The opening game of the 2016 NCAA Tournament pits Florida Gulf Coast, the Atlantic Sun champion, against Fairleigh Dickinson, the recipient of the automatic bid out of the Northeast Conference. The winner claims the No. 16 seed in the East Region all to themselves and will get to face the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in Raleigh on Thursday.
For Fairleigh Dickinson, this is the Knights’ first trip to the Tournament in more than a decade. Florida Gulf Coast was a Cinderella story in 2013, becoming the first No. 15 team to ever advance to the Sweet 16 after defeating No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State. Can either the Knights or Eagles rewrite Tournament history in 2016? Before that can even be discussed business must be attended to in Dayton.
First Four: No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles vs. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
Time: 6:40 p.m. ET (Tuesday)
Where: University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, OH)
Line: Florida Gulf Coast -6
Keys for Fairleigh Dickinson
The Knights allow more points on average then they score, which is surprising for a team with a winning record (18-14). Needless to say, this trend cannot continue for head coach Greg Herenda if his team wishes to advance to the round of 64 to take on ACC champion and top-seeded North Carolina. Sophomore sensation Darian Anderson must take care of the basketball while hitting his shots and getting his teammates involved. The guard leads the team in both scoring (15.4 ppg) and assists (3.7 apg).
Keys for Florida Gulf Coast
The Eagles must contain Fairleigh Dickinson’s top four scorers, each of whom averages double digits, with special attention paid to the aforementioned Anderson. Florida Gulf Coast freshman guard Zach Johnson must take care of the basketball and find his team’s top option, junior forward Marc-Eddy Norelia, early and often. If head coach Joe Dooley's Eagles can start flying in transition and establish Dunk City just like the 2013 team made famous, then the Knights should watch out below.
Florida Gulf Coast’s NCAA Tournament experience will be a huge factor considering Fairleigh Dickinson hasn’t been in the Big Dance since 2005. Nerves are to be expected from both sides, but having gone to the Sweet 16 just three seasons ago should help the Eagles to stay calm and poised. Furthermore, I expect the size and athleticism of Norelia to be too much for the Knights to handle.