The NCAA Tournament has a wide variety of game types resulting in a wide variety of outcomes. March Madness provides more than its fair share of heartbreaking buzzer beaters, questionable late-game decisions, and heroic one-man performances. For all of these memorable instances which will be enshrined in this year’s One Shining Moment, however, there are plenty of significantly less memorable instances where one team simply outplays the other. Florida State’s loss to No. 11 Xavier was one of these occurrences.
The Musketeers had a career day from outside the arc while FSU struggled to get anything to fall for long stretches of Saturday’s matchup and the end result was about what you would expect from this description, a 91-66 loss which ends the Seminoles’ season one win away from a Sweet Sixteen appearance.
It’s easy to put a lot of negative emphasis on a loss like this, especially one of this magnitude, but it also must be remembered that the Seminoles finish the year with a 26-9, one win shy of tying the program record. The bottom line is that it was a very disappointing ending to an extremely fun season in Tallahassee.
Above the Rim
It was a tale of two halves of the court with regard to shooting, especially from the perimeter. Xavier, the second worst three-point shooting team in the entire 68-team NCAA Tournament field with a 34.2% rate from outside the arc entering Saturday, put together an unbelievable team performance from outside the arc. The Musketeers were 11-17 (64.7%) from outside the arc in the blowout victory, nearly doubling their season percentage from three. Now, some of these were on wide-open looks after the Musketeers managed to break through Florida State’s full-court press, but many were contested looks which they managed to knock down with a hand in their face. When a team is that hot, there’s very little you can do, as every FSU player I talked to in the locker room afterwards said. Xavier, which finished shooting 55.6% from the floor, was just the second team to finish a game hitting more than 50% of its shots against FSU this season.
Meanwhile, Florida State put together another inept performance from outside the arc. Leonard Hamilton talked after the game about how Xavier’s gameplan was to clog the interior with their zone and force the Seminoles to knock down their threes. This proved an extremely successful strategy. FSU finished 4-21 (19%) from three. Over the two games in Orlando, that puts the ’Noles at 6 for 34 (17.6%) from outside the arc. That just isn’t going to lead to postseason success.
For Florida State, this trend of below-average three-point shooting is not a new one. Since the Seminoles shot 56.7% from three in a blowout victory over Clemson back on February 5th, they surpassed the 40% mark from outside the arc just once over their final 11 games. Over that stretch, the Seminoles hit 23.7% of their threes, well below the season average which falls in the mid-30% range.
In all honesty, Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Bacon were the only two Seminoles who had any consistent success penetrating Xavier’s zone. Rathan-Mayes had multiple layups and Bacon relied on his signature floater to put together 21 of FSU’s 34 first-half points, keeping the ’Noles in the game by themselves. When Florida State started taking more threes in the second half in an attempt to cut into the lead, however, the interior offense took a step back and the game got out of hand fast.
Florida State’s full-court press, which impacted a number of teams when the Seminoles went to it throughout the 2016-2017 season, had a minimal impact on Xavier’s offense.
The Seminoles consistently double-teamed the in-bound receiver deep in their own territory, but the Musketeers penetrated the pressure with ease far more often than a turnover was forced. On many of those occasions where the press was broken, FSU never really recovered and it led to easy points at the offensive end for the Muskies. As a result of this, many of the FSU bigs were outnumbered and especially susceptible to misdirections inside the paint, overcommitting to one side and giving up easy baskets on the other.
Xavier’s gameplan was an exceptional one at taking the Seminoles outside of the their comfort zone and it was evident. FSU finished the loss getting outrebounded 36-33 and outscored in the paint 36-26 by a team whose tallest starter was 6’9. Additionally, Xavier committed just nine turnovers, which limited how often Florida State was able to get out in transition, as the ’Noles finished with only two fastbreak points. Even more surprisingly, Xavier’s bench, which had only two guys play more than two minutes, outscored FSU’s incredibly deep bench 27-17.
The defensive bright spot for the Seminoles proved to be one of its most unlikely suspects. P.J. Savoy, who has emerged as a three-point specialist and, unfortunately, somewhat of a defensive liability, was chaotic in the press, taking a much-needed step in the right direction defensively. He was hardly perfect, at times overcommitting, getting lost, or playing too aggressively and committing unnecessary fouls. That being said, his three steals were a team high and his play stood out. After talking to him afterwards, it was clear that he realizes more playing time will be up for grabs next season and that his defensive play may be one of the things holding him back.
Tomahawk Nation had the chance to talk to Hamilton and a number of players in the locker room after the loss. The videos, as dismal as you would imagine, can be found below.