By Craig Handel

 

Mens Coach Pat Chambers Calls a Huddle- by Adam Koszo

Mens Coach Pat Chambers Calls a Huddle- by Adam Koszo

Indiana. Pittsburgh. Cincinnati. Minnesota. Florida Atlantic. Southern California. Kentucky. Duke.

Florida Gulf Coast University’s women’s and men’s basketball teams haven’t been shy about playing some of the best opponents in the country.

For instance, last season, the men opened by winning over University of Southern California (USC). The women, after winning at Kentucky, topped Washington State in the NCAA Tournament. It was the third time the Eagles had won in the postseason as a No. 12 seed. That is the most by an NCAA women’s team.

This year, the Eagles may have outdone themselves.

FGCU’s men will play four games against what are known as the Power Five – schools from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12. Those foes will be NCAA Tournament teams Indiana and Pittsburgh as well as Cincinnati and Minnesota. They’ll also play in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam.

Florida Atlantic is included because the Owls were mere seconds away from playing in the NCAA men’s basketball championship. They lost to San Diego State 72-71 on a shot at the buzzer in the Final Four.

“Four (Power Five schools) is a lot plus FAU,” FGCU Men’s Basketball Coach Pat Chambers said. “They return everybody.”

Building a schedule this tough was not the original plan, he noted.

“But we really wanted to challenge our kids,” Chambers said. “They’re an older group, and they’ve learned a lot.”

The women will go from east to west when they start their season at Brown University and USC. Home games with Florida International and Kentucky follow.

If the Eagles get by Delaware, they’ll likely play Iowa, which reached the national championship game behind All-American Kaitlin Clark, likely the most popular women’s college basketball player ever.

Win or lose against Iowa, the Eagles likely would then play North Carolina or Kansas State.

Other foes include NCAA Tournament qualifier Duke; Old Dominion, which won the NCAA Tournament in 1985; and Drexel, which lost to FGCU in the 2011 Women’s NIT on the way to a runner-up finish by the Eagles.

“I think this probably will be the toughest schedule, especially if we win that first-round game in the Gulf Coast Shootout,” FGCU Women’s Basketball Coach Karl Smesko said. “Nothing is guaranteed, but that could give us two additional Power Five schools along with the three that are definitely on the schedule – and we play some pretty good mid-major schools.”

FGCU vs. Stetson(Picture by Adam Koszo)

FGCU vs. Stetson
(Picture by Adam Koszo)

While FGCU will return no starters and welcome nine new players on the women’s side, the men will return a veteran group that lost just one player to the transfer portal. Both are expected to challenge for the Atlantic Sun Conference championship.

 

FGCU Men

The Eagles had a power rating of 38 last season after winning at USC and St. Bonaventure and taking first place in the Gulf Coast Shootout while going 10-3 in non-conference play.

If the Eagles can go 10-5 in non-conference play this season – they play two less conference games – their power rating may be even better.

Playing such a daunting schedule and then winning the ASUN Tournament title – FGCU’s goal every season – not only would keep the Eagles from being a No. 16 seed or playing in the NCAA’s First Four, but the Eagles likely would be seeded between 12-15.

Based on past NCAA Tournament games going back to 1985, here are the percentages lesser-seeded teams have of winning their first game:

  • 12 seed: 32.6 %
  • 13 seed: 21.1 %
  • 14 seed: 14.5 %
  • 15 seed: 7.2 %

In other words, the better the seed, the better the chance of pulling off an upset.

“And if we can come out of these non-conference games respectably, we’ll have some grisly veterans,” Chambers said. “They’re really looking forward to playing these power schools and FAU.”

FGCU will open at Indiana on Nov. 7, then travel to Pittsburgh a week later on Nov. 13. The Eagles will be at Cincinnati on Dec. 3 and Minnesota on Dec. 9. The FAU home game will be on Dec. 30.

For their trouble, FGCU will receive $395,000 for the road guarantees plus rooms.

FGCU Athletic Director Ken Kavanagh said this is the first time the Eagles will play four road guarantee games (Virginia Commonwealth, Duke, Iowa State and St. John’s) since 2012-13. That season, which also featured a home win versus Miami, was the year FGCU went to the Sweet 16.

In between, the Eagles will travel to The U.S. Virgin Islands where they’ll open play against Missouri State. Kent State – an NCAA Tournament team last season – Fordham and San Jose State could be among the other potential foes.

The Eagles also will play UNC-Wilmington, Georgia Southern and old foe Mercer.

When Chambers coached at Villanova, he got to know another Philly coach, Hall of Famer John Chaney at Temple. Chaney was notorious for difficult, non-conference schedules that prepared his teams for the postseason. In 17 NCAA appearances, he won 23 games and advanced to the Elite Eight five times.

“He was about mental toughness and conditioning,” Chambers said. “He put guys in the fire.”

The Eagles will return four of their top five scorers, including guards Isaiah Thompson (14.9 points, 2.4 rebounds) and Chase Johnston (12.7, 2.8), who combined for 160 three-pointers. Zach Anderson (11.7, 6.7) and Andre Weir (9.2, 6.0) patrol the inside.

Chambers is confident he’ll be 10 deep “easily.”

“If we stay healthy, we’ll have a great chance,” he said.

 

FGCU Women

Smesko has needed tournaments like the Gulf Coast Showcase to fill out the non-conference schedule because FGCU can’t pay teams enough money for guarantee games, and many teams just won’t schedule the Eagles because of their success. That’s why the Eagles are playing 14 non-conference games instead of 15.

Former FGCU player Sydnei McCaskill, now a college assistant at Marshall , said her head coach “would not be pleased” if she scheduled the Eagles.

The USC game has a couple of sidebars.

The Trojans offered Smesko the head coaching job a few years ago, and he would’ve joined former FGCU men’s coach Andy Enfield.

“Andy put in a good word for me and was great during the process,” said Smesko, who ultimately chose to stay with the Eagles. “I’m looking forward to seeing him and catching one of his games.”

USC also recruited the top player in the country, Juju Watkins.

This year’s team has two breaks – 10 days between games versus Duke and Drexel, and just one game (against NAIA Webber International) – in a two-week span before the conference opener versus Jacksonville.

In past years, having extra time midseason between games proved to be helpful to Smesko in developing his team.

While he said he really likes the talent and depth on his team, Smesko said he wasn’t sure early in the season who his starters would be. He added there’s a learning curve with his offensive system, which focuses on either shooting three-pointers or driving for layups.

“That’s new for a lot of our players,” Smesko said. “There’s a level of concentration where a strong attention span is required. How players learn varies from individual to individual. Some are quicker than others early, but that may not mean they’re still ahead two months down the road.”

“Look at last year,” he added. “Maddie (Antenucci) and Kiki (Adams) didn’t play a lot during the conference season, but in the conference and NCAA tournament, they came up huge for us. You never know. You continue working, and you never know when it is your turn.”

Kaela Webb (4.9 points, 1.9 rebounds) made eight starts last season for FGCU while Uju Ezeudu (6.6, 3.6) made two starts and Brylee Bartram (5.2, 1.0) made one. Antenucci (4.3, 1.8) and Adams (2.1, 1.3) are other players with experience.

One thing is certain, it’s going to be an exciting season for FGCU basketball fans! 

See the full men’s and women’s 2023-34 schedules at FGCUathletics.com.

Kiki Adams by James J Greco

Kiki Adams by James J Greco

 

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.