An entire season’s worth of work for the FGCU men’s and women’s basketball teams all comes down to the next three games.
Despite winning their respective regular-season conference titles, none of that matters without winning the next three games each in the Atlantic Sun tournament if they want to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
For many teams, the do-or-die aspect that makes March Madness so entertaining to watch doesn’t begin when the brackets are revealed. Those teams, typically mid-major programs in conferences that will only earn a single tournament bid, start their runs in the conference tournaments where the bid, and an entire year’s worth of work is up for grabs.
That process starts Monday for the FGCU men’s basketball team, as they play host to USC-Upstate(7-24, 2-12 ASUN) in the quarterfinal round of the ASUN tournament.
The Eagles(21-10, 12-2) have beaten the Spartans in both regular season matchups this year, 75-58 on Jan. 11, and 88-71 on Feb. 10. The latter though, in addition to clinching the ASUN, started a stretch of three straight games with double-digit halftime deficits, and while they won that game, the following two home games against Kennesaw State and Lipscomb, they lost.
“I’ve done this a while and I’m going to keep doing this a while. You should understand the cherish the days. You’ve done something special and why don’t you want to keep building on that?” Eagles coach Joe Dooley said about the team’s February swoon. “Don’t take your foot off the gas.”
They did beat Stetson, 76-60 to end the regular season, but it serves as a reminder: one bad game, and the season ends. A team that was widely expected to trounce through the ASUN on its way to its third straight NCAA Tournament berth can end up just a tale of what might have been.
Such is the life of a mid-major.
And nobody knows that struggle better than in the next locker room over.
Two seasons ago, the FGCU women had won 21 games in a row, and 25 of their last 26 before being upset in the ASUN finals by Jacksonville on a last-second shot. Because of that loss, a team that was on the edge of the Top 25 in the nation, with a 28-5 record, was left out. Not just left out, but according to the selection committee, not even really in the conversation.
All because of one slip-up.
The women(27-4, 13-1) start their run toward the dance on Friday against NJIT(4-25, 2-12).
March doesn’t begin for another three days: the madness starts now.
View from the Nest is a series of stories, analysis, and tidbits from FGCU beat writer R.J. Roan that don’t fit anywhere else. Follow R.J. on Twitter @ByRJRoan for live updates and analysis during FGCU basketball games all season long.
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