After surviving Vermont’s three point barrage and pummeling Murray State, the Seminoles are onto the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row. And for back-to-back seasons, they will be playing the Gonzaga Bulldogs in Southern California, this time in Anaheim. Hopefully for Florida State’s sake it will be the same outcome as last time. Last year in Los Angeles the Seminoles size and depth wore down the favored Bulldogs in a 75-60 victory.
Against Vermont the Seminoles had a slow start and found themselves down 9. They responded with a 15-0 run to take the lead. From then until about 5 minutes left in the game the Seminoles biggest lead was only 5 because of Vermont’s exceptional shooting from distance.
After the five-minute mark, Vermont finally missed a few shots and the Seminoles started cashing in at the free-throw line extending their lead to as much as 13.
FSU ran out the clock to preserve the 76-69 win. Mfiondu Kabengele had a double double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Terance Mann also filled up the stat sheet scoring 19 points and collecting 8 rebounds.
In the second round game, Murray State got out to a fast start and once again FSU was trailing due to the opponents inability to miss from three-point land. Murray State’s star player Ja Morant was 5/5 from beyond the arc early on but after his fast start the Seminoles constant pressure and depth started to wear down the Racers and the route was on.
Florida State finished out the first half with a 16-point lead. The Seminoles kept the momentum going coming out of the locker room and won the game 90-62. Kabengele led the team in scoring with 22. Mann played fantastic once again with 18 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
Senior forward Phil Cofer remains out because of an ankle injury. He also will not travel with the team, as he will be in Georgia for his father’s funeral. Despite his absence the team is playing well going 2-0 in the tournament and 13-1 overall with him sidelined. His replacement Raiquan Gray struggled early on against Vermont but showed his talents against Murray State with 11 points and 5 steals. The Seminoles will need to rely on him as well Christ Koumadje and Kabengele against Gonzaga’s three-headed monster in the paint. Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie and Brandon Clarke are all solid defenders and inside scoring options for the Bulldogs.
Hachimura is the West Coast Conference player of the year averaging 20 points per contest. Brandon Clarke is the West Coast Conference defensive player of the year and will be facing Seminoles for the first time after transferring in from San Jose State. At the beginning of the season it seemed like Hachimura was their best player but Clarke has really come into his own recently including a 36-point and 5 block outburst in the second round versus Baylor.
Tillie was unable to play last year due to an injury and he can get hot from the perimeter. It will be up to Koumadje to have some good minutes to help keep Kabengele out of foul trouble. If Kabengele gets into trouble it could be a long night for the Seminoles as he is the only big man that is athletic, big and experienced enough to deal with all 3 possible draft picks at the forward position.
Gonzaga usually likes to get out on the fast break, but against Florida State they will have to be more selective so they don’t wear themselves out. Only 7 players have been getting major minutes for the Bulldogs in the tournament as opposed to the 11 sometimes 12 for the Seminoles.
It has yet to be determined if backup point guard David Nichols will be able to play due to his ankle injury. Terance Mann was able to handle the point when Trent Forrest went to the bench against Murray State. Keeping Forrest fresh to put constant pressure on Gonzaga to try to wear them out would give the ‘Noles a little extra push at the end of the game. Due to the depth if Florida State can keep it close or have the lead at halftime that will spell trouble for the number one seeded Bulldogs.
If Florida State can survive in the Sweet 16 they will play the winner of Texas Tech/Michigan in the Elite 8 on Saturday. Both teams play very physical defensive styles and limit the other teams fast-break opportunities. Most of their games are low-scoring but they have the athletes and shooters to pick and choose when to speed it up.
Texas Tech’s star player is small forward Jarrett Culver, who won Big 12 player of the year. He leads the team in points, rebounds and assists. The Red Raiders are more guard oriented with only two guys over 6’7’’ that play significant minutes.
Michigan only uses six players most games, but all six do everything well. Zavier Simpson is the Wolverines point guard and stands at 6 feet tall but averages 5 rebounds a game. The 7’1’’ center, John Teske, is a rebounding force that can step out and make the three at a 30% clip.