What a start to the tournament? Georgetown and Marquette fall. Multiple overtime games an nail biters galore. Tonight, the Florida State Seminoles take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs and hope to continue the madness. After a 22-9 season, a third place finish in the ACC with an early departure in the ACC tournament, the Seminoles earned a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament and the opportunity to play the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Tonight, the Seminoles look to avoid another early tournament departure as they take on the 18th ranked Bulldogs.
Game Time: 7:10pm EST
Opponent's Site: The Slipper Still Fits
Live Stats: scacchoops.com
Tonight's match up features two teams that are eerily similar but couldn't be more different. The similar features are that both teams feature very young lineups with a great deal of size. Both play primarily man to man defense and both shoot terribly from the free throw line. And that is where the similarities end. This is the first time that Gonzaga and Florida State have played each other.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs finished 26-6 on the year and lost in the second round of the WCC tournament to St. Mary's. The Bulldogs played a brutal out of conference schedule that included the likes of Michigan State, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Wake Forest, Duke, Illinois and Mephis, with the majority of their out of conference games being played on the road. Their only two conference losses were to San Francisco and Loyola Marymount, both of which were considered 'bad losses' by Ken Pomeroy. The did, however, beat St. Mary's in both of their regular season match-ups.
To learn a little more about the Bulldogs, we had the opportunity to sit down with the guys at The Slipper Still Fits. Take a minute to check out their site to see our answers to their questions. This was posted as a story earlier in the week and sorry if it is a repeat for you, but it's best to hear it straight from the source:
1. Unfortunately, most ACC fans impression of Gonzaga was their performance against the Blue Devils. That game does not reflect the quality of basketball that was played by Gonzaga this year. What is the 'real' Gonzaga like? How would you describe this team to the casual fan? Should they be an 8 seed, playing across the country?
Your description is spot on. Gonzaga's perception nationally is very unfortunate; probably more unfortunate than I care to admit. As fans of such a irregular program like Gonzaga, you never really know how the world views you. Some think you're a cute mid-major that plays in an awful conference and some think you are a consistently overrated team that the media has fallen in love with. The Zags definitely didn't help themselves this season to sway any naysayers. Their two most "national" games were the Duke game and the WCC Championship against Saint Mary's. Both resulted in laid eggs. For that reason it is really hard to define this team as anything but inconsistent. The good thing, however, is that can make them incredibly dangerous in tournament settings if they get hot. The real Gonzaga is driven around Elias Harris. The Zags are at a whole different level when the offense is working around him because he can score from anywhere on the court and in a variety of ways. If he is active and involved early on, I don't think there is a team in the country Gonzaga can't beat. If he's out of the mix and having to work too much to create on offense, there isn't a team in the country that Gonzaga can't lose to. We've kinda boiled this team down to that fact.
There's not really a doubt in my mind that Gonzaga should be in that seven-eight seed area and away from the West coast. Losing two conference games to teams not even sniffing the tournament really broke this team's back. The nineteen point loss in the tournament championship game was just reassurance that this team was not worthy of being "protected" by the committee.
2. With a 26-6 record, the Bulldogs didn't struggle with many opponents this year. But, against what type of team did Gonzaga have their most success? What kind of teams/style of play caused them to struggle?
Like I said in the previous question, so much of this team's success lies on the shoulders of Elias Harris. At the beginning of the season, Harris was still an unknown German freshman. After the Michigan State game, Maui, and the rest of conference play, the nation woke up and really began gameplanning around him. Since then, Gonzaga has really struggled matching up with physical opposition. What most of the West Coast Conference did against Gonzaga was just hit them. Whenever Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray, or any other guard went to the hoop, they were either fouled or just defended very physically. This tends to throw them, especially Bouldin, off their game. If Matt feels like he's not getting calls early, he really struggles to get himself going. Moving into the post, the same can be said for Gonzaga's center, Robert Sacre. Rob has shown tremendous flashes all season long but he still lacks consistent assertiveness that all great big men have. If he doesn't receive the ball in "scoring position" he will typically turn the ball over because he's still very raw dribbling in the post and controlling his body. The Gonzaga coaching staff has had a hard time knowing how to use Rob throughout the year. Sometime they force feed him early to get him going but, and this is going to sound old, he gets better if Harris is the focal point. Defense is drawn away from Rob and the rest of the team when Elias demands attention and his presence opens up lanes all over the court.
By now, I expect Florida State fans to be salivating because they are exactly the defensive team GU struggles against. Athletic, long, and very physical is what I have gathered regarding the Noles defense. For the Zags to combat this, the game must be played from the inside-out to try and use their size to "out-tough" FSU.
3. Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Elias Harris appear to be the three headed monster for the Bulldogs. Out of those three, who do you think will give the Seminoles the most difficulty? Aside from the big three, who should Seminoles' fans be familiar with before this game starts? One shot left, who gets the ball?
