After getting a 13-seed and a 12-seed on their way to the Sweet-16, FSU’s level of competition takes a major step up in Anaheim. First up are the Gonzaga Bulldogs (32-3), the No. 1 seed in the region. Thanks to a missed UCF tip-in at the buzzer, Gonzaga remains the only team to beat the Duke Blue Zions at full strength. Their three losses on the season were on the road against a 1-seed (UNC), and neutral site games to a 2-seed (Tennessee) and an 11-seed (St. Mary’s).
They have the most efficient offense in the nation, and a top-20 defense. Their one knock is that their strength of schedule is just 86th nationally, so they haven’t been tested nearly as much as Florida State (29th SOS).
Their defense is probably overrated
We’ll start here. Per kenpom.com the Zags played nine high major teams this year, and six of those nine scored well over a point per possession. The three who didn’t have offenses ranked 80th, 122nd, and 156th. The FSU defense had one game all season where they gave up more than 1.1 per possession, whereas five of the nine high majors scored more than that vs Gonzaga.
The Zags feasted on weaker competition, as good teams should. They don’t pressure much. Instead, they sink and shrink gaps, and force teams to beat them in the half court. They force some of the longest defensive possession in the nation, and Florida State is going to have to figure a way around this.
Tempo is going to be critical in this one. It’s unfortunate that FSU’s depth has taken a major hit recently, as the ‘Noles best chance is to turn this into a track meet. The good news is that FSU just dominated a Murray State team that thought they could run with the Seminoles. The bad news....
Their offense is definitely not overrated
They have the most efficient offense in the nation. They score a ton in transition, and have the highest 2-pt% offense in college basketball. Over 32% of their shots come in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, which isn’t exactly North Carolina fast, but it’s fast.
They’ve played 35 games, and in 11 of those they’ve scored more per possession than any other opponent of that team this year. They are the 8th best in the nation at taking care of the ball. They have fewer shots blocked than anyone. And they’re solid (not great) at offensive rebounding.
We talk a lot about the game of hidden possessions (offensive boards, turnovers) and Gonzaga almost always wins that battle.
I’ve looked back to 1995 (23+ seasons), and two teams in that span have won a national title without multiple NBA 1st rounders on the roster. The Zags would be no exception. Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both likely 1st rounders, and both could end up at the tail end of the lottery.
Rui is a load at 6-8, 230 (19.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg). He’s big and strong, he can handle the ball, he can defend. He’s a solid 3-point shooter (47% this season) but only attempted 32 this year. He thrives in the mid-range game and getting to the rim. And you absolutely have to find him in transition. There was an awkward adjustment period where Rui (from Japan) didn’t play with the effort needed at this level, but now as a junior he’s adjusted.
Brandon Clarke, a transfer from San Jose State, is also 6-8 but is a slender 215 (17.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 3.1 bpg). He’s also the guy most likely to put someone on a poster. He has tremendous athleticism, and very quick off the floor. He’s able to use this to be one of the best shot blockers in the nation, and since he’s so quick to get up, he doesn’t need to fall for ball fakes. He hasn’t fouled out of a game this year. Against Duke he scored 17 (on 7-10 shooting) and blocked six shots.
The Role Players
Every teams needs to surround their stars with players who are dependable and can occasionally take over a game.
Point guard Josh Perkins is 23-years-old, and is impossible to rattle. He’s a 39% career shooter from deep, and averages 10.8 ppg. He’s also one of the best ball screen passers in the country, and he’s very good on duck-ins.
Zach Norvell, who chose Gonzaga over Florida State, is a very solid wing and the most likely player to go bananas from deep. He’s only a 37% shooter, but has the tendency to hit in bunches. He’s a natural scorer at all three levels, and averages 15.1 ppg.
Corey Kispert is the designated spot up shooter. He’s 6-6 and makes 38% of his 3s.
And Killian Tillie, who is still working himself back into shape, is a 6-10 matchup problem. He makes 47% of his 3s, and can score inside as well with his length.
In the past twenty years, when playing as the lower seed in the NCAA Tournament, only one coach has a better winning percentage than Coach Hamilton.
So how is it going to happen?
- Hit 3s. FSU has lost one game this year when they make more than 32% from deep. They’re gonna get some shots, so they just have to hit them.
- Play bully ball. Gonzaga is far more physical this year than they were last year, but everyone on their roster remembers getting pushed around by Florida State last year. FSU has to be physical, and hope the refs aren’t too excited about tooting their whistles.
- Disrupt the paint. The Zags aren’t overly reliant on the 3-ball, and are 312th nationally in scoring from deep. They do their work in the paint. Christ Koumadje and Mfiondu Kabengele are going to have to be really good, and FSU’s wings have to find a way to disrupt dribble penetration, and to slow them down when they try and run.