This season has been defined so far by the fate of Ian Miller's foot. He hurt it early in the 2nd Clemson game, and FSU struggled with him out of the lineup as the Tigers held FSU to a season low in points, losing 53-49. A week later, still without Miller, FSU dropped a game to Maryland. Win either of those games and FSU would be dancing.
Once Miller was back to full speed FSU won 5 of 7 to set up an ACCT must-win vs Virginia. Again, his foot took center stage. As he was racing into the back court to pick up a tipped ball, Virginia guard Justin Anderson inexplicably tackled him from behind, landing awkwardly on Miller's foot. Miller hobbled around the rest of the game, but Virginia is a great team and it's not clear that a healthy Miller could have kept the game close.
Now with his senior season coming to a close, Miller has been held out of practice and is listed as doubtful for tonight's game.
That leaves seniors Okaro White and Robert Gilchrist to fight for their season not to end. They'll have to do it against last year's tourney Cinderella, Florida Gulf Coast.
FGCU has ties to FSU, as Noles assistant coach Andy Enfield left to become the Eagles 2nd head coach in their program's short tenure. After his Sweet 16 appearance last year, Enfield accepted the head coaching position at Southern Cal. Joe Dooley, a longtime assistant at Kansas (working for Bill Self, another former Ham assistant), was hired to take over. Dooley retained assistant coach Michael Fly, who was FSU's video coordinator from 2008-11. (got it?)
Liam Jones, who runs the blog FGCU Eagles Nest, told me that the new coach likes the Dunk City style a bit as well. "The coaching change, to Joe Dooley, has brought down the Eagles pace a bit, but don't get me wrong, they still like to get out and run when given the chance - and that is usually when they excel and are able to go on a run."
FGCU ended up in the NIT by virtue of the their regular season title in Atlantic Sun. But Mercer won the conference tourney, and thus the automatic NCAA bid. The FGCU - Mercer rivalry has been fierce the past couple of year, but unfortunately conference realignment is ending it. "A major storyline has to be the rivalry with Mercer," said Jones. "FGCU's three match-ups with Mercer were pivotal in the season. Mercer knocked out FGCU on the road and the Eagles returned the favor in #DunkCity. The rematch was set in the A-Sun Championship and Mercer's starting five senior got themselves a NCAA bid. Fans of both sides don't want this rivalry to end even though Mercer is leaving for the Southern Conference."
The Eagles are a 3-headed monster with 6-3 junior Bernard Thompson averaging 15.1 points, 6-8 senior Chase Fieler averaging 14.1 points and 7.6 boards, and 6-3 junior Brett Comer averaging 13.9 points and 5.4 assists. I asked Jones about these players.
"Brett Comer - The Orlando product is a facilitator first who has eyes in the back of his head. When the Eagles offense is struggling however, he can give them a boost with some scoring, mostly in transition. His jumper and three point shot have improved significantly from last season but his scoring abilities lye in his ability to take it to the hoop.
Bernard Thompson - FGCU's best defender and scorer. His jump shot is silky and possess sticky hands - making him probably the Eagles most dynamic player.
Chase Fieler - Originally slated to play the two guard at FGCU, Fieler transitioned into playing down low and has grown immensely. Although his go to post move is the right hook over left shoulder, he can pull some out of the hat when given the ball in the high post."
Should FSU come away with the win, they'll host the winner of Georgetown and West Virginia.
The Noles opened in Vegas as a 13-point favorite, but once the news about Ian Miller broke the line quickly dropped to FSU -10.5. The game tips at 7pm from the Tuck, and will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Hopefully this won't be a repeat of last year's sub-3K person crowd in the NIT. The first 1,000 fans get in free, and tickets are $15 with the entire arena being general admission.