There are a million reasons to love the Florida Gulf Coast basketball story, of course. The Eagles are the first 15-seed ever to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. That, all alone, is awesome enough. But on their way to history, the team has already set some kind of record for most ridiculous alley-oop dunks, crazy celebrations and free-for-all fast breaks. The players, without exception, were passed by the big schools. The campus is on the beach. It's a movie, that's what it is.
And the coach, Andy Enfield, is the George Clooney character in that movie. Guy's some kind of entrepreneur -- the details have been somewhat erratic but we know he was on the ground floor of a successful technology company. This was after he held lacrosse camps. Yeah, lacrosse. He gained some fame around basketball as a shot doctor (Who better? He made a NCAA Division III record 92.5% of his free throws while playing at Johns Hopkins). He's also married to a former Maxim model.
A million reasons? There might be more than a million reasons to love FGCU.
Even the abbreviation: FGCU.
But there's something simple about the FGCU Eagles that might be my favorite thing -- something that my friend Seth Davis touched upon on television. They play free. It's a beautiful thing to watch. They are not choked by constant play calling. They are not frozen looking back at the bench for instruction. They are not programmed like garage door openers to do one thing and one thing and always one thing, never straying, never faltering, never changing.
That small thing -- let them play -- has been pushed out of the game, a bit more every year.
Who PLAYS big-time sports anymore? With few exceptions, quarterbacks don't call their own plays (Is there anything in college football more irritating than the quarterback getting under center, barking out a few signals, and then backing off as he and the other 10 guys on offense look to the sideline to see what they're supposed to do next?). Middle linebackers don't choose the defensive alignments. Catchers have mostly stopped calling pitches. Bench coaches tell the outfielders where to stand.
Many college basketball teams look exactly the same, year after year, because it is the system, not the players' individual talents, that guides the seasons.
This trend has been constant throughout sports. And, it has to be said: They have certainly lifted the quality of our games. A swing coach can see things the golfer cannot. A mental coach can help a tennis player deal better with the key points. A coordinator, looking down on the field from high above, can see things players on the field could never see. And a basketball coach, standing on the sideline, a coach who has watched thousands of basketball games can undeniably read the court and sense the moment and isolate opponents' weaknesses in ways that a 19-year-old never could.
That coach's team won the game. Overcoaching can work. There's no doubt about it.
But my question is different: Isn't there a place in between? Isn't there a way to coach the game without strangling it? Isn't there a way to teach the players how to move on offense, how to help on defense, how to play basketball and at the same time unshackle those players, let them make their own calls and own mistakes while also allowing them to create their own brilliance?
Maybe, at big time programs, there isn't that place in between. Maybe the reason Florida Gulf Coast plays so loose and so free is because there are no expectations weighing them down, no pressures to give them pause, nobody to tell them to slow down and be careful. Maybe. But isn't it fun? Sure, it's a lot more fun because Florida Gulf Coast is winning -- it probably wasn't as much fun when the Eagles lost to Lipscomb. Twice.
Then again: It probably WAS fun when they lost to Lipscomb. They were college kids playing like college kids -- full of all the jubilation and confusion and happiness and self doubt and moodiness of college. That's what stands out about this team. So many of these games, especially in the final minutes, it is suffocating. It is like -- well, it's like being in an office, with a boss standing over your shoulder, second guessing every move, pointing out different possibilities, grumbling when you do something wrong.
What's fun about that? No, I don't believe every college basketball team in America should be like Florida Gulf Coast. I do believe that every college basketball team in America could use just a little infusion of Florida Gulf Coast.