt people the way your high school girlfriend Michelle hurt you when she made out with your best friend on the way to junior prom. The way it hurt you when your dog Patches got real sick and died after you accidentally let it eat a piece of your birthday cake and you cried and cried and cried. The way it hurt you when your mom said your sister Kelly was her favorite kid, and that you'd never amount to anything. Then and only then will you, @PacSmoove, or should I say, 17-year-old Michael McFarlane, be ready to play with the Mamba."
The final prize on the MLB free agent market, All-Star center fielder Michael Bourn signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Cleveland Indians. Bourn, a client of super-agent Scott Boras, said he chose the Indians because of "the wonderful town of Cleveland? Are you kidding me? It was the money! No one else was going over $30 million in this market. Do you know what you can buy with $18 million? Art, you dumbass. This painting by Gerhard Richter. Look at it! I own that now. Best $16 million I've ever spent. Plus, I'll still have two million "Boras dollars" left over to get this work by Richard Serra installed next to my hedge maze. Yeah, I have a hedge maze."
In case you were busy coming up with a fun portmanteau to describe your post-holiday diet, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Seattle Seahawks came back from an early 14-0 deficit with 24 unanswered points to eliminate the Washington Redskins, 24-14, at FedEx Field. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was his typical subdued self in the postgame press conference, shouting, "YEEEEEEHAWWWWWW WOOOO WOOO WOOO PETE CARROLL PETE CARROLL PETE CARROLL!" before running around the room until he tired himself out and took a nap under the podium.
In what could have been Ray Lewis's last game, the Baltimore Ravens used a strong second half to beat the Indianapolis Colts, 24-9. The turning point came at halftime when Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh decided to stop "sucking for Luck" when he learned that strategy had been a tactic teams used to jockey for draft position last season, and not a way to exploit Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck's tendency to feel bad and take it easy on inferior opponents.
The Houston Texans topped the Cincinnati Bengals, 19-13, and will advance to face the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional round. Tom Brady appeared to provide some bulletin board material for the Texans, saying he was pleased with the matchup, but went on to explain he was only happy to avoid a matchup with the Bengals, who bring with them the smell of Cincinnati, a mix of bad chili and stagnant river water, that clings to his puffier garments for weeks.
It's been a very, very slow week in college basketball, so I thought I'd take a break from game analysis to investigate an overlooked and under-researched part of the sport: the postgame handshake between coaches. It's been around as long as anyone can remember, but as far as I know, I'm the first sports scientist to ever study the phenomenon. Please remember that this is an exploration; you must approach the task with an open, inquisitive mind. It could be years before we have a truly definitive sociological understanding of the rules governing this ritual, but the time to start evaluating them is now. So what makes a good CoachShake? What can we do to educate coaches to improve future CoachShakes? Why do some CoachShakes fail? Those are questions I'd like to answer.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
In a battle of top AFC teams, Tom Brady threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns as the Patriots routed the Texans, 42-14. In a rare display of public emotion, Bill Belichick told reporters that putting the damper on a feel-good story like the Texans was "better than Viagra."
When my wife read Friday's post, she asked me why I cared who was the beefiest or bulkiest player in the country. And I have to tell you guys I didn't have a good answer. Let's move on to this week's epiphanies and observations.
I spent about five hours on the highway this weekend, and before we get to the college basketball–related epiphanies for this week, I have three driving-related epiphanies:
1. In my mind, the worst breach of highway etiquette is when a driver in the left lane travels at the exact same (slow) speed as the driver in the right lane, clogging the highway and making it impossible for anyone to pass. It's selfish, stupid, and beyond infuriating. I used to deal with this problem by stewing in anger and shouting a few obscenities inside the safety of my car. Not effective. Eventually, I began tailgating in an effort to show that I hated the driver and would like to pass. More effective, but sometimes they'd become obstinate and refuse to move. But now, my evolution is complete, because I've reached a point in life where I just drive up, wait a few seconds to make sure I'm not being an impatient douche, and then hit the horn at reasonable intervals until they move. And the crazy part? It works, and I'm a lot less angry. I just sail by while the offender glowers at me from the slowpoke lane where he belongs. I'm pretty sure this new Zen-like approach contains the seeds of a great motivational book.
2. Things can get really, really odd when you're alone in a car. I once had a roommate in New York who told me he was looking forward to visiting his family in Kansas City for a holiday so he could "get in the car and just get weird." I knew exactly what he meant. And I'm not talking weird in any kind of perverse way. I'm talking, like, singing freestyle blues songs about highway signs. I'm talking about giving fake interviews in foreign accents. I'm talking about carrying on one-sided conversations with other drivers. Just letting the brain roam where it will, which is always some place bizarre. If there was a TV show that was just footage of people who thought they were alone in a car, it would be a smash hit. And if aliens ever considered invading, but that show was the only thing they watched ahead of time, they'd immediately cancel their plans, since we are clearly a planet of psychopaths.
3. If someone is exhibiting "dickish" behavior on the road, there is a 95 percent chance that he will be driving a pickup truck. Pickup trucks are the new 18-wheelers, and 18-wheelers are the new sports cars. I know a lot of good people who own pickup trucks, including my father, so please don't think I'm stereotyping. This is just a scientific conclusion culled from years of observation; among the thriving group of respectable pickup truckers, there is a group of renegade road terrorists. And if you bike? God help you, because then it goes up to 100 percent. Pickup truck people hate bikers and love to buzz them or scream out the window as they pass. Someday, I'm going to bike past a pickup trucker stopped for speeding, and I'm going to get my revenge by mocking them on the fly. And on that day, the driver will probably be my father. Sorry, Dad.
On to the hoops! Here's what we learned from the past week: