Saturday, April 19, 2014
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If this were any other year, La Salle would be getting all the national attention

Florida Gulf Coast is the story of the tournament so far. And that's unfortunate for Dr. John Giannini and the Explorers, just the sixth No. 13 seed to make the Sweet 16.

If this were any other year, La Salle would be getting all the national attention

As the final buzzer sounded, La Salle´s D.J. Peterson,Sam Mills, and Ramon Galloway begin to celebrate their victory. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
As the final buzzer sounded, La Salle's D.J. Peterson,Sam Mills, and Ramon Galloway begin to celebrate their victory. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

When it was announced on Selection Sunday that La Salle had made the tournament, no one expected that being a 13-seed would come with so much bad luck. Most, especially Explorers fans, were just happy to be dancing. But their improbable run to the Sweet 16 has been overshadowed by an even more improbable run.

Sure, La Salle is getting a ton of coverage locally. On a national level, however, the headlines Monday were dominated by Florida Gulf Coast University, which became the first team in NCAA tournament history to make the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed.

The Eagles are exciting, animated and fun to watch. They have great storylines, from coach Andy Enfield's supermodel wife to the rich booster buying hotel rooms so their fans could stay in town after their win over Georgetown. They've even inspired Fort Myers, Fla. to change its name to "Dunk City." They brought more energy to the Wells Fargo Center in two days than the Sixers have since their playoff series against the Bulls in 2012.

Did I mention they're fun to watch?

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Naturally, they are the story of the tournament so far. And that's unfortunate for Dr. John Giannini and the Explorers, just the sixth No. 13 seed to make the Sweet 16.

Any other year - except the two in which a 14-seed advanced to the Sweet 16 ('86, '97) - La Salle would be the story of March.

They have the "Southwest Philly Floater" from Tyrone Garland in the final seconds of Sunday's win over Ole Miss. Thanks to the play-in game, they've had to win more tournament games this season than any other team remaining. They're small, tough, and can shoot the lights out.

And no one seems to care, at least nationally.

Here in Philly, La Salle is getting plenty of attention, but if you turned on ESPN or went to Yahoo.com on Monday morning, odds are stories on Florida Gulf Coast were smacking you in the face, while finding the Explorers may have required a little more digging.

Playing in the Atlantic 10, which sent five teams to the NCAA tournament thanks to recent additions Butler and VCU, doesn't help La Salle's "Cinderella" status. Nor does the fact that they come from Philly, a city soaked in basketball tradition.

Prior to this tournament, 13 City Six teams have advanced to the Sweet 16 since the tournament field was expanded in 1985. The entire state of Florida, on the other hand, had 12 appearances in that span, eight of them belonging to the University of Florida.

The Explorers, however, are not one of those 13 City Six teams.

They don't get to play in front of 20,000 fans at the Wells Fargo Center like Villanova - the Tom Gola Arena seats just 3,400. They don't get the same level of recruits that Temple does. And they certainly don't have a home court like the Palestra, one of the most historic gyms in the country.

But they do have history, if you're willing to look back far enough.

Led by Gola, the Explorers won the 1954 national title and went back to championship game in 1955. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, they made the tournament four times in five years ('88, '89, '90, '92), due in large part to Lionel Simmons, who won National Player of the Year in 1990.

That, however, was before most of the current players were even born, and certainly before most of them were walking, let alone dribbling.

Florida Gulf Coast, on the other hand, had never made the tournament before this current run, making them a true "Cinderella." And that obviously makes for better headlines.

But that isn't exactly fair to La Salle, which had not been back to the Sweet 16 since 1955, and is playing in the tournament for the first time since 1992.

It could be for any of those reasons that the boys from Olney aren't getting the attention they deserve, but it likely has a lot more to do with the number that appears next to their names, 13. Unlucky, indeed.

Lost in all this is one simple fact: Just like Gulf Coast, the Explorers have already made history - they're the lowest seed to win three games in one tournament - and can capture some more with a win over Wichita State, becoming the first 13-seed ever to advance past the Sweet 16.

And don't forget about the University of Oregon. With a win, they'll be just the second 12-seed to make the Elite Eight.

None of that will matter, however, if Gulf Coast can knock off the Gators.

It should, but it won't. And that's a shame.

Matt Mullin Sports Editor
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