One school has a pair of national championships, three Final Fours, and five Elite Eight appearances under its belt since March of 2000. The other has been playing Division I basketball for all of two years.
With Florida Gulf Coast University into the Sweet Sixteen — the first #15 seed to ever go so far, in case you haven’t already heard 30 times — and facing off with big, bad Florida Friday night in Austin, Texas, you should prepare yourself to see plenty tale-of-the-tape comparisons between the two neighbors.
Not unlike this one:
|University of Florida||Florida Gulf Coast University|
|Established||1853||1991 (Classes opened in 1997)|
|Endowment||$1.295 Billion||$57.1 Million|
|NCAA Tourney Appearances||15 (2 vacated)||1|
|NCAA Tourney Wins||34||2|
The two schools are separated by 200 some-odd miles on a map, a million miles in terms of name recognition and past basketball achievements. One is famous for the Gator chomp. The other might be more famous for its coach’s ex-model wife.
FGCU’s Andy Enfield has been a head coach for two seasons — his school’s only two Division I seasons — and has won 40 games in his career. UF’s Billy Donovan is in his 19th season. A win on Friday over Enfield would be Donovan’s 45o career victory.
So do the underdog Eagles have a legitimate shot against the Gators, one of America’s top programs? Of course. And FGCU forward Eric McKnight is looking forward to it. “That is going to be a great deal,” he said yesterday after the Eagles’ win over San Diego State. “It’s going to be so much fun because we’ll have a chance to prove who’s the best in Florida.”
When asked who is the best in Florida, McKnight didn’t hesitate: “FGCU. FGCU.”
Gator fans shouldn’t laugh. The Eagles have an RPI of 67 which puts them in the same company with several SEC bubble teams this year. They’re also a pretty respectable 3-3 against RPI top 50 teams. They beat one #2 seed in Georgetown to begin their tournament run. Back in November they beat another eventual #2 seed — Miami — 63-51.
If McKnight and can crew topple Miami and Florida in the same season the Eagles really will be able to call themselves Sunshine State champs this year.