Amid the hoopla surrounding Sunday’s unveiling of the NCAA tournament’s 68-team field, Georgetown Coach John Thompson III wasn’t immediately aware that Florida (26-7) also was in the Hoyas’ section of the draw. And, like the rest of the nation, he knew little about Georgetown’s opening opponent on Friday, 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast (24-10), apart from the eye-popping fact that the Eagles upset ACC regular season and tournament champion Miami on Nov. 13.
But that doesn’t mean Thompson or his players will take Florida Gulf Coast for granted.
Said sophomore guard Jabril Trawick: “In the tournament, every team is going to play tough. I don’t think any team is scared. Every team is excited to make the tournament — especially the teams that don’t know they’re going to make it unless they win their conference championship.”
Florida Gulf Coast admitted its first students in 1997. Its basketball team is competing in Division I for just its second season. And it earned its first NCAA tournament berth this year by defeating Mercer in the Atlantic Sun tournament final.
Georgetown isn’t likely to intimidate the Eagles, who bolstered their schedule with out-of-conference games against Duke, Virginia Commonwealth, Miami and St. John’s. But the size of the crowd for Friday’s game at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center might. The Eagles play their home games at 4,500-seat Alico Arena. The Atlantic Sun’s championship game in Macon, Ga., drew 3,494.
Assuming the Hoyas advance, they’ll face the winner of No. 7 San Diego State and No. 10 Oklahoma on Sunday.
Thompson played down the significance of the Hoyas’ No. 2 seed, explaining that he felt specific matchups mattered far more.
As for Florida Gulf Coast, Thompson said: “They’ve played a terrific schedule having played VCU, having played Duke, having played St. John’s. Getting a win against Miami, who is the ACC regular season and tournament champion.”
Georgetown was among eight Big East schools to earn NCAA tournament bids, the most of any league. It was fitting, given that the Big East will cease to exist as currently configured on June 30.
With the curtain drawn on the Big East’s final conference championship, the new, basketball-driven Big East will unveil its broadcast deal with Fox Sports 1 at a news conference Wednesday in New York.
Founded by Georgetown and the six other schools that don’t play big-time football, the new Big East is expected to announce the addition of Butler, Creighton and Xavier to bring its ranks to 10 for its inaugural season this fall. Xavier Athletic Director Mike Bobinski, chair of the Division I men’s basketball tournament committee, said he could not confirm that move during an interview about the NCAA tournament field with CBS on Sunday night.
Georgetown’s No. 2 seeding represented a dramatic turnaround for a team that started its conference season 0-2 and then lost its second-leading scorer, Greg Whittington, to academic eligibility issues. (Thompson confirmed Sunday that Whittington would not play in the postseason.)
After falling from the national rankings, the Hoyas rebounded, winning 11 consecutive games in one stretch and finishing the regular season ranked No. 5 in the country.
Sunday’s NCAA tournament selection show was an occasion for the Hilltop to celebrate.
Georgetown’s marching band led a parade through campus, with Thompson, the Hoyas and undergraduates in tow, that ended at the on-campus dining hall, where the party was held. Players were introduced in turn and signed autographs for fellow students standing eight and 10-deep until the show started.
And after the brackets were unveiled, Thompson thanked the students for their support throughout the season and as the Hoyas readied for their NCAA opener in Philadelphia.
“We plan on being around a while,” Thompson said.