Last week was full of surprises and upsets in March Madness, but none of these surpasses the amazing performance by the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles. After three rounds of play in the Dance, FGCU has knocked of the number two seeded Georgetown and the number seven seeded SDSU, beating each by ten points, and have become the first number 15 seed to advance into the Sweet Sixteen of any March Madness tournament. Now as fans, most of us are trying to figure out how some obscure school from southwestern Florida even made it out of the first round of the tournament against a powerhouse like the Georgetown Hoyas, much less into the Sweet Sixteen. A lot of fans may be saying that it’s a fluke, and the Eagles got lucky, or that the Hoyas and Aztecs of SDSU weren’t at the top of their games. Some conspiracy theorists may even say that the school and the NCAA were working together to make Gulf Coast go all the way! But in my opinion, those theories are all false, because the true reason is a mixture of true talent and simple psychology.
If you’ve watched either of FGCU’s March Madness games, you’ll know that they can speed a game up and slow it down at their leisure. You’ll see that they play with heart, they fight for rebounds and loose balls, and they’re confident and completely fearless. They’re athletic, fast, and have fun playing. All of these components add up to an amazing team. Their talent and smarts and overall ability to play the game has allowed them to keep up with the likes of Georgetown and SDSU, but even if a team is talented enough to keep up with another team, there’s still something else needed to push them over the edge, something that can help them overcome their tough opponent and win.
The reason that having an underdog win is such a big deal is because the underdog is expected, by most people, to not be as good as the team they’re playing. A team that loses to an underdog is usually filled with embarrassment, and during a game, when the team they’re supposed to be much better than is beating them, they become frantic, and try to avoid embarrassment by trying to get more points on the board. As mentioned before, the Eagles have a lot of talent. Their ability to play at almost any pace allows them to adapt to whatever pace the upper ranked teams prefer. When the other team is trying to control a game with their pace and sees FGCU, the team that’s supposed to be nowhere near as good as them, keeping up with them and being comfortable, the desire to not be embarrassed causes the other team to start losing their composure and makes them become very restless. This causes them to move at a faster pace. Eventually, the team isn’t able to keep up with the fast pace they’ve set for the game, while FGCU thrives at a fast pace. The other team begins to make mistakes which lead to turnovers, which allows Gulf Coast to show off their amazing fast break skills. Meanwhile, Gulf Coast can further psych their opponents out by being calm and taking their time on offense. Because they’re such a low seed, they have pretty much nothing to lose, while their opponents have their high seeding to defend. The Eagles take control of the games by psyching their opponents out with their skills and their seeding.
This team is for real, and with no doubt can keep up with the skill of their opponents, but have one thing that pushes them even further, and that’s their underdog status. No team wants to be beaten by the underdog, and this allows the Eagles to easily get inside their opponents’ heads and take over. With these two factors, this team from Fort Meyers, Florida is a Final Four contender. However, take away their seeding and they lose a key advantage. Look for them to go far in the tournament, unless a team is able to play at a faster pace, not lose its cool, and not allow FGCU to take control of the game.