March 19, 2011
Chicago, IL – When tenth-seeded Florida State (22-10) takes the court Sunday versus second-seeded Notre Dame (27-6) at 9:40 p.m. EST in Chicago, this game will be a contrast on so many levels. The two schools play different styles of basketball, they have never faced one another, they have played no common opponents this year and it will be the first game for Notre Dame versus an ACC school since 2008.
At Saturday’s media session it seemed the press was struggling to find an angle to pull together this match-up of one of the nation’s best defensive teams in the Seminoles and an Irish squad that averages nearly 76 points per game and shoots almost 47% from the field and nearly 40% from behind the arc.
“Rebounding the basketball will be a key for us,” said Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey. “Moving them around a little bit to get a good shot. And we’re going to have to be really efficient offensively like I thought we were in the second half yesterday. But they’re good. They’re confident.”
While Brey was able to single out an area he felt his team would need to excel in order to advance to the Sweet 16 Sunday, FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton couldn’t be quite so specific. When asked to single out some of the stats he would like to see in the box score following the game that would indicate to him that his Seminoles will most likely be advancing, Hamilton had no answer.
“I think, when you’re playing against a team like Notre Dame, you’ve got to play a complete basketball game,” said Hamilton. “They shoot a lot of free throws, but they don’t foul a lot and give you an opportunity to get those easy baskets. They don’t turn the ball over. So they don’t give you an opportunity to get a lot of easy baskets from their turnovers…”
“We feel we need to be solid in all of those areas.”
One of the main concerns according to Notre Dame’s head coach and his players is FSU’s trademark defense. The Seminoles suffocated Texas A&M Friday night holding the Aggies to 27% from the field in the decisive second half while blocking 10 shots and winning the battle of the boards.
“I think they’re one of the best defensive teams in the country,” said Notre Dame senior guard Ben Hansbrough. “It’s going to be a great challenge for us, and we’re looking forward to it.”
On the other side of the coin, how will FSU be able to slow down a team that shoots so well and often? Notre Dame will attack the Seminoles with a starting lineup that features five players on the floor all shooting over 43% and four who shoot over 45%.
“They shoot the ball very well, and they’re very smart,” said FSU’s Derwin Kitchen. “That’s the main thing that jump shot screen. They’ve got five guys on it. Sometimes they have five guys out there at one time that can shoot the ball from deep or from anywhere.”
“They present an awful lot of problems for teams, especially us, because they have such a diverse offensive system that challenges all your defensive principles, running a motion offense where one of the inside players initiates the offense and brings the ball down the floor,” said Leonard Hamilton.
Friday night the key to the Seminoles win was the switch to a rarely used zone defense. While Hamilton wouldn’t totally rule out using the same strategy versus Notre Dame, he did say it would be very unlikely. He also said he expected returning star Chris Singleton to get about the same number of minutes (16 minutes) that he logged in his return versus Texas A&M in the second round game.
“And Singleton being back has given them a lift, in my opinion,” said Brey. “I’m impressed with his basketball IQ. I watched them play, but you don’t get a feel. He was telling guys where to go. It was almost like having a coach back on the court yesterday. I’m really impressed with his leadership as well as being a great talent.”
Brey is preparing his team and his star guard Hansbrough for the possibility of FSU putting Singleton on the 6-3 senior in the Seminoles’ man-to-man defense. While Hamilton wouldn’t give anything away, the Irish will prepare for that possibility.
“I think for Ben mentally, I talked to him a little bit in practice, to be ready for that,” said Brey. “He’s not had a big guy like that chasing him around. I think Ben’s been a good decision-maker, and he’s been better about playing within our system and letting other guys score.”
There are plenty of questions surrounding strategy and match-ups as these two teams battle for a spot in the Sweet 16. The one thing fans can most likely expect is that both teams will do what they do best with so much on the line Sunday.
“We’re confident that we can just be who we are, and we can’t change at this particular point,” said Hamilton. “Hopefully, that will be enough for us to win the game.”