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The Slipper Still Fits Series – Part 2: The Moment

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As we continue the most memorable Cinderellas in March Madness series, here’s a reminder of how this region was determined:

These Cinderellas may not have a signature shot or player, but they stand out for more miscellaneous reasons. They may have had a nickname or style of play that was especially fun, or had a memorable moment which wasn’t directly tied to the on court product; usually tied to the celebration.

The Moment or Moniker Region:

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(1) #15 Florida Gulf Coast goes to the Sweet 16, 2013 – Dunk City

The Cinderella that spawned a movement. DUNK CITY in 2o13 was as memorable as a team could become in March. It wasn’t just that they were the first #15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 (although that was a big factor), but also because of their above the rim style of play:

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Coming into the 2013 NCAA tournament even the most diehard followers of the Atlantic Sun could not have predicted the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles dream run to the sweet 16. Not only were the Eagles newcomers to the Big Dance, but 2013 was just their 2nd season of tournament eligibility. Under 2nd year (?!) head coach Andy Enfield, the Eagles had a solid year but nothing spectacular going 26-11 overall and 13-5 in the A-Sun (good for 2nd place in the conference behind Mercer). FGCU tested themselves early in the year with some major programs, but their performance did not exactly inspire confidence for a deep postseason run: They lost by 23 to VCU, 21 to Duke, 11 to St. John’s, 11 to Iowa St. and by 6 to 11-19 Maine (eek) out of conference.  To truly erase any modicum of hope they then had a few unforgivable in-conference losses including home & away losses to 2nd to last place Lipscomb!

Meanwhile their first round opponent, Georgetown, went 25-7 in the old Big East. While they were perpetually overrated in those years (Under JT3 Georgetown was upset more times than Bill Clinton’s gotten caught),

they still boasted some solid talent including #3 overall NBA draft pick Otto Porter and scoring machine D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.

From the opening tip FGCU showed that they were every bit, if not more, athletic than the #2 seeded Hoyas which is beyond unprecedented in a 15-2 matchup. After a close first half, FGCU opened a can of whoop-ass in the second half with a 21-2 run and a bevy of high flying dunks, unbridled swagger, and sexy ass coeds to capture the attention of even the most apathetic college basketball viewer. The Philadelphia crowd even bestowed these fan favorites with a “E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!” chant.  When a fan base as salty as Philadelphia gets on board you know you have an all-timer on your hands.

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(4) #14 Mercer def. #3 Duke, 2014 – The Nae Nae

From the same conference as FGCU, the very next year the Mercer Bears were the talk of the tournament.

Look, anytime Duke is on the ropes against a much higher seeded no name mid-major, the college basketball world perks up looking to bask in Coach K’s tears. A couple years prior the #15 seed Lehigh Mountain Hawks took down Duke in an epic upset. In 2014 though, Duke was playing in their own backyard in Raleigh (such bullshit that Duke as #3 seed gets that hometown love, but I digress) with arguably the best player in the country Jabari Parker. No one gave the #14 seed Bears much of a chance under these circumstances, but after watching their conference counterparts make noise the year before, Mercer believed.

Mercer started 5 seniors (7 got regular playing time) and used that experience to run an absolute clinic on the young Blue Devil squad. Mercer shot 56% including 58% in the second half to pull off the shocker. The game was nip and tuck the whole way, but eventually everyone expected the other shoe to drop and Duke to take over down the stretch. Down 5 with 5 minutes left, the exact opposite happened. Mercer scored 11 straight points as part of a 20-5 run to ice the game and left the vast majority of the college basketball world smiling like they just lost their virginity.

However, what made this upset truly memorable was the post game celebration! The Bears gathered around their senior PG Kevin Canevari as he unleashed the most shocking white boy dance moves since Kevin Bacon in Footloose. It spawned countless GIFs & Memes and was a staple on every highlight reel for the rest of the tournament.

