Over the past two months we have spent endless amounts of time debating and discussing the same seven opponents. One of the refreshing aspects of the start of the NCAA Tournament is that there is a fresh opponent for us to preview and attempt to dissect. While last year gave the Zags mid-major opponents in the first two round, this NCAA Tournament run will begin against the Florida St. Seminoles from the ACC.
The first thing that jumps out when you look at Florida St. is the incredible amount of athleticism that Leonard Hamilton has at his disposal. Normally, Memphis presents the most difficult match up in terms of athleticism and length for the Zags, but this season that distinction will belong to the Seminoles. In Solomon Alabi, the 'Noles have a future lottery pick who is a legitimate 7'1 and can absolutely dominate the game with his defensive play. Alabi averages 2.4 blocks per game, and there is little doubt that he will be the most difficult match up that Robert Sacre has gone up against during his time at Gonzaga.
However, like the rest of his teammates, Alabi is not a huge threat on the offensive end, with most of his scoring coming on second-chance opportunities and open dunks. Alabi averages only 11.6 points per game and is also an ineffective rebounder for a guy his size, pulling down 6.2 boards per game. If Sacre and Foster can box out and use their size and strength to keep Alabi off the glass, his impact could be nullified.
With Alabi dominating the paint, Chris Singleton has the ability to guard and dominate defensively on both the perimeter and in the paint. Singleton is the engine that makes this Seminoles team run, and he offers a very rare blend of size and quickness. The 6'9 forward was recently named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and it will be interesting to see if he starts the game using his length to try and eliminate the effectiveness of Matt Bouldin on the perimeter, or if he matches up with Elias Harris. With so much length in both a basic man-to-man defense, as well as in a potential 3-2 zone (which SIngleton often plays at the top of), Gonzaga will need to make sure they take care of the ball and make smart passes in both transition and in the half court offense.
While there is a pretty good indication of the type of performance that Gonzaga fans should expect to see from Alabi and Singleton, I believe that Deividas Dulkys and Michael Snaer will be the difference in this game. With Florida St. being the top defensive team in the country (they the lead the country in field goal percentage defense), the ability of Dulkys and Snaer to score and provide a threat on the offensive end will be imperative watch. Dulkys is an excellent shooter, who hits nearly 40% of his shots from beyond the arc, but he is incredibly streaky on the offensive end. It's vital that either Matt Bouldin or Steven Gray is always aware of where Dulkys is on the court, as making sure that he doesn't get hot from the field should be one of the main priorities for the Zags.
Snaer is an explosive freshman scorer, who is one of the most highly-touted recruits to play in Tallahassee. Snaer recently moved into the starting lineup, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Steven Gray match up with Snaer when Gonzaga is in their man-to-man defense (it wouldn't surprise me to see Gonzaga in their zone defense for the majority of the game. Making FSU score from the perimeter might be the best approach). By not allowing Snaer and Dulkys to get in the offensive flow of the game, Gonzaga should have enough skill and scoring ability on the offensive end to pull out a gruleing and tough victory.