Florida Gulf Coast Vs. NC State Preview: Is It Still Dunk City?

USA TODAY Sports

FGCU @ StatSheet
2013 Stats
2014 Roster
2014 Schedule

FGCU Offense 12-13
Four Factors Percent Nat'l Rank
eFG% 51.6 59
Turnover Rate 21.0 242
Off Reb Rate 32.5 138
FTA/FGA 35.2 203

Florida Gulf Coast's run to the Sweet 16 a season ago earned head coach Andy Enfield the job at Southern Cal, leaving a veteran team to regroup under new leadership. The Eagles did lose some key pieces--leading scorer Sherwood Brown graduated, as did steady reserve forward Eddie Murray, while guard Christophe Varidel transferred to Chaminade just so he could torch Baylor, apparently.

But the Eagles nonetheless returned four starters and a couple of guys who were mainstays off the bench, so it seems like this is the sort of team that could weather a coaching change without having things fall out of sorts. There have been some early causes for concern, though--FGCU was blown out by Nebraska (91st in Pomeroy Ratings) in its opener, then barely snuck past Furman (316) a week later.

This team will probably be fine, because there are caveats that come with those early results: returning starter Eric McKnight is serving a six-game suspension, while Bernard Thompson--the reigning A-Sun defensive player of the year--has missed two games thanks to a nagging ankle injury.

In the absence of those two, FGCU has had to adjust to a shorter bench (the Eagles rank 295th in bench minutes); the Eagles are also working in a couple of major-conference transfers who didn't play last season. That makes this a tough group to figure. In addition, they have played games against D-II Eckerd and Ave Maria, which competes at the NAIA level. So basically they beat up on some drug store staffers and then repented with a Hail Mary. You go ahead and try making sense out of that!

Thompson might be ready to go, which is a huge bonus for the Eagles if it's the case. If he isn't healthy enough, the Eagles will only run about seven deep, and there will be added pressure on Brett Comer and Chase Fieler, the two healthy/eligible returning starters.

Starters

Brett Comer (6-3, 192) -- He's posted impressive assist rates throughout his career, but those have always come with a lot of turnovers. He is a career 27.3% three-point shooter, and he made just 43.5% of his 230 two-point attempts last season. Some of his possessions are probably better spent elsewhere, given his history.

(I would like to congratulate Brett Comer in advance for his career day.)

Bernard Thompson (6-3, 166) -- Thompson finished last season with the fifth-best steal rate in the nation after finishing in the top 40 the year prior. Dude can score the ball, too--he hit 51.5% of his twos and 38% of his threes in 2013. That combination of skills, plus his ability to handle an above-average workload, makes him really important to the Eagles' prospects.

Jamail Jones (6-6, 215) -- Jones couldn't break into the rotation in two years at Marquette, which prompted his move to FGCU. Now he's getting a lot of minutes out of necessity. Given his incredibly limited track record, I can't conclude anything, but he has done a nice job on the defensive boards this season, and he's taking about 22% of the shots while he's on the floor. Might be a touch over-eager in the latter department.

Chase Fieler (6-8, 225) -- There is a lot to like about this kid. He's got enough range to shoot well from outside, he's efficient inside, he rebounds well at the offensive end, and he'll tamper with his fair share of opponents' shot attempts. I like this guy. He is a likeable guy. I would like for him to be on our team.

Nate Hicks (6-10, 217) -- You might remember Nate Hicks as the dude who played sparingly for Georgia Tech over the course of two seasons. If you do, that is incredible. You are a true ACC basketball junkie, and I'm worried about you. This is coming from the guy writing a 1,000-word preview about Florida Gulf Coast, so you know it's serious.

What I can glean, roughly, from his limited play: he's a good rebounder at both ends, a good shot blocker, a bit turnover-prone, and not much of a free throw shooter.

Bench

Dajuan Graf (6-0, 170), Filip Cvjeticanin (6-9, 218), Marcus Blake (6-7, 196). Florida Gulf Coast provides a handy pronunciation guide for some of the trickier names on its roster, as every school does. However, rather than bother to read it and attempt to master "Cvjeticanin," I have decided simply to call him Jeff Tallsports. That is way easier.

Jeff needs to be much better on the defensive glass, but he has done a good job of taking care of the ball throughout his career. He shot 56-130 (.431) from three as a freshman in 2012, then followed that up with a 28-110 (.255) effort in 2013. I guess that means he's due for a good year again?

Graf is a turnover-prone guard who will defer to teammates in most cases, which is probably good since he's yet to prove a capable shooter at this level.

FGCU Defense 12-13
Four Factors Percent Nat'l Rank
eFG% 46.9 106
Turnover Rate 22.1 55
Off Reb Rate 32.9 221
FTA/FGA 32.7 90

Florida Gulf Coast forced plenty of turnovers and kept opponents off the line last year, compensating in part for some poor defensive rebounding and mediocre interior defense. The Eagles also were fortunate that opponents shot just 31.3% from three-point range.

Through the first few weeks of this season, one thing seems clear: FGCU's interior defense still needs work. The three I-A teams they've played have shot a collective 53.9% inside the arc, which is worrisome given the caliber of said opponents. Compounding matters is the fact that the Eagles' turnover rate is down significantly.

The good news is that reinforcements are on the way ... at some point. McKnight will affect shots at the rim, and Thompson, once he is completely healthy, will help the defense force more turnovers. With those two guys either absent or limited so far this year, FGCU has been largely deprived of two of its most disruptive players.That's clearly taking a toll.

The Pomeroy Predictor has State by five.

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