Verdict:

While Mercer’s upset was fun, this is a total BLOWOUT. Dunk City lasted through the opening weekend into week 2, and had more “holy shit, did you see that?!?!” moments than the rest of the tournament combined. FGCU didn’t just beat teams, they beat the shit out of them. On top of all that, the moniker became instantly identifiable and apparel was sold, anthems were created and babies were made (last one is questionable).

Andy Enfield and co. move on to the next round.

(2) #15 Hampton def. #2 Iowa State, 2001 – The coach gets carried

Jim Valvano started the ‘coach running around aimlessly on the court’ celebration (name a work in progress). Coach Steve Merfeld of Hampton perfected it.

Iowa State followed up their first Big 12 championship (both regular season and tournament) in 1999-00 with another regular season Big 12 title. They also boasted the Big 12 player of the year and eventual NBA lottery pick Jamaal Tinsley. In recent years we’ve been treated to a slew of #15 over #2 upsets (FGCU, Lehigh, Norfolk State, Middle Tennessee), but back in 2001 the monumental upset had only occurred 3 times before the Pirates flipped the trick.

Hampton had never before made the tournament (something about these first timers produces the madness) and with only one MEAC team ever winning a game before, there wasn’t much confidence in this #15 seed. After Iowa St. took a 55-44 lead with just over 8 minutes left it seemed Hampton would not become the second. Then, Iowa St. only scored 2 points the rest of the game. Hampton closed on a 14-2 improbable run, taking the lead for good with just 6.9 seconds left.

The moment that resonated the most though was seeing Hampton coach Steve Merfeld being hoisted in the air with the sheer joy that only March can bring.

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(3) #14 Georgia State def. #3 Baylor, 2015 – The coach gets injured

The 2014-15 Georgia State Panthers were one of the most trendy #14 seed upset picks I can ever remember. They boasted the 2 leading scorers in the conference; coach Ron Hunter’s son R.J Hunter (19.7 ppg) and senior guard Ryan Harrow (18.3). They also had Kevin Ware, the same Kevin Ware formerly of Louisville who had one of the nastiest broken legs in NCAA tournament history (don’t worry I won’t show it).

The day before the game though, co-star Harrow was ruled out with a sore hamstring. Couple that with first round pro talent R.J. only scoring 7 points through the first 37 minutes and there seemed to be no chance for the Panthers to pull off the popular upset pick. With 2:54 remaining, down 56-44, coach Hunter went into full court press mode to give the 14 seed a punchers chance. It worked like a charm as they took advantage of Baylor’s tentative play and sloppy passing to score the game’s last 13 points including 2 DEEP threes from R.J. The shot itself was probably the single most iconic shot of the ’15 tournament.

BUT, father/coach Ron’s reaction to the crazy 3 was even better. That’s because Ron was sitting (standing?) court side on a custom stool because he tore his achilles celebrating the Panthers’ Sun Belt Championship victory. I shit you not:

And that’s how we came to find coach Hunter, with a full cast, falling off his custom stool in celebrating R.J.’s 3. I mean, I could watch this on repeat for eternity:

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Verdict:

This is a nail biter. I went back and forth on this decision as both coaches’ reactions crack me up. March Madness at its finest doesn’t just include 20 year olds showing every emotion, but also their middle aged coaches.

Both are very memorable, but I’m giving Georgia State the slightest of nods. Both featured a wild comeback, a go ahead shot in the final seconds, and a indelible coach celebration. However, coach Hunter already being injured and the return to the spotlight of Kevin Ware give the Panthers the edge in my book.

Elite 8:

(1) #15 Florida Gulf Coast goes to the Sweet 16, 2013 – Dunk City

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(3) #14 Georgia State def. #3 Baylor, 2015 – The coach gets injured

I’ll hold the suspense: Florida Gulf Coast moves on to the Final 4. While Georgia State had a memorable shot and an even more memorable moment, Gulf Coast was a goddamn revolution. They didn’t just destroy Georgetown in the first round with a series of dunks and alley-oops, they continued their high wire act over San Diego State in the second round all the way to the second weekend.

And for those thinking ‘how could FGCU make this region without a true standout moment?’ I submit Brett Comer to Chase Fieler:

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Tags : Slipper Series

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