March 23, 2018 - by
Sweet 16 Preview: No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 FSU

Florida State vs. Gonzaga Notes / Season Statistics / Leonard Hamilton Is Florida State’s All-Time Wins Leader, Co-Founder Of Gospel Music Label / Florida State’s Braian Angola, A former NIC standout, Shines On And Off Court /

What To Watch

Depth vs. Big Man Depth: Florida State is one of the few teams in the country that truly trusts its depth. The Seminoles will typically play 10 to 11 players with Coach Hamilton unafraid to send in wholesale changes with a wave of three-, four- or even five-man substitutions. The Seminoles have 10 players that average at least 10 minutes per game.

“It was hard to believe because coach always preaches about the quality of our depth and I’ve heard it before, but not a lot of coaches follow through on that, especially when the games got tight, usually the bench shrinks when that happens,” Mfiondu Kabengele said. “Well Coach Ham trusts us through and through, so even when the game got tight, he still was subbing 10 guys in.

“I was really happy to see that because I was scared my minutes would go down or I wasn’t able to be a factor, but Coach Ham trusts all of us on the bench to perform and I’m really grateful for that because our team is so deep and we’re so talented across the board that it don’t matter who you sub in and change, it’s great.”

The Seminoles depth plays into their aggressive defense. Every player comes in fresh and can attack with high energy rather than getting worn down over the course of a game.

“Everyone is on their principles,” Kabengele said. “Everybody is crashing the glass, moving the ball and there’s no fatigue. Energy is high when we’re rotating like that, so it’s great to play with it.

But Gonzaga will present a bit of a different depth concern for Florida State with their stores of quality big men that each present unique challenges. Jonathan Williams and Killian Tillie aren’t the biggest front line at 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-10, but they attack the offensive glass, averaging more than four offensive boards per game. Williams and 6-foot-8 reserve Rui Hachimura can take big men off the dribble and draw fouls attacking the rim, combining to shoot nearly 400 free throws this season. Add in redshirt freshman Jacob Larsen, who is the tallest of the bunch at 6-foot-11, and the Seminoles frontcourt will have their work cut out for them.

Kabengele said it’s the first time he’s had to deal with a team that really deep with their bigs, but he is excited for the challenge.

Both the Bulldogs and Seminoles wear on opponents over the course of the game with their varying styles and the depth they possess. Both teams owned the end of games in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, coming from behind to get victories. That should make Thursday’s final five minutes that much more exciting.

“They’re definitely going to fight to the last minute from the film I watched,” senior forward Phil Cofer said. “We’re still going to have to play to the buzzer sounds. I think if everybody does that, we’ll be fine.”

Bulldogs Concerned About Turnovers: After talking with Gonzaga’s starting guards, one thing is apparent: head coach Mark Few is preaching ball security. When asked about the Florida State guards, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell Jr. each mentioned the Seminoles ability to cause turnovers.

Florida State had 10 steals against Xavier and holds a 30-15 fast break advantage in its NCAA tournament run.

“What we’re going to try to avoid is turning the ball over and letting them get easy layups in transition,” Melson said. “I think I read a stat that through the first two games of the tournament, they’re leading in transition points. Our attack is just to play smart, play physical and tough because they are reaching and poking on defense. We don’t want to play soft and loose and that lead to turnovers and lead to transition points for them.”

And On Offense Too: It’s not just defensively where the Zags are concerned about Florida State’s guards.

CJ Walker, Forrest, Angola they’re all good,” Perkins said. “They’re a problem. It’s something we shouldn’t take lightly and something our coaches respect them, so we’ve been talking about their guards a lot. Just controlling their guards would be huge in the game.”

Melson repeatedly mentioned how the Seminole guards are able to “be aggressive downhill” getting by on-ball defenders and getting into the paint to force help. Gonzaga is not only concerned about Florida State’s drive-and-kick opportunities, but also the potential of foul trouble for their post players if the FSU guards are able to drive downhill. Four Bulldogs starters had at least four fouls in the win over Ohio State.

