Friday's Eagles-Gators game was not over at press time, but no matter:
Whether they chalked up a win or lost, the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles men's basketball team is to be congratulated.
Only in its second season of full NCAA Division I eligibility, the Eagles are lowest seeded team (No. 15) ever to advance to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Championship tournament aptly dubbed as March Madness.
Madness is what it has been here in Lee County where the community has rallied around a team few ever heard of just a short month or so ago. Major broadcast networks, ESPN and others couldn't get enough of the Eagles in the week leading up to the Sweet 16.
Thanks to the success of the nationally proclaimed Cinderella team coached by Andy Enfield, Fort Myers is now known as "Dunk City"; and the team's blue and green colors are all the rage on T-shirts, towels, chocolatiers, businesses and sports bars everywhere.
Every year, it seems, a Cinderella team draws national attention at tournament time - just never to this extent this deep into March Madness.
The Eagles have endured the spotlight to this point, and endeared rabid and casual fans alike.
Friday's regional semifinal matchup against the Florida Gators is the first on record between two teams from Florida. While this is the Eagles' inaugural experience at March Madness, they are no stranger to postseason play, having appeared in the NCAA Division II Tournament before moving to Division I, and two NIT showings in the past.
It is, arguably, the best Eagles team (26-10) since their inaugural season in 2002-03. The program was competitive from the start, enjoying winning seasons including 22-5 in 2004 and 27-6 in '07, before falling under the .500 mark in '08 as they joined Division I. They won the Atlantic Sun Conference championship to earn an automatic berth in March Madness, where they were seeded No. 15 in the South Region.
"Dunk City" is a reference to the team's dunking ability, particularly in their two tournament wins over second-seeded Georgetown and seventh-seeded San Diego State last weekend. The success destroyed many thousands of office and online bracket predictions, predictably frustrating for bookmakers in Las Vegas.
The Eagles have a sound defense and an uptempo offense. They can bring it from long range, too, converting better than 34 percent of their three-point attempts, led by the trio of Bernard Thompson (.381), Sherwood Brown (.380) and Chase Fieler (.376).
When the clock struck midnight Friday, we all found out if Cinderella's slipper still fit the Eagles, or not, for an Easter Sunday shot at a regional championship and a Final Four date.
- Breeze editorial