For the first time since 2013, the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles qualified for the NCAA Tournament. For the first time since 2011 the Southern California Trojans will take part in the Big Dance.
What do those two programs have in common? The Eagles were coached that year by Andy Enfield and the Trojans of 2016 are led by the same guy.
At 47, Enfield is no youngster and has gained some good experience as an assistant in the NBA and for six years was part of Leonard Hamilton’s coaching staff at Florida State. He left FSU following the 2011 season to take the FGCU job.
While in Tallahassee, the Seminoles made it to the NCAA tournament in three of his six years. The 2011 team made it to the Sweet 16.
Within two years in Fort Myers, he had a high-flying, up tempo team that shot better than 50 percent for the season. It helped that many of their shots were taken from a foot above the rim. The Eagles earned the nickname “Dunk City” for the multiple ways they powered the ball through the net.
Enfield knew the best way to make his team a better team was to play the best. He scheduled the fast-paced Virginia Commonwealth Rams on the road for their 2012-13 opener.
Other non-conference road games that year included games at Duke, St. Johns and Iowa State. The tough schedule paid off.
They won 13 of their 18 conference games and won all three games in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament by double digits. The Eagles were still deservedly under the radar, but became a known commodity just a few days later.
FGCU stunned the second-seeded Georgetown Hoyas in the first round, 78-68. Two days later they made history by becoming the first 15 seed to make the Sweet 16 with an 81-71 win over No. 7 San Diego State.
Billy Donovan’s uncooperative Florida Gators finally sent the Eagles home from the tournament with a 62-50 victory in the South Regional semi-finals. Not long after, USC gave Enfield an offer he couldn’t refuse.
His first two seasons in Los Angeles were underwhelming, finishing last in the Pac 12 both years. Now in his third year, he has an FGCU-like up tempo team that is fun to watch.
Enfield’s Trojans finished with a 21-12 record, including 9-9 in a powerful conference to earn a No. 8 seed. They play the ninth-seeded Providence Friars Thursday night in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Florida Gulf Coast is playing in one of the “First Four” games Tuesday night in Dayton against Farleigh Dickson. Game time is 6:40 p.m. The winner is the No. 16 seed and must play top-seeded North Carolina in Raleigh, about 10 miles from their Chapel Hill Campus.
Should FGCU win on Tuesday and become the first 16 seed ever to beat a top seed, they would play the winner of Providence and USC. Unfortunately for Coach Joe Dooley and the Eagles, Cinderella wears glass slippers, not size 15 sneakers.
It would be nice to at least have Enfield’s current team and former team playing in the same building on the same day on the same court striving for the same goal. If a 1980 U.S. hockey team-style miracle happens to put them on the court against each other, then the story will have one more chapter.