DeLand, FL — The ASUN title game is set for the No. 1 seeded Stetson Hatters to face the No. 2 seeded Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles.
Now usually, when teams set to do battle, everyone is diplomatic and go out of their way to not say anything that could rile up their opponent, whether perceived or real.
Well ... let’s just say that in this rivalry, FGCU has let it be known their view for tomorrow’s game — and how they expect to take down their archrival: No. 1 seed Stetson. The Eagles released this promo video yesterday, in which there was this potent salvo: “Taking back what’s ours.”
After seeing that video, and the hashtag #StompStetson in the tweet, it’s obvious FGCU doesn’t like Stetson, as they haven’t used a hashtag like that for any other ASUN opponent.
With a championship trophy and one ticket to the NCAA Tournament on the line, mixed with a rapidly growing rivalry, it's promising to be an intense match-up. The new ASUN conference champion will be crowned on Sunday, March 12.
FGCU has been the Giants in the ASUN conference for the past six years, and though they may have been slain a few times along the way, the Eagles keep rising up from the ashes. In their sixth-straight ASUN Championship game appearance, FGCU will look to do just that after a devastating defeat to Jacksonville last year – reclaim the top.
However, this title game is unlike all the others for the Eagles -- this time they are the underdogs.
It’s been seven years since a team other than FGCU has claimed the ASUN regular season title. The Eagles’ run came to an abrupt halt in the final game of the regular season in an overtime loss at the hands of Stetson.
For the first time in school history, the Hatters lifted the Trophy as regular season champions with a 13-1 conference record and 26-5 overall. Their one loss came, of course, from the Eagles, who finished the season 12-2 and 25-8 overall. Jacksonville handed Florida Gulf Coast its other conference loss.
The rivalry between the two teams has been brewing for some time. From 2012 up until now, these two have been in some thrilling, epic games, that were hotly contested.
The Eagles may just be spring chickens in the conference (the university is celebrating its 20th birthday this year), but they burst onto the scene like a breaking dam, wiping out their opponents. In their 24 past meetings, the Eagles hold a 20-4 record over the Hatters.
However, something has been different for the Hatters this season. They are riding a 15-game win streak into the championship game.
Stetson’s success may have something to do with the ASUN Player of the Year, Brianti Saunders. She ranked second in the conference for points during the regular season, scoring an average 15.7 per game and drained 64 three-pointers.
But, the Eagles found a way to contain their scoring machine this season, holding her to 12 points in the season opener and just eight points in the final game, one of only four games that she didn't reach double figures.
Saunders sharp shooting has helped the team to lead the conference with a 44.8 field goal percentage, which also ranks the Hatters 29th nationally. However, what makes Stetson so unique, so dangerous, is that they have a plethora of offensive weapons, which makes it very hard to stop them.
But the Eagles are hot on their heels shooting 43.8 percent and as a team, just edge the Hatters in scoring defense. Rosemarie Julien, the ASUN Newcomer of the Year, had a lot to do with that, leading her team in points per game.
The title game should also expect a clash on defense. Stetson leads the league in blocked shots, largely in part to the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, Sarah Sagerer, who racked up 90 blocks in the regular season. That’s more than three times more than second place in the conference.
While FGCU may be the worst team in the conference in that category, they do dominate in steals, ranking 23rd nationally and 16th for its scoring defense.
That’s what makes this match up great. Where the Eagles outshine Stetson in some areas, the Hatters do the same in others on both ends of the ball. So expect fireworks on offense — and expect aggression on defense.
On Sunday Stetson will have the home court advantage, but the Eagles will bring their experience, in what is sure to be an explosive close to the ASUN tournament. That home court advantage, could be significant for the Hatters, who are 15-2 at home this season and have only lost 11 games at the J. Ollie Edmunds Center in the past six seasons.
Yet, if anyone can make them stumble in front of their own fans, it’s FGCU, who claimed six of those home losses for the Hatters.
There is no doubt that the ASUN Championship game between these two teams will not disappoint and maybe just too difficult to call.