By Dennis Berry
If you watched the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, then you have no doubt seen the highlights of Florida Gulf Coast. You have seen them throwing lobs during crucial points of the game and cheering out of amazement. Well, you probably didn't cheer if you were a Georgetown or San Diego State fan.
The Eagles have become the talk of the NCAA tournament. The basketball program started as a Division II independent team. They have been a Division I team since 2011. This is their first year eligible for the NCAA tournament. They are the first 15 seed ever to make it to the Sweet 16.
They deserve all the attention for what they have done. At the same time they are taking away attention from another double digit seed to make the Sweet 16. The 12th seeded La Salle Explorers are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1955.
La Salle has seen successful in the NCAA Tournament before. You have to go back to the 1950's to find it though. They have been to two Final Fours in 1954 and 1955. They won the 1954 NCAA Title. They also won the 1952 NIT.
Of course since that title in 1954 La Salle has not experienced much success. After losing in the 1955 NCAA title game, they have only been to nine NCAA Tournaments. This year makes their 10th trip since the 1950's.
They have bounced around from the Mid-Atlantic Conference, to the East Coast Conference, to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, to the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, and finally ending up in the A-10 in 1995.
The last four decades have not been kind to the Explorers. This is their first NCAA Tournament since 1992. From 1988 to 1992 La Salle made the NCAA tournament four out of five years. Their last NCAA tournament win came in 1990 against Southern Miss in the first round.
Since then La Salle has been bad. After going 14-13 during the 1992-93 season, the Explores suffered through 12 straight losing seasons. Then in 2004 John Giannini was hired as head coach to rebuild the program after three LaSalle players were accused of rape in two separate cases. Then head coach Billy Hahn was forced to resign after it came to light that he knew about it and tried to cover it up.
During his second season as head coach Giannini would end the streak in 2005-06 when they went 18-10. Last year La Salle went 21-12 and went to the NIT.
Then this year they went 23-9 during the season. That included a 11-6 record during A10 play. They also won a share of the Big 5 championship with a 3-1 mark - Temple also went 3-1.
They received an at-large bid to the Big Dance. They were seeded 13th, but had to play Boise State in the First Four to advance to the Round of 64. After defeating the Broncos, they beat Kansas State, and then knocked off Ole Miss.
They probably deserve as much attention as Florida Gulf Coast. They have already won three games in this tournament. Tyrone Garland even introduced us to the "Southwest Philly Floater."
So while you look forward to Florida Gulf Coast's game against Florida Friday night, you should not miss La Salle's game on Thursday night against Wichita State. Florida Gulf Coast is making its mark for the first time. La Salle is trying to recapture the glory it knew so long ago.
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