You’ve heard it here first: this ain’t gonna be easy, folks. The Gonzaga Bulldogs are taking on the #4-seed Florida State Seminoles in the Sweet Sixteen. Some may snigger in delight (I’m looking at you, Selection Committee) because this is essentially a rematch of last year’s heartache.
Last year, Gonzaga was a 4-seed, Florida State a 9-seed. They played each other in the Sweet Sixteen….at the Staples Center...in Los Angeles...30 miles up the road from the Honda Center in Anaheim...the site of Thursday’s game. The Zags packed up their bags after a tough 75-60 loss. The Seminoles ran out in front early in the game and led the short handed Bulldogs for nearly 33 minutes.
Right before the game started, it was announced that Killian Tillie was going to be scratched from the lineup due to a hip injury sustained in practice two days before the game. That being the case, Rui Hachimura was called upon to start - it was only the second time he was in the starting rotation. It must be noted that the Rui of last year is not the same Rui that we see today - he was still developing and coming into his own as a player. During last season, he averaged 20 minutes per game, shot 57% from the field while averaging 12 points and 5 rebounds. This season’s version of Rui comes with about 30 minutes in each game, with a shooting percentage of 60% and averages 20 points and 7 boards - a tremendous improvement over last year. Chalk that up as one good thing for the Zags; as long as the Seminoles don’t suffocate him since they possess long, athletic guards that can make it difficult for him to get to the paint.
Contributing to the loss was the Bulldogs’ inability to ever generate some consistent momentum. In the words of Mark Few, “We just never generated any really consistent offensive rhythm because of their length, athleticism, aggressiveness and switching.” Johnathan Williams (who now plays for the Lakers in the NBA) and Hachimura combined for 17 points and brought the game even at 23. Unfortunately they both went to the bench after each picked up their second foul shortly thereafter. With Tillie, Williams and Hachimura out, the Zags were forced to play an unusual lineup with Jeremy Jones (6’7”) at power forward and Corey Kispert (6’6”) at center.
Gonzaga was also lacking depth - they only played eight players compared to Florida State’s 11. FSU’s top performer was Terance Mann who scored 18 points, grabbed five rebounds, added two assists, a steal and a block. This year, Mann averages 12 points per game and 6.5 rebounds. Their leading scorer this year, Mfiondu Kabengele, averages 13.4 points and 5.9 boards. In contrast, he was fairly quiet in the game last year, with seven points and two rebounds.
A key difference between the Zags and the Seminoles is that the Zags have more quality and the Seminoles have more quantity. The Bulldogs essentially have seven starter-quality players (Perkins, Hachimura, Clarke, Norvell, Kispert, Tillie, Crandall) and two high caliber backups (Jones and Petrusev); four of which average more than 10 PPG. On the other end, FSU only has two players who average over 10 points; they use more guys and work on grinding down their opponent with their grit and player rotation.
When all is said and done, Coach Few said it best when he mentioned that Florida State was “vastly under seeded,” and most of the same team is back from last year. True story. However, we didn’t have Tillie or Clarke playing in that game. We also didn’t have an incredibly well-developed Hachimura either. The Bulldogs are definitely going to be challenged, but they are more than equipped to take it on. Thursday cannot get here any sooner.