The Gonzaga Bulldogs will face off for the second year in a row against the Florida State Seminoles in the Sweet 16. Last year, FSU won handily. This year, we hope it is the opposite. We spoke with Michael Rogner of Tomahawk Nation to get the scoop on FSU.
1) Presuming that Phil Cofer is not able to play due to his father’s passing, how does this affect the Florida State game plan, if at all?
Coach Hamilton has said that he’s out, and yeah, that’s a big deal. Cofer is the key to FSU’s small-ball lineup, as he gives tremendous flexibility to the defensive game plan. He can guard 1-4 and a lot of smaller 5s, and when he and Mfiondu Kabengele are on the floor together it allows Florida State to switch every screen and really limit the effectiveness of ball screens. On offense, he’s a solid spot up shooter (37% career 3-pt), and he’s one of the few guys in the nation who might be able to high five Brandon Clarke at the top of the backboard.
The wildcard is how the emotional situation affects everyone else. His close friend Terance Mann had a huge game against Murray State, and was clearly emotional on and off the court. A clueless reporter asked him why he took the matchup with Ja Morant so personal. If you weren’t tuned in to hear his answer, it’s worth your time.
2) Gonzaga enters the game as the favorite. What is Florida State doing right in pulling off the upset?
It’s pretty clear watching Gonzaga film that 1-5 the Zags are the more talented team. When I watch them I see a couple of first round picks (and either could go in the lottery) and some really good pieces around them. But FSU has been facing that formula since conference play began in January, and in the last 18 the ‘Noles are 16-2 with their only losses at UNC and vs Duke. What makes FSU tough is that they don’t win by having a bunch of 5*s in the starting lineup (they have zero 5*s and three 4*s on the entire roster), they win by going 11 deep and playing a relentless brand of basketball for 40 minutes. For the ‘Noles to pull the upset they’re going to have to affect the Zags the same way they did last year - with constant fresh bodies, tremendous length, and a will to compete.
3) The Noles don’t shoot the ball particularly well as a team. If Gonzaga’s offense starts clicking, how does Florida State keep up the pace?
The weird part is that we thought this would be a good shooting team. But whatever, they shoot 34% from deep so it is what it is. FSU doesn’t take a ton of 3s, and the offense is more focused on playing downhill and getting to the line. The bad news for opponents is that Florida State is 16-1 (with the one loss to Duke) when they shoot >32% from deep. So if Florida State is making shots, they’re awfully tough to defend.
Gonzaga is going to get theirs, and FSU needs to slow them down just enough. Since February 1st, FSU has the 6th best defense in the nation. They thrive in uptempo, hectic, games, so the key will be figuring out some way to pressure the Zags, forcing live ball turnovers, and turning long rebounds into quick points.
4) FSU finished the season with seven losses, with the losses to Pitt and Boston College standing out. What went wrong in those games?
That was the perfect storm. First, If Phil Cofer can hold on to a rebound on a free throw then the ‘Noles knock off Duke in front of a raucous home court crowd. Instead, it turned into a devastating loss at the buzzer. There was a rash of injuries to starters (Cofer, Trent Forrest, MJ Walker, and Terance Mann were all injured at the same time), and to top it off the flu went around the team. The end result was back-to-back road losses. But that’s life in the ACC. You don’t get nights off and things can snowball when the stars get misaligned.
5) You opened up conference play with four losses in five games, and then closed out the regular season 12 wins in 13 games. What flipped the switch?
Partially the schedule and partially just getting healthy. FSU opened ACC play at Virginia, and a week later had to play Duke. So it’s downhill from there. On the health front, Cofer finally got into something resembling basketball shape after playing a total of five minutes in the first month and a half. Mann and Walker got banged up but they got back into it. Trent Forrest hasn’t practiced much this year due to a foot injury, so there is no getting around that, but mostly it was just health. Of course now Cofer is out, and David Nichols didn’t play against Murray State after injuring his foot against Vermont. But this late in the season it’s next man up. Let’s tip this thing.
6) Final score prediction:
I think this will be one of the more exciting matchups of the tournament, with two very different teams who both don’t mind getting up and down the court. I’ll take FSU 78-76, winning it on a defensive stop.
Thanks again Michael for taking the time to answer our questions. You can check out my answers for Tomahawk Nation here.