Gator beat writer: ‘There hasn’t been a bigger story’

Eagle News spoke with Chris Harry, senior writer at GatorZone.com, about Friday’s Sweet Sixteen matchup against Florida at 9:57 in Arlington, Texas.

EN: You’ve covered UF basketball all year. What team does FGCU remind you of that UF has faced this year? 

Harry: Not sure a comparison to another Florida opponent would do the Eagles justice. Maybe with the way they play on the whole, I’d say Ole Miss, given how they switch defenses, take advantage of transition and shoot 3s when there. If I can flesh it out further, Brett Comer looks as close to Phil Pressey as anyone the Gators faced this season; maybe not in terms of his athleticism, but with his ability to find the open man, especially in transition. 

EN: What does the team think of all the coverage FGCU has been receiving? Did they know of FGCU before this weekend? 

Harry: Next to the Miami Heat’s winning streak, there hasn’t been a bigger national story. And given that we’re talking about history here — the first 15 seed to win a second game — it’s certainly warranted. I remember way back when the Gators made their first NCAA Tournament in 1987. The experience was altogether new and a lot of people saw just receiving an at-large berth a season-making accomplishment. But UF beat a couple college basketball blue bloods at the time, North Carolina State and Purdue, and suddenly were in the Sweet 16. Huge story, especially in the state. This is bigger, way bigger, because of the overall circumstances; in just the second year of Division I eligibility? Remarkable. Good for Florida Gulf Coast.

EN: What do you think personally? Did you know anything about FGCU before they played in the tournament?

Harry: I was at the Miami news conference after the Hurricanes beat Illinois late Sunday night. Shane Larkin was asked about three state schools being in the Sweet 16. He talked about all the grief his team got for losing to FGCU early in the season, even though he continued to tell people in the ensuing months the team was really good. And, frankly, that’s all I knew about the Eagles, too. “Hey, Miami lost to Florida Gulf Coast.” Can’t tell you how many times I heard people say that. All season long, that outcome said more about Miami. Now, in March, when it matters most, it says more about FGCU.

EN: I’m sure you’ve seen them play or at least seen highlights. What do you think?

Harry: This is a team of opportunists. When opponents make mistakes, when FGCU sees an opening, these guys not only take advantage of it, they seize it and convert those mistakes into mushroom-cloud plays that reverberate, provide momentum and make the opponent pay. The more plays like that, the more confident they get, the more the crowd rides the underdog, the more pressure on the other team. They look like they’re having a lot of fun out there. I mean, “Duh,” right? 

EN: What is Florida’s nemesis. What does FGCU have to execute to beat UF?

Harry: Play like it did against Georgetown and San Diego State. Force turnovers. Fast break. Crash the glass. From what I understand, that’s been the formula for success for the Eagles all season. Why, after the last two games, do anything differently? Obviously, if they’re in the game late, the Eagles have a chance. The Gators have had their troubles closing tight games out.   

EN: And vice versa, what do you think UF has to do to beat FGCU?

Harry: Defend the way the Gators are best capable. Florida has been ranked in the Top 5 in defensive efficiency rating (points per possession). Right now, the Gators are third in that metric. When they are playing together defensively, they’re guarding and switching in the halfcourt, smother teams with full-court pressure and — maybe even most importantly this game — getting back in transition on turnovers, missed shots and definitely long rebounds off missed 3-point shots. If they don’t do that Friday, anything can happen. Ask Georgetown.