FORT MYERS, Fla. - Parity in men's college basketball could not have exposed itself at a better time for Chase Fieler and his teammates at Florida Gulf Coast University.
With no school breaking away from the pack heading into Selection Sunday, the Eagles sense that a couple of wins in the NCAA Division I Tournament is not out of the realm of possibilities.
"With upsets happening to the top teams every week, we feel confident we can win a couple of games," said Fieler, who played his high school ball at Parkersburg South. "(Head coach Andy Enfield) told us not to just show up for the tournament and be done. We've refocused this week and concentrated in practice, so we're not taking anything for granted."
Photo courtesy of Florida Gulf Coast University
Parkersburg South graduate Chase Fieler takes his turn at cutting down the net after helping Florida Gulf Coast earn its first berth into the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The Eagles anxiously will be watching tonight’s selection show to see who and where they will play in The Big Dance.
FGCU was the first school to receive an automatic bid after defeating Mercer 88-75 on the Bears' home floor in Macon, Ga., in the championship game of the Atlantic Sun Tournament more than a week ago.
In that game, Fieler finished with 15 points and six rebounds as the Eagles improved to 24-10. The Eagles used an 11-2 run at the start of the second half to establish somewhat of a comfort zone at 49-38 and never trailed again.
Fieler, who is a 6-foot-8 junior at FGCU, helped seal the deal after accounting for the final seven points in a 14-5 spurt that extended the advantage to 74-59 with just under seven minutes remaining in regulation.
The victory enabled the FGCU program to clinch its first NCAA Tournament bid in school history.
"There is a big buzz on campus," Fieler said. "Everybody is in tune with what's going on, and they all ask who we think we're going to play. This is big for the program."
When the season opened, FGCU had its hands full. The Eagles opened with a loss at Virginia Commonwealth but bounced back in a major way by defeating Miami (Fla.) out of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The same Miami team that was ranked as a high as No. 3 in mid-February.
The Eagles' non-conference schedule also featured losses at Duke and St. John's.
"That Miami game was a benchmark for us," Fieler said.
A total of three players earned all-conference accolades, including Fieler as a second-teamer after averaging 12.2 points and 5.4 rebounds to go with a team-high 44 blocks. Teammate Sherwood Brown was named the A-Sun's Player of the Year, while Bernard Thompson was the league's Defensive Player of the Year.
"Meeting team goals was prominent and we did what we wanted to do - and that was win the conference tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament," Fieler said.
The FGCU players are hoping they can be the Butlers and the VCUs of the NCAA Tournament and open more than just a few eyes. One thing is for certain, Fieler has his supporters back in the Mid-Ohio Valley where his alma mater won the Class AAA girls state championship and reached the quarterfinal in the Class AAA boys field earlier this month.
"I have great community support back home," Fieler said. "It's uplifiting and makes me want to follow what they are doing."
As for the Eagles' opening round destination, Fieler and his teammates will do just like the other 67 programs selected to the big dance, and that is watch TV tonight as the brackets are released.
"Being part of the tournament is great - any venue we play at will be awesome," Fieler said.