COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)When it was time for film study this week, Southern California coach Andy Enfield took an unconventional route and dipped into his archives. Before focusing on Michigan State, he showed his players older NCAA Tournament clips.
The Trojans got schooled on Dunk City.
“Just to get them pumped up to play in this tournament,” Enfield said.
It’s been 10 years since Enfield’s life changed forever when he helped put tiny Florida Gulf Coast University on the map with a magical run through March.
A No. 15 seed, the high-flying Eagles stunned No. 2 Georgetown and dunked on San Diego State to make the Sweet 16 before losing to Florida.
So while preparing his No. 10 seed Trojans (22-10) for their first-round East Region matchup against the No. 7 seed Spartans (19-12), Enfield relived some of those moments from a 2013 team that defied long odds.
“It’s amazing, it’s been 10 years,” he said Thursday before his team’s workout in Nationwide Arena. “Dunk City Team was a group of young men that came together that had no clue what they were getting in for. We were a young staff and a brand-new school. I’ve been emailing and texting a lot of the highlights.”
Now in his 10th season at USC, Enfield has remained close with many of those FGCU players, some of whom followed him into coaching. Others are still playing overseas while others have become successful businessmen.
They share a bond that was born with a pair of upsets as the Eagles grew from double-digit nobodies into one of those feel-good, Cinderella stories that makes the NCAA tourney so unique.
“What they did on the basketball court was special, and to do that in March Madness was incredible,” Enfield said. “So Dunk City will always be remembered. I usually think about it this time more so than June or July when I’m on a golf course.
“But what just a special group of young men, and it’s really nice that my family still has a relationship with a lot of those guys.”
As for his current team, Enfield believes it has improved more than any other during his tenure in Los Angeles. The season opened with a 74-61 home loss to FGCU – yes, that FGCU – bringing criticism to the 53-year-old Enfield and a team always in UCLA’s shadow.
But after a 4-3 start, the Trojans won seven straight and finished 14-6 in the Pac-12. USC lost to Arizona State in its first game in the conference tournament, but Enfield likes how his team is playing.
On Friday, USC will meet a Michigan State team has grown even closer following the on-campus tragedy when a gunman killed three students and wounded five more.
Coach Tom Izzo has the Spartan s in the tournament for the 25th straight season and Enfield isn’t expecting any surprises.
“They’ll play their style like we will,” he said. “We have strengths and we’ll try to play to our strengths, like Michigan State. It’s very difficult as a coach to say, hey, we’ve been doing something for 31, 32 games and now we’ll do something different because of who we play or now we’re in the postseason.”
THE BIG DROUGHT
The Big Ten has this little problem in the NCAA Tournament. It can’t win it.
The conference hasn’t had a national champion since Michigan State in 2000.
That’s 23 years between titles, but with Purdue, led by 7-foot-4 All-American center Zach Edey as a No. 1 seed and seven other schools in the field, maybe this is the year the league cuts down the nets last.
It’s not like the Big Ten hasn’t been close. One of its schools has finished as national runner-up seven times since 2000. The last to make the title game was Michigan, which lost to Villanova in 2018.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo noted the conference’s deep runs over the past two decades while acknowledging its failings.
“Why aren’t we winning it?” said Izzo, who has taken eight teams to the Final Four. “It all comes down to matchups at the end. I worry a little bit. I think we beat the hell out of our league this year, each other. That can make you stronger or wear you down. I don’t know.”
“But I like the position that some of these Big Ten teams are in.”
Kentucky guard Sahvir Wheeler sounds as if he will be available for Friday’s first-round game against Providence after missing more than a month due to injury.
Coach John Calipari wasn’t quite as committal.
The 5-foot-9 senior has missed nine straight games because of a right ankle issue. He needed a medical procedure on March 1.
When asked if he’d be ready for the team’s tourney opener, he said: “I believe so.”
Calipari was more restrained in his response.
“He is trying his hardest and he is doing great stuff,” Calipari said. “But you know, I’ve got to really feel like he is going to be maybe not 100 percent, but he can’t be 80. Not in a game like this.”
Memphis coach Penny Hardaway has taken a good team that advanced to the second round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament and made it even better with some key transfers.
The Tigers finished 26-8 and knocked off top-seeded Houston in the American Athletic Conference with dynamic guard – and SMU transfer – Kendric Davis scoring 31 points in the championship.
Hardaway’s lineup is augmented by a handful of other transfers, including guard Keonte Kennedy (UTEP), guard Elijah McCadden (Georgia Southern) and forward Kaodirichi Akobundu-Ehiogu (UT Arlington).
Assimilating that many new players and getting them to play with chemistry was a challenge.
“I learned that I have supernatural patience,” Hardaway said with a laugh.
No. 8 Memphis on Friday faces No. 9 Florida Atlantic, which went 31-3 with the same core of players from last year’s 19-15 team.
“We thought we had a chance to make a run at Conference USA, but 31 wins, no, we never envisioned this,” FAU coach Dusty May said.
Providence coach Ed Cooley wasn’t interested in discussing any other college jobs, including whether he or any of his representatives have been in touch with Georgetown.
“This is about Kentucky. This is about Providence,” Cooley said. “We’re all going to be linked to jobs if you do a great job. I’ve been fortunate, been blessed. But that’s just speculation. That’s rumors.
“Providence plays Kentucky tomorrow … and I can’t tell you how excited I am about that.”
KEEP HUNTING, K-STATE
Kansas State wasn’t expected to be where it is as the East’s No. 3 seed.
Picked to finish last in the Big 12, the Wildcats rode their underdog mentality to a surprising third-place finish in the conference behind first-year coach Jerome Tang.
And the Wildcats (23-9) aren’t changing their approach as they prepare for Friday’s first-round game against Montana State (25-9).
“I feel like we still are hunting no matter what the seeding they give us,” guard Markquis Nowell said. “I still feel like we have a lot to prove, including myself. I know this team is hungry.”
An NCAA Tournament berth seemed like a long shot for Vermont coach John Becker when his team started 2-7 with seven new players.
But here are the No. 15 seed Catamounts after winning 15 straight – the nation’s longest active streak – and arriving in Columbus full of confidence. They play second-seeded Marquette on Friday.
Becker said the matchup against Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek won’t intimidate his team, which played St. Mary’s and Southern California on the road this season.
“At the time we’re sitting 2-7, I had wondered if I had worried about losing the guys a little bit in the sense of killing their confidence,” Becker said. “But in hindsight, maybe it (scheduling) did do exactly what we hoped it would, face some adversity and toughen us up.
“The moment is not going to be too big for us.”
AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard, Mitch Stacy and Steve Reed contributed.
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