For 67 teams the NCAA Tournament brings a swift and often unceremonious end to an otherwise fun and successful season. So enjoy it while it’s here. We have until 9:20 on Thursday night, and then it is survive and advance mode.
Florida Gulf Coast, as expected, dominated the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Blue Ribbon Yearbook (the college basketball Bible) pegged them in the preseason with the best front court in the conference, and the second best back court. But their wildcard was UCF transfer Brandon Goodwin, who sat out last season. The guard turned out to be the best player in the A-Sun, and so, in the end, the Eagles had the best front court AND the best back court.
The announcers will go on about Dunk City, and it’s true, this team does dunk a lot (though not as much as FSU). But instead of the high-paced act that earned the school it’s nickname in 2013, this team is a grinder. They just happen to have one player - 6-9 Demetris Morant - who roams the baseline in search of nothing but alley oops, and alone he had more dunks than all but four ACC teams.
Instead of flying up and down the court, this team probes. They slow the game down. Their average possession length offense is nearly 18 seconds, which is 235th in the nation. They don’t take many 3s. They spread the floor, drive into the gaps, and look to dish for an easy bucket.
In that way, they’re designed well to attack FSU. The ‘Noles recruit huge guards, which makes containing smaller players a constant issue. It will be a fine balance all night for FSU’s help defense. Be overly aggressive, and there will be an alley oop or a layup. Be too passive, and the ballhandler will get to the rim.
FGCU is 14th nationally in 2-pt%. Also, as expected from a team which attempts a ton of 2-pointers, they’re a very good offensive rebounding team (32nd).
FSU’s perimeter defenders need to be in position to stop drives 15-feet from the basket, and then recover. Goodwin is just a 35% 3-point shooter, and the other higher volume guys (6-2 Zach Johnson, and 6-5 Christian Terrell) both shoot under 34%. So unless they pull a Shizz Alston, the 3-point lottery shouldn’t have a huge affect on this game.
The Eagles use their bigs as swing men, which is another way to attack for layups. On nearly every catch in the post their initial move is to look for the cutter. It also makes them effective against zone defenses.
I expect FGCU to score with efficiency. If the ‘Noles can somehow hold them to a point per possession or less, it should be an easy win. The overwhelming key is defensive 2-pt%. When held below 47% on 2s, FGCU is 0-5. At 50% or better, they’re 24-1.
FGCU’s defense isn’t that good. They led their own conference, but they don’t have the size to consistently stop high major attacks. They don’t like to switch screens in their man-to-man defense (from the games I’ve seen), so FSU’s pick-and-roll attack will be key. They’ll also mix in a little zone.
The real key to FSU’s offense, though, will be the same as every game: get stops on defense. If the Seminoles can get the speed of the game revved up with their transition offense, then it should be a low stress game for fans. But if FGCU gets buckets and can set up the defense, it will be a long, slow, half court battle.
The Eagles also have a secret weapon in assistant coach Michael Fly. Fly was the video coordinator at FSU from 2008-11, and was the assistant director of the Leonard Hamilton Basketball Camps. They should be well prepared.
The game tips tomorrow night at 9:20 and will be broadcast on TNT. Florida State is a 12-point favorite.