Despite still being well entrenched in the excitement that is March Madness, the off-season is well underway for most teams in the country. FGCU’s season ended in an abrupt and unceremonious way, losing to UNA in the ASUN Conference tournament. With the highs and lows of this covid-ridden season, coaches, players, and fans have been eager to begin the off-season. With that said, there is already a ton to speculate on. Over the coming days we will be releasing a few articles that discuss and speculate on things as we ease further into the offseason. For this article we will talk about circumstances surrounding how the season ended and the state of things heading into next year.
As the season ended abruptly with an ASUN tournament exit, it is easy to be, once again, frustrated and disappointed with how the team performed this year. For starters, after 2 losing season, people are starving for success. More so than most other programs, the average FGCU fan was born into prosperity. That famed Sweet 16 team made a name for the school in just their 2nd season as an eligible D-I program. They rode the high of that success for years after that. Most of the core players returned and several high-quality transfers would also carve out their place in FGCU history. More recently though, FGCU has found themselves rebuilding. In Head Coach Michael Fly’s first couple of seasons at the helm, there was an obvious transition. Guys were better fit for a system that left the program with Coach Dooley. The law of averages took over regarding the success (or lack thereof) found with transfers and a period of recruiting and finding the right guys for Fly’s system ensued.
This transition was met with scrutiny and impatience. Fans, players, and coaches wanted minimal drop-off and a continued winning tradition. Unfortunately building the talent of this team back up with the right pieces has taken longer than anyone wanted. The first freshman class featured Caleb Catto and Zach Scott. Catto remains with the team as a leader and main contributor but Scott now plays elsewhere. The following freshmen class yielded Dakota Rivers and Cyrus Largie but also featured 2 players that have since transferred. The point here is that it takes time and a little bit of luck to rebuild. Additionally, the success or “hit” rate for freshmen (and even transfers) is maybe 50% and this is fairly consistent across the NCAA.
On a more positive note, the most recent batch of freshmen showed the most promise of any of these recent classes. Luis Rolón already looks to be one of the better players on the team and in the conference (had he played a full season). Zach Anderson showed an impressive level of versatility on the defensive end as well as a high offensive ceiling. Lastly, Victor Rosa struggled early in the season but looked much improved toward the end of the year. A full off-season should do wonders for these players and for the program as a whole.
Last off-season, we posted a Twitter poll asking what fans felt this team had to accomplish this season for it to qualify as a “big improvement” over the 2019-20 season. A still of those results is below.
Based on the poll numbers, 67% voted that if the team finished with at least a .500 record and/or won at least 1 ASUN tournament game, that would constitute “big improvement”. FGCU did both of these things. Additionally, this poll was done prior to the announcement of a shortened season so the 31% who chose the lofty “20-win season” standard would have been distributed elsewhere.
As stated, after the disappointment of this past season, it’s hard to acknowledge any success and improvement. When you sit back and take emotion out of it, the improvement has been obvious. First let’s get the Covid factor out of the way. The Eagles were forced into 2 separate, but equally devastating, shutdowns. These shutdowns prevented players from practicing together and/or working out in the gym and on the court. Each time the team came back from a shutdown, they were visibly tired, and out of sync. This played a part in blowout losses to Bellarmine and a late season outlying loss to Kennesaw State. While newcomer Bellarmine turned out to be a strong addition to the ASUN, one has to believe that the games would have at least been competitive had it not been for the shutdown. The loss to a reeling KSU squad should tell you all you need to know about the effects that the shutdowns had on the players. Regardless of how much value you place in the the effects of Covid on this season, the losses still count. As the saying goes, “you’re as good as your record says you are.” This brings me to the next point. The Eagles finished the year at 10-8, achieving their first winning record in 3 seasons. To add some perspective, the Eagles went 10-22 in the 2019-20 season. That means it took them 14 less games to get to 10 wins this time around. While 10-8 is not something to celebrate, it should still come with an acknowledgement that the ship is headed in the right direction. Further examples of improvement can be found in the regular season sweep of UNA (tied for 1st in the conference at the time), going 2-1 against Lipscomb (the eventual 3rd seed), Winning an ASUN tournament game, wins over competitive GA Southern and FAMU teams, and a Power 5 win over Miami.
The ups and downs of this Covid-ridden season were stressful for all involved but things are looking up. As long as the improvement continues, this team and this program should be back to a consistently competitive level.
For our next Off-Season Update, we will bid farewell to the seniors as we touch on their time as Eagles and speculate as to where they could end up.