How Far Will They Go? Inside Florida-Gulf Coast's Cinderella Run

FGCU has been the story of the Tournament thus far, but how long can their ride last?

I found it funny when Darren Rovell asked one of his usual poll questions on Twitter, this time wondering whether people had heard of Florida Gulf Coast before last week. After making a few internal snarky comments about unenlightened people or something, I realized something important: other than their few baseball players to make the Cape Cod Summer League, I could not tell you a single other thing about the school.

So what did I know before the Tourney? I knew that they had the best chance of any 15-seed of winning their first round game, but that was only because of the weakness of Georgetown. I knew that they had a 1.86 percent chance of making the Sweet 16, inconceivable odds of somebody actually acheiving. I also know that the Eagles would mysteriously pop up among our top NCAA defenses, catching my eye every once in a while.

Now, I know that they are the first 15-seed to ever make the Sweet 16. With their improbable run, it's worth looking at their play and just how far they can go, by the numbers. Georgetown and San Diego State have gone down. Is Florida next?

Offensive and Defensive Efficiency

Florida Gulf Coast might not have been the first name you thought of when "Strong Defensive Teams" popped into your bracket-making head, but maybe it should have been. Entering the tournament, FGCU sat in the 82nd percentile of NCAA teams in opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency, No. 58 among Division I teams. Their 0.958 points allowed per possession did rank only third in the Atlantic Sun Conference, but the two teams ahead of them (Belmont and Mercer) finished in the top ten percent of all Division I teams.

Their offense, meanwhile, had the efficiency of their NFL Eagles counterparts: it was prone to explosions at times, but overall sat only about average. Their 1.048 points scored per 100 possessions ranked No. 116 in the country; good enough to barely squeak in the top third of Division I teams but not spectacular. Their standard deviation of 136th-best in the country meant that they exceeded this figure with regularity, though, even if they also had the potential to bomb spectacularly and go the other way.

I think it's pretty safe to say at this point that "bomb spectacularly" wasn't the victor in this scenario. In the first victory against Georgetown, the Eagles barely made it to one point scored per possession (1.026 points scored). However, they held the Hahahaha Hoyas (really, who isn't laughing at them?) to 0.895 points per possession. Georgetown might not have been the best offensive team, sitting at only No. 119 in opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency, but we expected their 1.048 points per possession to put up a bit more of a fight.

But the second time around, against those now-also-extinct Aztecs of San Diego State, the Eagles got it done in a different manner. The Aztecs managed to score 1.014 points per possession against FGCU, which would have made this one a close game if the Eagles had maintained their average ORtg from the regular season. San Diego State's No. 17 defense couldn't keep up to par, however, and FGCU averaged an incredible 1.157 points per offensive possession. SDSU had not allowed that many points per possession in any of their last five games, including wins over Tourney teams Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Boise State (twice).

The Fuuuuture

The Eagles are probably the Tournament's best story thus far. That's why it's sad that they are likely to be hopelessly and mercilessly crushed by their in-state not-really-rivals in a few days.

Normally, I would say that the Selection Committee didn't do any favors putting FGCU in the same bracket as Florida, but really, they did the Eagles all the favors in the world by lining them up against Georgetown in Round 1. The Florida Gators are no Georgetown, though.

Let's play a little comparison game, shall we? Below are the teams' offensive ratings (points per 100 possessions), defensive ratings, and NCAA D-I rankings for both of those, pace (possessions per 40 minutes) and consistency (how likely they are to vary from those ratings).

TeamORtgORtg PercentileDRtgDRtg PercentilePace PercentileConsistency Rate
Florida Gators116.4298.7%86.2899.6%12.5%71.3%
FGCU Eagles104.7782.1%95.7787.4%87.4%57.6%

That's pure ugliness. Florida scores almost a dozen more points per 100 possessions, allows almost ten less points per 100 possessions, and has the consistency to do even better. There is a good reason that our analytics call Florida the best overall team in the tournament and give the Eagles only a 3.5 percent chance of knocking off Big Brother.

If it's going to happen, it would take a perfect storm of metrics to get it done. Luckily there are two holes in the Gators team: pace and consistency. The Eagles averaged 6.64 more possessions per game than the Gators this season, preferring to push the tempo. They surely did in their first two games, with over 70 possessions in each one. If they can force Florida to run, they might be able to take them off their game.

Florida's relative inconsistency may help as well. With a high 14.07 standard deviation, ranking No. 132 among all NCAA D-I teams, Florida is prone to having a bad game here and there. It hasn't happened yet, but it's important to look at each individual game in a vacuum. It would take an extraordinarily bad game for Florida to sink to FGCU's level, but as we've seen in the Tourney thus far, anything can happen.