Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson was 2-0 against Florida Gulf Coast this season. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
It was about an hour before a mid-January Atlantic Sun conference game in Fort Myers, Fla., and Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson was out on the Alico Arena court. The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles were also on the floor at the time, and were conducting early warmups in a fashion that shouldn't surprise anyone given the raging national frenzy over the Eagles and their style of play.
"They were in two-line layups," Sanderson said. "... and every one of them was dunking every which way."
Sanderson got a taste of FGCU's dunk city mentality before it became a capitalized mission statement, complete with rap videos and about a dozen posters featuring stunned Georgetown and San Diego State players. Sanderson and his Bisons also tasted something else against FGCU that neither the Hoyas nor Aztecs came particularly close to: victory.
Lipscomb (12-18 overall for the season) won that game in Fort Myers in overtime and then completed the season sweep at home a month later, by 10. That shock double prompted FGCU forward Eric McKnight to refer to Lipscomb as the Eagles' "Kryptonite" and express faux-relief that they weren't facing the Bisons in the Sweet 16. Lest you think Lipscomb defused the high-flying act that's now thrilling college basketball fans nationwide, the Bisons were actually one of the fastest-paced teams in the nation. For two games, they just outdid the Eagles in their own preferred style.
Was there any secret to it? Not really. Sanderson noted the Eagles shot just 13-for-51 from three-point range against them in the two meetings. He had the same conclusions about FGCU as everyone now watching them play with breathless anticipation.
"As you saw on TV, they're really good in the open floor," Sanderson said. "It's not brain surgery. [Brett] Comer's just very, very good in the open floor ... He sees guys, he see cutters, he sees jump shooters. He's the one who makes them go."
"Style of play for them is important," he added. "How teams play is very, very important. Teams that get up and down floor and play fast is what they do."
FGCU was able to exploit Georgetown's relative slowness with their uptempo spread attack, and a team like San Diego State, without dominant size and focused heavily on athletic guard play, was a strong matchup for these Eagles. Sanderson also echoed what a number of coaches say at this time of the year: Some teams benefit greatly from getting out of league play and into an environment where opponents don't know their tendencies or personnel as well.
Sanderson specifically mentioned Christophe Varidel, who came off the bench and made three huge three-pointers against San Diego State. He said Varidel didn't have a great season (just 34 percent from the arc), but he's widely regarded as a sharpshooter within the Atlantic Sun. He shot 42 percent from the arc last year on 143 attempts, but if you're not in the Atlantic Sun, you're less likely to know how potent a player like that can be and game-plan accordingly.
Still, is the only coach in America with two wins over America's Darlings surprised by what he's seeing? FGCU went 13-5 in the Atlantic Sun, finishing a game behind Mercer for the regular-season title. When he saw the Eagles going through their pregame dunk fest, or after he beat them twice this season, did he believe this kind of NCAA tournament run was possible?
"No," Sanderson said, with a chuckle. "But again, no disrespect whatsoever, they've played at a high level.
"You can ask any of those guys, though. [Coach] Andy [Enfield], any of the players ... I don't think any of them saw that at all."