As the FGCU men’s basketball team opens the Gulf Coast Showcase on Monday night at Hertz Arena, there’s a good chance the Eagles will be facing teams that’ll be in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
Northern Kentucky (2-1), the co-favorite to win the Horizon League, will play FGCU at 7:30 p.m. Monday to cap first-day action. Toledo (3-0), which is averaging 97 points per game, will open against Kansas City (1-1). Indiana State (4-0) will meet East Carolina (3-0) in a first-round game.
“I think you’ll see a lot of teams in this field winning conference championships,” said Brooks Downing, president of bdG Sports, who has held the Gulf Coast Showcase for the past 10 years.
FGCU men’s basketball coach Pat Chambers said the tough games early were done purposely.
“The schedule was very hard to start and it was strategically set up that way,” he said. “We want to get guys more connected to grow and learn. I thought we competed well against three high major teams.”
After opening the season by shocking USC and former FGCU coach Andy Enfield 74-61, the Eagles fell in the final minutes to San Diego 79-73. A 105-61 win over Ave Maria was followed by an 81-50 loss to No. 22 Tennessee.
“(FGCU athletic director) Ken (Kavanagh) talks about how sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail,” Chambers said. “I thought we looked a little fatigued but that’s one of the toughest defensive teams I’ve seen in Tennessee. There were times we couldn’t run our offense.”
But while he thought his team played hard the entire time vs. the Volunteers, he thought they were inconsistent against Ave Maria.
“We have a good four minutes, then an OK four minutes and that’s where you get in trouble,” Chambers said. “But we were unselfish for Ave Maria, and I think we’re closer right now to our goal of playing 40 minutes of FGCU basketball.”
This will be FGCU's third appearance in the tournament and the first time since 2018 and it has a 3-4 all-time record in the event. The Eagles' foe Monday, Northern Kentucky, was projected as Horizon League champ and No. 15 seed by ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi in the preseason.
The Norse may climb a few seeds after a 64-51 win over Cincinnati. The Bearcats scored just 11 points in the second half.
Northern Kentucky is led by guard Marques Warrick, a preseason first-team, All-Horizon pick who is averaging 18 points a game. He’s one of four Norse players averaging more than 10 points a game.
FGCU is led by Zach Anderson and Chase Johnston who are both averaging 13.5 points a game while Isaiah Thompson is averaging 11.5.
Among other teams in the field:
Toledo, picked as No. 12 seed in the NCAA by Lunardi and CBS Sportsline’s Jerry Palm, has scored 85, 93, and 112 points in its first three games. The 112 came against Oakland, which won the Gulf Coast Showcase last year. RayJ Dennis, J.T. Shumate and Setric Millner have combined to average 60 points per game.
East Carolina and Indiana State, who were supposed to play in 2020 but opted out because of the global pandemic, will try again this season. Brandon Johnson and Javon Small have combined to average more than 38 points per game. Indiana State, which averages 88 points per game in a 4-0 start.
UT-Arlington is another high-scoring team with 103 and 100 points scored in two games. The Mavericks have six players averaging nine points or more.
Downing had concerns that the 10th Gulfcoast Showcase wouldn’t be played because of Hurricane Ian. “When you see videos of our hotels surrounded by water and Hertz Arena used as a storm shelter, you get concerned,” said Downing, who had a golf event canceled by Dorian in 2019. “But we also knew if we could bring the event back down, the economic impact would be welcome by our partners.”
Gulf Coast Showcase
Where: Hertz Arena
Ticket information: gulfcoastshowcase.com
11 a.m.: Toledo (3-0) vs. Kansas City (1-4)
1:30 p.m.: East Carolina (3-0) vs. Indiana State (4-0)
5 p.m.: Drexel (1-1) vs. UT Arlington (2-1)
7:30 p.m.: Northern Kentucky (2-1) vs. FGCU (2-2)
NCAA Tournament history: Toledo’s last NCAA appearance came in 1980. Its only NCAA win was over Iowa in 1979.
Fun fact: Jamie Farr (Clinger, MASH) earned an honorary degree in 1983.
NCAA Tournament history: UM-Kansas City never has played in the NCAA Tournament.
Fun fact: UM-Kansas was at one time a member of the NAIA. Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium has been host of the NAIA tournament off and on for 76 years.
Conference: American Athletic Conference
NCAA Tournament history: East Carolina first made the Big Dance in 1972, then again in 1993. The Pirates lost both games.
Fun fact: Former FGCU coach Joe Dooley had two stints at East Carolina.
Conference: Colonial Athletic
NCAA Tournament history: Drexel has made five NCAA Division I Tournament appearances and beat Memphis in 1996.
Fun fact: Drexel was the fifth U.S. school to start collegiate basketball, its first season being 1894–1895.
Conference: Western Athletic Conference.
NCAA Tournament history: The team appeared in the 2008 Tournament, losing to No. 1 seed Memphis in the first round. Memphis was later forced to vacate the win due to infractions committed by the program.
Fun fact: UT-Arlington accepted an invitation from the WAC on July 1.
NCAA Tournament history: The Norse made NCAA appearances in 2017 and 2019, losing to Kentucky and Texas Tech.
Fun fact: Northern Kentucky was FGCU’s foe as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2014 and 2015.
NCAA Tournament history: Ten years ago, FGCU was the NCAA Tournament darlings when the Eagles beat No. 2-seeded Georgetown and San Diego State to become the first No. 15-seed to make the Sweet 16.
Fun fact: FGCU started playing men’s college basketball in 2002.
Conference: Missouri Valley
NCAA Tournament history: Indiana State has made four NCAA tournaments. It lost to Michigan State and Magic Johnson in the 1979 national championship game.
Fun fact: Larry Bird led the Indiana State team that made it to the national title game.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: FGCU men's basketball making third appearance in Gulf Coast Showcase