But Norvell summed up Florida State’s guards best: “They play really hard. They really stretch the floor. Can bounce it at you, get in the lane and finish. They just play really, really hard and really tough.”

Best Basketball: Are the Seminoles playing their best basketball of the season?

There isn’t a consensus amongst the players. Of those asked, half immediately pointed out the areas where they still need work while the other half mulled over the proposition for a second before saying yes.

“We’re getting better and better. There’s still some gaps…but I would say definitely we’re playing some better basketball,” Kabengele said. “We’re more connected. We’re talking more. We’re more verbal on defense. We’re locking down. Our junkyard defense principles are back.”

Coach Hamilton said he’ll take a wait-and-see approach: “We’ve won a couple of games, but we’ve done that before. I’d just like to see where we are and how far we go and then I’ll be able to answer that a little bit better.”

What was a consensus is that the Seminoles feel they are locked in right now and that’s when they are at their best.

“When we lock down, we play our best basketball,” M.J. Walker said. “We’ve been kind of inconsistent throughout the season, but I feel like when we’re locked in and everybody is on the right page, we’re capable of playing our best basketball every night.”

18 Strong: The team’s “18 Strong” slogan is written across the chest of their warmups. With a tight-knit group that calls themselves family, it has become more than just a saying.

“Brotherhood,” Trent Forrest said. “We’re all connected through each other, so I feel like it means a lot to each one of us and we take it very serious.”

Know Thy Enemy: Gonzaga is making its 20th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, it’s ninth Sweet 16 appearance, including a fourth in a row this year, and is coming off a national championship loss to North Carolina. The Bulldogs beat UNC Greensboro and Ohio State in Boise, Ida. last week, but it took come-from-behind wins in both.

The Bulldogs have a number of guys on the roster that can go off on any given night. They have five players averaging double figures led by Williams. Tillie showed just how deadly he can be from the outside in the WCC tournament when he went 13 for 14 on three-pointers while Norvell has been one of the breakout stars of the NCAA tournament so far scoring 43 points, including a career-high 28 against Ohio State. Hachimura also produced a career high in the Round of 32 win scoring 25 in 25 minutes.

Stan Jones Breaks Down Gonzaga

Flashback

Last Matchup: Gonzaga won 67-60 in the NCAA tournament on March 19, 2010.

The Seminoles tried to come from behind to beat Gonzaga in the team’s only meeting, but an 18-point deficit was too much to overcome. Down 16 at halftime, Florida State chipped away at the hole, getting it down to five points with 2:21 remaining, but it missed two free throws with just less than 90 seconds remaining and Gonzaga made 8 of 10 freebies down the stretch to pull out the win. Deividas Dulkys led the Seminoles with 14 points. Solomon Alabi had 13 while Gonzaga’s Matt Bouldin had a game-high 18 points, including 14 in the second half.

Where To Watch

Game Time, TV channel: 10:07 p.m. EDT, TBS. (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Dana Jacobsen)

Radio: Florida State IMG Radio Network (Gener Deckerhoff, Keith Jones); Gonzaga IMG Radio Network (Tom Hudson, Adam Morrison); Westwood One Radio (Tom McCarthy, Jim Jackson)

Live Stream: https://www.ncaa.com/march-madness-live/watch

Follow Along: FSU Twitter – @FSUHoops; Gonzaga Twitter – @ZagMBB

Projected Starting Lineups

Florida State Seminoles

G – CJ Walker (6-1, So.)
G – Braian Angola (6-6, Sr.) 
G – Terance Mann (6-6, Jr.)

F – Phil Cofer (6-8, Sr.)
F – Christ Koumadje (7-4, Jr.)

 

Gonzaga Bulldogs

 

G – Josh Perkins (6-3, RS Jr.)
G – Silas Melson (6-4, Sr.)
G – Zach Norvell Jr. (6-5, RS Fr.)
F – Johnathan Williams (6-9, RS Sr.)
F – Killian Tillie (6-10, So.)

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