By the time FSU players got back to their hotel rooms following the victory over Florida Gulf Coast, they had film on Xavier waiting for them on their iPads. The good news in what they watched is that Chris Mack is a pack-line guy, running a defensive system very similar to Virginia’s. The bad news is that Mack has gone more and more away from man-to-man defense, instead relying on a 1-3-1 zone in an attempt to counter some of the effects of having a very thin bench.
This has been one of those years for Xavier. They were ranked No. 7 in the preseason, but then key senior Myles Davis left the team, and stud PG Edmond Sumner was lost to injury. After a 13-2 start to the regular season, they limped to a 7-10 finish.
Then they advanced to the Big East semis before falling in a close game to Creighton. This earned them an 11-seed in The Dance, where they knocked off Maryland in the first round.
They played zone for probably 30 minutes of the game versus Maryland, and FSU should expect more of the same. The zone can be burned for easy 3s, but Florida State has been shooting poorly of late.
Not all zones are equal, and the Musketeers tweak theirs by upping the pressure. The man at the top of the zone is often pressuring the ball 35’ from the basket. They also slip a big down to the baseline position, instead of the middle, in order to help with rebounding.
The basic weakness of a 1-3-1 zone are the corners and short-corners, as well as 3s from the wings. As long as Xavier is in the zone, FSU will likely look to Jonathan Isaac and Phil Cofer to attack from the short corners (the area halfway between the corner and the blocks). Coach Hamilton also likes to screen zones, so the bigs should stay busy setting screens and trying to create space on the inside of the zone.
Florida State has been really good (at times) versus the zone this season. But at some point, they’ll have to knock down 3s. Possessions will grind to a halt, and someone needs to knock down open shots.
On offense, Xavier is a team in no hurry. They take their time. They make the extra pass. The whole time, they’re probing for angles to attack the rim. They’re excellent at getting the the free throw line, and they’re a very good offensive rebounding team.
They can get a bit turnover-prone, and they aren’t a great shooting team. These areas could be the keys to the game. FSU needs live-ball turnovers and stops to fuel the transition game, and defensively, the ’Noles will sell out to protect the paint. Like they did against FGCU, the Seminole defense will want to turn the Musketeers into a jump shooting team, and then hope they don’t go nuts from deep.
Trevon Bluiett, a 6-5 junior guard, leads Xavier with 18.2 points/game. He’s an average 3-point shooter (37%) and splits his attempts evenly between 2s and 3s. JP Macura, another big 6-5 guard, shoots just 34% from deep, but scores 14.4/game.
The game tips at 6:10 PM and will be broadcast on TNT. FSU is currently a 6-point favorite.