Florida Gulf Coast? Ever heard of them? If you’ve watched any of the NCAA men’s tourney — and have a pulse — you now know about Florida Gulf Coast.
No, it’s not a vacation destination. It’s a Div. I basketball-lovin’ university located near Fort Myers, Fla. The Eagles, a 15-seed, upended 2-seed Georgetown on Friday and San Diego State on Sunday and are now Sweet 16-bound. FGCU gets the honor of playing in-state big brother Florida on Friday night.
Elkhart’s Todd Johnson knows all about FGCU. The freshman guard at Northern Kentucky University played FGCU twice this season as part of the Atlantic Sun Conference. He’s not shocked at how high the Eagles are soaring.
“Not surprised. Very much not surprised,” Johnson said Monday, March 25, as he dodged snowflakes in Highland Heights, Ky. “It’s a very fundamental team. The one thing they have is that they feel comfortable in what they’re doing. (Sherwood) Brown, he’s very competitive and brings fire to his team. And they are very athletic. And (Brett) Comer, his penetration and ability to get the ball to people who are open is ridiculous.”
Johnson also likes the fact that FGCU will bring residual attention to his league and possibly his school. “They can hang … they deserve everything they get. Their marketing is going through the roof.”
On Jan. 19, Johnson scored 5 points and handed out 3 assists as NKU lost 73-54. In their Feb. 14 meeting, Johnson played just 12 minutes and scored 3 points in a 60-53 loss.
FGCU became eligible for the NCAA Tournament last year. Northern Kentucky is Div. I, but won’t be tournament-eligible for three more seasons.
As a point guard, Johnson marvels at the ball-handling leaders in the NCAA. Besides playing FGCU twice — they lost both times — the Norse also played Ohio State early in the season. The former Crimson Charger received a healthy dose of Buckeye standout Aaron Craft, who buried a buzzer-beating shot Sunday vs. Iowa State.
“I experienced guarding and being guarded by Aaron Craft,” Johnson said. “He’s the best defensive guard I’ve ever seen. Hands down. When he gets it going, they’re hard to beat.”
In the same way Johnson wasn’t surprised by FGCU’s now global NCAA story, he saw Craft’s game-winner coming, too. “You could tell he wanted to make up for a couple of plays. He saw the (Iowa State) switch and he hit the shot. When we played him, we dared him to shoot. We played off of him and tried to make him hit his jump shot.”