Eli Boettger | @boettger_eli | 03/01/2020
At long last, it’s officially March.
No matter who you are or where you’re from, a small-conference team will become your lifeblood this month. You might have never heard of their hometown or a single player on their team, but you will claim them as your own by the time Greg Gumbel makes his selection show introduction.
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Here’s why North Florida should be your new favorite mid-major team this month.
Matthew Driscoll is a social media sensation
Yes, that’s North Florida men’s basketball coach Matthew Driscoll.
I could probably stop the article here because this video has since turned into an uber-popular gif on social media and now has context to back it.
But it doesn’t stop there with Driscoll.
They LOVE to shoot 3-pointers
There isn’t a single team in the nation that has attempted and made as many 3-pointers this season as North Florida. Driscoll’s teams aren’t strangers to the triple, ranking in the top 60 in 3-point attempt rate in six of the last seven years.
North Florida’s starting lineup of Carter Hendrickson, Ivan Gandia-Rosa, Garrett Sams, Wajid Aminu and J.T. Escobar have combined to make 10.8 3-pointers a game this season and shoot 38.7 percent from deep. Reserve Ryan Burkhardt has also hit 28 of his 77 attempted triples this season to add to the UNF perimeter attack. No matter the lineup, North Florida always has several capable perimeter shooters on the floor.
They are a rising mid-major
Not even four decades ago, North Florida was competing at the NAIA level. Despite not having a football team, North Florida athletics has risen all the way up to Division-I to compete against the best teams in all of college sports. After succeeding at the Division-II level for 12 years, UNF began its transition to D-I by joining the Atlantic Sun in 2005.
North Florida faced some challenging years as a new D-I member but immediately saw dividends from Driscoll’s hiring in 2010. In the first two years of the Driscoll era, UNF recorded a total of 28 wins, which was more than the previous four years combined. By Driscoll’s sixth year in Jacksonville, North Florida had captured its first regular season A-Sun title and conference tournament championship, earning the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament. Driscoll has also led UNF to signature wins over Purdue, Illinois and Southern Miss during his tenure.
The A-Sun is known for March Madness upsets
Do teams like Liberty, Florida Gulf Coast and Mercer ring a bell? Whether they blew up your bracket or sparked massive bragging rights around the office, these three Atlantic Sun programs have pulled off gigantic upsets in recent years.
In 2013, Florida Gulf Coast became the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16, knocking off No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State en route to cementing “Dunk City” into March Madness history.
The following year, No. 14 Mercer stunned No. 3 Duke in the first round as the A-Sun again pulled off another huge March upset.
Last March, Liberty added to the list of A-Sun tournament victories by knocking off No. 5 Mississippi State.
Despite never having a team seeded higher than 12th, the Atlantic Sun has three wins over top-5 seeds since 2013, which is more than the Atlantic 10, MAC, Mountain West, Ohio Valley and Sun Belt. Don’t be surprised if another A-Sun team pulls off a March Madness upset this year.
They’re the mighty Ospreys
No mid-major March favorite is complete without a fun team name and eye-popping color scheme. That’s the also case for North Florida Ospreys, which pair navy blue and gray together with a fierce logo for one of the best looks in college sports.
The university completed a logo overhaul in 2014, citing North Florida’s Osprey nickname that is “unique to college athletics” and a logo that “stands out from the crowd, while also providing the university with a platform for continued growth.”
Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.
Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member.