With as much as I've talked about Elias Harris, I have to take this opportunity discuss Steven Gray. I think that Gray is the answer to two of your questions (I hope). He should get the ball with the clock winding down and he can present the most issues to Florida State. I say that for one reason and that is because Gonzaga truly needs him to be exceptional. Against a team like FSU where penetration from the outside may be limited, the Zags need Gray to hit shots from the outside and pull their defense out. While Matt Bouldin is sort of the jack-of-all-trades for this team, Steven is the most pure and explosive scorer. If he gets hot from the perimeter, he can put down four before you blink. He's also turned in to the total package and can drive to the rack or pull up for a mid-range jumper. He's also one of the few Zags that has been playing consistently lately and that, hopefully, will carry over to Friday.
In a game where I believe Gonzaga has to hit a certain point total to win, I think instant offense is going to be crucial off the bench. For that reason, the guy you should get to know is Canadian via Sudan transplant Bol Kong. Kong is a redshirt sophomore in his first season since transferring down and getting through his lengthy visa issues. He became the Zags primary bench player early in the season but cooled off during conference play and has since seen a little resurgence. You'll likely see Kong camping out around the three-point line waiting for the kick out pass. If he hits his first shot, watch out. He can bury a couple quick ones and give Gonzaga the lift it needs.
4. Florida State has one of the highest turnover percentages in all of college basketball. Gonzaga doesn't force many turnovers. What impact will turnovers play in this game?
I don't really see turnovers playing a huge role in terms of Gonzaga forcing them. This team really lacks the necessary experience from top to bottom to really take major defensive risks and it is just not really in Mark Few's nature to roll out a team that is going to put serious pressure on a team. The Zags also recently lost key reserve Mangisto Arop to a broken foot. Arop was one of Gonzaga's best situational defenders and was easily their most efficient rebounder. With his loss, the Bulldogs' hope to make a serious defensive impact really goes down. Steven Gray will get a few steals, Matt Bouldin might gather one or two up, and Demetri Goodson will force a few but
5. What does Gonzaga need to do in order to win this game?
I think in games like these, there is never really one blueprint a team has to follow to win. I do think that it is entirely possible for this game to be really decided within the first ten minutes. Tempo and style in this game are going to be so crucial. If it is a knock 'em dead, drag 'em out affair, I have very little hope that the Zags can sustain. If they can get going early and play the inside-out game with Harris and Sacre, I feel like this is a game Gonzaga can dominate. The flip side of the coin is that Gonzaga has been notoriously slow starting this season but it's hard to know whether that is due to lack of motivation or some larger reason. Overall, I can't see them needing any sort of wake-up call for an NCAA Tournament game which makes me very confident.
Thanks again to Zach and Max at Slipper Still Fits for taking the time to answer our questions.
Gonzaga finished 56th in Pomeroy Rankings with the 46th ranked offensive efficiency and the 65th ranked defensive efficiency. The stat that really jumps out is their ability to shoot the ball. Their eFG% on the year was 54.4% and they shot 54.3% from inside the arc. Surprisingly, Gonzaga does not take a significant amount of three point shots, which may play into the hands of the Seminoles. One of the reasons they didn't need to rely on the three point shot is that they are one of the tallest teams in the nation and are very physical on the inside. When they do shoot from down town, they are making 36.5% of their shots. The fact that they can shoot so well from beyond the arc should be concerning for Semionles fans.
The Stats (From StatSheet.com):
Lineups (From Seminoles.com):
Florida State Seminoles
F #00 Robert Sacre 7'0 247lbs Sophomore (10.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
F #20 Elias Harris 6'7 215lbs Freshman (14.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg)
G #3 Demetri Goodson 5'11 164lbs Sophomore (6.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
G #15 Matt Bouldin 6'5 224lbs Senior (15.8 ppg, 4.1 apg)
G #32 Steven Gray 6'5 208lbs Junior (13.7 ppg, 2.8 spg)
Keys to the Game:
1. Don't let Gonzaga get an early lead. As we all know, Florida State's offense is not able to easily recover from a big deficit. It's possible, particularly if Singleton and Dulkys are shooting well, but but likely. A lot of people are picking the Noles to win this game and are writing the Bulldogs off, that is dangerous. Gonzaga is going to come out swinging and try to get the Noles out of this game early. They will try to get our big men in foul trouble early and try to take away any advantage the Noles have inside.
2. Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers. Gonzaga doesn't turn the ball over all that often. Florida State does. But, Gonzaga does not generate many turnovers despite playing a significant amount of man to man defense. If Florida State does get turnover happy, make it the dead ball kind. No easy points for the Bulldogs in transition. Allow the defense to set up. Chris Singleton can only chase so many guys down during a game.
3. Free throws. Take the easy points. Neither team shoots well from the line. This could be one of the major keys to the game. In close games, the free throw line can make a world of difference. We have already seen the impact of free throws in this tournament. Get to the line early and often and make it count.
4. Wear them down. Gonzaga has five freshman on their team. Get them into foul trouble early and never let up any of the defensive pressure. Gonzaga has played some outstanding teams this year and done well, but they haven't seen a defense like the Noles. The big question is whether or not the Noles will slow them down enough to make it a game. Chris Singleton needs to have an outstanding game.
Prediction: Florida State 68 Gonzaga 65
Game Time: 7:10pm EST
Opponent's Site: The Slipper Still Fits
Live Stats: scacchoops.com
Go NOLES!!! Let's hope this isn't the last preview of the year.