Immediately prior to the Florida State – Cincinnati matchup in the round of 32, there was another game that happened. Only this one was little watched. It was Oregon vs Iowa in the NIT, and the teams combined for 205 points (the Ducks won 108-97). Somewhere, someone watched that game and thought that it was beautiful basketball. Then they turned to the Seminoles vs the Bearcats and watched what appeared to be a completely different sport.
It wasn’t pretty. It didn’t flow. There weren’t flurries of points. But it was impressive.
From the tip until the buzzer these two teams dared the other to score. Florida State’s switching screens kept a hand in the ballhandlers’ face the entire night. When Cincinnati did escape the perimeter ball pressure they were swallowed up inside by the Seminoles swarming defense. The Seminoles seemed to grow more offended the closer Cincinnati got to the basket. Inside of 15′ everyone was double-teamed. Every shot was contested. Cincinnati scored over half their points on fast breaks or from the line. In half-court sets they were just a disaster.
And the refs swallowed their whistles. These two teams want to kill each other? So be it.
Cincinnati’s defense was all about trapping. Whichever FSU player had the ball inevitably had two defenders flying at him. Every entry pass was met with weakside defenders slipping in and slapping at the ball. It was fascinating to watch. FSU ended up turning it over 17 times, and 13 of those were steals which sent the Bearcats into transition. When FSU did score, Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin went ballistic. Twice he stormed onto the court to get into a player’s face. A couple of times his words were caught by the broadcast but they can’t be repeated here.
Whenever a team scored it seemed like an event.
In the end, it was Cincinnati’s trapping and quick hands which won out. The Seminoles turned it over on key late possessions, and Cincinnati capitalized. Fittingly, it was an FSU defender slipping on a sweaty floor that left Cashmere Wright open for the dagger.
During those final moments you could see it on the player’s faces. Every player’s breathing was ragged. Their eyes were bloodshot. They looked like they just walked out of a boxing ring.
When I watched the end of the Oregon – Iowa game, that’s not how players looked. They were smiling. They hardly broke a sweat.
Cincinnati vs FSU may not have been pretty. But in watching the effort by the players it wasn’t hard to see why FSU and Cincinnati were in one tournament, and Oregon and Iowa were in another.