UMass will be looking to stop a two game skid on Sunday against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. They take on the Eagles at 2PM in Springfield. Since we here at Hustlebelt aren't very famiiliar with FGCU, we asked Liam Jones some questions about the Eagles. You can catch Liam over at FGCU Eagles Nest and he can also be seen over at SB Nation's own Mid-Major Madness.
Hustlebelt: The Eagles are off to an impressive start at 7-1, but how good has their competition been? What are some of their signature wins and moments so far this season?
Liam Jones: FGCU has definitely had some easy games (see Nova Southeastern & Florida Tech) but have also defeated some quality mid-major teams. Their signature wins are dominating performances over Ohio and San Francisco, two teams that racked up 20 wins in the 2013-14 season. An overtime victory over UCSB proved to be Dunk City's most exciting contest so far this season. Point guard Brett Comer had ice in his veins, hitting tough shot after tough shot in crunch time.
HB: Derrick Gordon usually defends the best perimeter player on opposing teams for UMass. Who do you think he'll matchup with and what does that said player bring to the table?
LJ: Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson are both very talented guards, but I have to believe Gordon will matchup with Comer, the Eagles' floor general. The offense starts with Comer and containing him is your best bet if you want to slow down Florida Gulf Coast. The Orlando product is a pass first point guard who can also get to the rim and finish around the basket. He has worked on finding a more consistent jumper and isn't afraid to let if fly from three. But sometimes he tries to be too fancy and do too much on offense, leading to some costly turnovers. This is his achilles heel.
HB: Most UMass fans probably last remember seeing FGCU dunking over traditional basketball powers during their 2013 NCAA Tournament run to the Sweet 16. Is FGCU still referred to as Dunk City and can we expect to see any SportCenter worthy plays from the Eagles? Additionally how has Joe Dooley done after taking over for Andy Enfield (Enfield left for USC after that magical run).
LJ: Don't worry, Dunk City is still around. I'm sure the FGCU marketing department loves it and it's used everywhere. As for #SCtop10 plays, don't be surprised if the Eagles throw down some nice alley-oops. They still possesses a slew of ultra-athletic players, headlined by UNLV transfer Demetris Morant and senior guard Bernard Thompson (named No. 8 returning dunker by ESPN). And while they might not get out in the fast break as much as you saw in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Joe Dooley still likes for the Eagles to get out and run.
HB: Averaging 41.3 rebounds per game makes the Eagles the 33rd best rebounding team in the nation. How good are the big man and will they give Cady Lalanne and Maxie Esho trouble inside?
LJ: While those rebounding stats look good on paper, Joe Dooley hasn't exactly been impressed with the Eagles' bigs yet this season (lacking hustle and focus). But FGCU does possess a great group in the front court. Senior Nate Hicks has showed tremendous strength returning from an ACL tear suffered in the NIT last season. The 6-foot-10 big man is a great shot blocker and rebounder. Meanwhile, both Marc-Eddy Norelia and Demetris Morant use their athleticism to their advantage on the offensive glass.
HB: Finally, how do you see this one playing out?
LJ: I think FGCU will take home a victory on Sunday. They proved they can win on the road with a win over South Dakota State, and Joe Dooley gave them quite a wake-up call by benching the starters the majority of the first half on Wednesday. I think they'll answer the challenge.
Bonus: You blew-out perennial MAC basketball power Ohio 79-62 earlier this year, making former Editor-in-Chief of Hustlebelt Bryan M. Vance very very sad (I assume). How bad do you want to go 2-0 against Hustlebelt and do you think Joe Dooley is trying not to let his team get too hyped about this possibility?
LJ: Absolutely. I've heard that this is a big goal of the Eagles and going 2-0 against the Hustle Belt has been pinned up on the locker room since mid-July. This is right up there with earning an NCAA Tournament bid this year.