March 24, 2018 - by
Tough Test Awaits History-Chasing Noles In Elite Eight

Florida State Notes vs. Michigan / Season Statistics / William C. Rhoden on Leonard Hamilton: Nobody Expected Us To Be Where We Are.  Nobody  / Gritty Mann Helps Push Noles Past Xavier  / Pre-Michigan Quotes / Pre-Michigan Lockerroom Quotes 

After the dominating and the history-making and the celebrating that took place in Los Angeles on Thursday night, the Florida State men’s basketball team was left with this reality: The Seminoles have another game to play, and in short order.

Less than 48 hours after their emphatic, 75-60 win over Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, the ninth-seeded Seminoles will meet No. 3-seed Michigan with a spot in the Final Four on the line.

Who has time to celebrate when so much is still at stake?

“We know we still have a lot of basketball ahead of us,” said sophomore guard Trent Forrest, perhaps the biggest catalyst of FSU’s surprising postseason surge. “It’s a big win for us, but we can’t relish it right now. We’ve got to get prepared to go as far as we can.”

Added redshirt freshman Mfiondu Kabengele: “After our Gonzaga win, we kind of recognized that this is what we do now. We want more.”

 

Standing in the Seminoles’ way is a Michigan team that, while not as highly seeded as previous opponent Xavier, might be their biggest test of the tournament.

Whereas the Seminoles have used their depth to wear down their first three opponents, the Wolverines have nine players who average at least 12 minutes per game.

Whereas the Seminoles have forced an average of nearly 16 turnovers in their three NCAA tournament games, the Wolverines turn the ball over just 9.2 times per game, the second-lowest rate in the nation.

And whereas the Seminoles have seen a timely renaissance of their trademark “Junkyard Dog” defense, they’ll line up Saturday night across from yet another dangerous offense.

While Michigan ranks 52nd nationally in field-goal percentage (incidentally, one spot behind FSU), the Wolverines are particularly potent from the perimeter, where they have taken 938 3-pointers (15th-most in the country) and connected on 347 of them (17th).

For an example of what the Wolverines are capable of, look no further than their Sweet-16 throttling of Texas A&M, in which they hit 10 3-pointers in the first half alone on the way to a 99-72 victory.

“Michigan presents a different problem because they’re tremendously efficient at knocking down 3s,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “…I’m not really sure that we’re going that have enough hours (of preparation) to do who lot of things other than be who we are.”

The good news for the Seminoles is that, as of late, who they are has been awfully good.

Michigan will hardly be the first high-powered offense that FSU has faced in this tournament. All others have fallen well short of their season standards: Missouri averaged 72.7 points per game this season but against FSU finished with only 54. Xavier, even more impressive at 84.4 points per game, posted only 70 against the Seminoles.

Finally, in the Sweet 16, FSU met a Gonzaga team that averaged 83.5 points per game and limited it to just 60 points and a 33.9 shooting percentage in a surprisingly lopsided affair.

“Their defense is terrific,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “They prioritize it, and they have great length to do it. … So it’s a challenge. I think what they’re also doing, they’re forcing 12 turnovers a game. That is a pretty good number, and that’s something that we usually are pretty good at.

“But if they turn us over a lot, that could be a big difference in the game. We pride ourselves in not turning it over.”

For the Seminoles, forcing turnovers isn’t just a source of pride, it’s also a source of offense. FSU for much of the seasons has thrived on converting opponents’ giveaways into quick baskets in transition, but they’ve reached another gear in that regard during the NCAA tournament.

In its three tournament games, FSU’s opponents have given the ball away a total of 47 times, and the Seminoles have made them pay to the tune of 47 points.

“Once you get one, it’s like you can’t wait to get another one,” Forrest said.

Much like they didn’t have more than a few moments to revel in beating Gonzaga, the Seminoles also haven’t much time to consider the historical significance of Saturday’s game.

FSU will be making just its third appearance in an NCAA regional final, and first since 1993 – back when Charlie Ward, Bob Sura and Sam Cassell were patrolling the floor.

Those Seminoles met a dubious end, a 106-81 defeat at the hands of Jamal Mashburn and the Kentucky Wildcats.

If this year’s team can reverse that script and upset Michigan, it will clinch the school’s first Final Four appearance since 1972, back when the Big Dance wasn’t so big.

Back then, the tournament field consisted of only 25 teams, a number which held until it expanded to 32 in 1975. Back then, Hamilton was a 24-year-old assistant at Austin Peay, just beginning to embark on his coaching career.

So yes, there will be a lot of history in play at Los Angeles’ Staples Center on Saturday night. And, if they top Michigan, they’ll have plenty of time to reflect on their place in that history, and the nature of their achievement.

For now, though, their focus is much narrower in scope:

“Obviously we celebrated (Thursday),” Kabengele said. “It was a great win.

“But now our focus is Michigan.”

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