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NCAA Tournament 2018: Gonzaga vs. Florida State game preview

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Hopefully the Zags got their rest. They’re going to need it.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Nashville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the No. 9 Florida State Seminoles in the Sweet 16 on Thursday evening, in Los Angeles. It is the fourth-straight Sweet 16 appearance for the Bulldogs.

Getting to the Sweet 16 hasn’t been easy for Gonzaga. They held off a furiously upset minded UNC Greensboro team, and then nearly coughed up an 11-point halftime lead against Ohio State. The Zags, through strong play from most everyone, especially Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, and Rui Hachimura, are now gathering Final Four chatter after the rest of the bracket was decimated in the first weekend.

Before any Final Four gibberish can take hold, the Zags will need to push past a Florida State squad that pulled a five-point upset over the No. 1 Xavier Musketeers. The Seminoles came back from 12 points down late in the second half by strong defense and big shots. They are a balanced and aggressive squad. Teams don’t fall into the Sweet 16 by accident (unless you are Syracuse heyooooooo).

Meet the opponent

Florida State Seminoles, 22-11, KenPom #30

There isn’t enough time in the world to type out all the players for Florida State to keep track of. Ten players average at least 10 minutes per game (for comparison, Gonzaga has seven) and for the most part, that rotation has stayed loose and fit throughout the NCAA Tournament. Having so many players out on the floor at different times allows the Noles to play an aggressive defense that will challenge the Gonzaga guards at all times. Think West Virginia but not as predictable on a press.

The Noles have three players averaging double-digit points in senior forward Phil Cofer (13.0), senior guard Braian Angola-Rodas (12.8), and junior winger Terrance Mann (12.7). Like Gonzaga, the key to Florida State’s success is the balanced scoring opportunities. The Noles have nine players averaging at least six points, and seven averaging at least seven points.

Florida State also likes to push the tempo, averaging 71.5 possessions per game, good for No. 31 in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. That means we should probably see a pace similar to what transpired against Ohio State. The Zags are going to have to be rested and ready for this one, because Florida State will try to run Gonzaga out of the court, and they have the army of legs to do so.

What to watch out for

Killian Tillie to get more involved in the offense.

The Zags really haven’t had too many individual downsides this tournament run, but one quiet figure on the offense has been Killian Tillie. After Tillie obliterated the WCC during the conference tournament, it was a shock to see how off his shot was last week. After shooting 28-for-35 in the WCC Tournament (and 13-for-14 from long range!!!), Tillie has hit just 3-of-10 shots in the NCAA Tournament. Granted, he was limited by foul trouble against Ohio State, but during the NCAA Tournament, the Zags need all cylinders firing. If Tillie can regain his mojo by hitting a couple of stretch threes, it will go a long way to kickstarting the rest of the offense against Florida State.

Attack the offensive glass.

Florida State is stellar at their interior defense, to a degree. They hold opponents to just 45.4 percent for two-pointers and their 170 total team blocks are the 23rd highest in the nation. But then, for whatever reason, they aren’t the best defensive rebounding team. Johnathan Williams and Tillie are both plus offensive rebounders, and the Zags can really put a hurting on Florida State if they get the second-chance points.

Control the pace of the game.

Florida State likes to push that tempo, and they have the bodies to make it work. Gonzaga needs to remember the quick turnaround this week. If they win against the Noles, running sprints for 40 minutes will leave some tired legs on Saturday’s Elite 8 game. The Zags do not need to sprint down court for fast breaks. Florida State’s defense is solid, but the Zags have faced tougher ones this season and prevailed. Play the half court offense for some breathers, and bruise the Noles off the court.