College basketball history could be made this weekend if Florida Gulf Coast University or La Salle (or both) wins two games to reach the Final Four in Atlanta. The highest-seeded team ever to reach the national semifinals was a No. 11, done three times and most recently by VCU in 2011. Thus the No. 15 Eagles or No. 13 Explorers would smash that mark with two more upsets.
FGCU, located in Fort Myers, Fla., is the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 thanks to upsets of Georgetown and San Diego State. The Eagles, the Atlantic Sun Tournament champions, were 500-1 when the tournament started to win it all and are now 66-1 to do so at Bovada. They were seeded 59th overall out of the 68 NCAA Tournament teams. The team has become the storyline thus far with its acrobatic dunks, young coach Andy Enfield and his supermodel wife. Enfield no doubt will be in high demand by bigger schools this offseason.
Oddsmakers don’t like FGCU’s chances on Friday against No. 3 Florida, which is a 13-point favorite. The Gators beat Northwestern State and Minnesota by a combined 46 points in the first two rounds, which is no surprise, as every Florida win this season has been by double digits. Florida leads the nation in average scoring margin (plus-18.2 points) and is second in scoring defense (53.8 ppg).
Florida beat FGCU in their lone meeting by 34 points in 2008. That was well before the term “Dunk City” became attached to the Eagles and before they were even eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Florida has lost only once in 26 games against Atlantic Sun teams under Billy Donovan. The FGCU-Florida winner faces the No. 1 Kansas-No. 4 Michigan winner for the South region title. Florida Gulf Coast was 100-1 to win the South and now is 15-1.
La Salle received one of the final two at-large bids into this tournament after finishing fourth in the Atlantic 10 Conference and losing its A-10 Tournament opener to Butler. It also opened at 500-1 to win the NCAA Tournament and is currently 66-1.
Much like VCU did two years ago, the Explorers had to open in the First Four, where they beat Boise State by nine. La Salle has followed with two-point wins over Kansas State, the co-Big 12 regular-season champion, and SEC Tournament winner Ole Miss. It’s the first time the school has recorded multiple wins in the NCAA Tournament since losing the national championship game to Bill Russell’s San Francisco team in 1955 when the tournament had a 24-team field.
The Explorers are the seventh No. 13 seed to reach the Sweet 16, but the previous six all lost in that round. They face No. 9 Wichita State on Thursday and are just four-point underdogs. The Shockers are the lone team to oust a No. 1 seed thus far, upsetting Gonzaga.
The winner Thursday faces either No. 6 Arizona or No. 2 Ohio State for the West region championship. La Salle is 9-1 to win the region after opening at 100-1. Originally, a seed at No. 9 or higher being crowned NCAA champion was 18-1.