Florida Gulf Coast is entering their sixth Division I season as a basketball program. Last year they had they had a losing record and still set a number of bests for the program. Not only did they set a record for most wins (15, vs 17 losses) but they advanced to the Atlantic Sun finals in their first year of post-season eligibility.
So is it too early to talk about FGCU being a program that can make waves? Not if you're paying attention.
Andy Enfield enters his 2nd season as a head coach, and with him come all five starters from last year's team. Then there's 6-9 Eric McKnight – a transfer from Iowa State – who was listed in a number of services as a top-100 recruit. McKnight didn't get to participate on the team's recent trip to the Bahamas due to a suspension for violating team rules, but Enfield says everything is fine for the season.
Combine that with what might be the best recruiting class in the Atlantic Sun, and you have something. But that's for this year.
And while teams might be built in a year, programs aren't.
So take a look at the bench. And remember that Andy Enfield worked for Leonard Hamilton at Florida State for several years. What he learned was that when you're not a program which can land star recruits consistently, then go out and find some size and athleticism. Enter Nate Hicks (6-10, Georgia Tech) and Jamail Jones (6-6, Marquette). They have to sit for a year, but they can practice. Jones, for his part, is a former consensus top-100 recruit. How many of those exist in the Atlantic Sun?
Regardless, back to the team and not the program. Last year's Eagles made 37.3% of their 3s against D1 opponents, good for 53rd in the nation. And on their recent trip to the Bahamas (using the International 3-point line which is over a foot further from the basket) FGCU shot 39%, 37% and 43% from beyond the arc in their three games (all wins). They already scored (last year) 32.6% of their points from beyond the arc, which was more than all but 55 teams (out of 345). Look for FGCU to bump that up this season.
Last year they came close to break-through wins. They lost by one to TCU, SMU and Nebraska. They lost by 10 to Miami and six to Maryland. They were almost there.
This year they've decided to ramp up the schedule. It kicks off with a trip to VCU. They get Miami at home. And they travel to Duke, St. John's and Iowa State. Don't be surprised if they don't win any of those games. Sure, they would like to win against high-major opponents, but for a program like this winning the conference is what is important, and those games prepare them.
Also – with Belmont no longer a member of the Atlantic Sun – the conference is suddenly wide open. Remember that come March.