ORLANDO – Although they come from separate conferences and separate parts of the country and haven’t met on a basketball court in nearly 60 years, Florida State and Xavier both feel they have a good idea of what to expect from the other when they meet in the NCAA tournament Round of 32 on Saturday.
Xavier coach Chris Mack got plenty familiar with Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles during his time as an assistant (2001-04) at Wake Forest. And although much has changed in FSU’s program over the last 13 years – Hamilton himself didn’t arrive until 2002 – Mack can see one thing that hasn’t changed when he turns on the Seminoles’ film.
“It’s amazing how Leonard Hamilton’s teams play very, very hard all the time,” Mack said Friday. “I was an assistant at Wake Forest years ago, and that was always a trademark of his teams.”
FSU, meanwhile, can look at a pair of common opponents and get a feel for what the Musketeers do well.
Despite a 22-13 record and a 9-11 mark in its last 20 games, Xavier took down two ACC opponents – Clemson and Wake Forest – and they topped NCAA tournament team Butler in the Big East tournament last week.
And, of course, the 11th-seeded Musketeers upset No. 6-seed Maryland in the first round on Thursday.
“They do a great job of executing,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “They get what they want every time down the court. They have guys inside. They have big, physical, strong guys inside. …
They’re just a very solid team, and that’s evident in the fact they played against a very good Maryland team. … They controlled the game.”
The Seminoles on Friday said they see shades of previous opponents in the Musketeers’ style.
FSU junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes said that Xavier’s physical, methodical style reminds him of Illinois, which the Seminoles beat in the NIT Tip-off back in November.
And senior Jarquez Smith said that Xavier’s talented post and deep playbook are reminiscent of Clemson, with Xavier standout Trevon Bluiett serving as the Musketeers’ version of Tigers star Jaron Blossomgame.
FSU swept Clemson during the regular season.
“They have bigs on the inside, they run a lot of set plays and they have a guy that can score the ball at will,” Smith said.
Blueitt, a 6-6, 198-pound guard from Indianapolis, averages 18.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. And, after missing his first seven shots from the field, Blueitt took over the Musketeers’ game against Maryland, where he scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half.
That includes a 5 of 10 mark from 3-point range, which either could be a potential outlier – Xavier doesn’t often rely on the long ball – or a preview of things to come against the Seminoles, who at times this season have been susceptible to deep shooting.
Hamilton called Blueitt an “unbelievable go-to guy.”
“He’s been consistent all year long with coming up with big baskets,” he said.
That Xavier employs a 1-3-1 zone defense has also caught FSU’s attention, especially after the Seminoles went on a five-minute scoreless streak once Florida Gulf Coast switched to a zone on Thursday night.
But with what they said were first-game jitters out of the way, the Seminoles are confident that they can shoot the ball better on Saturday and be even sharper than they were against FGCU.
“We’ve just got to do what we’ve been doing all year,” Rathan-Mayes said. “Play defense at a high level, pressure the basketball and take them out of their sweet spots.
“If we can do that, I think we can be successful tomorrow night.”