Florida State Seminoles

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Gonzaga reaches Elite 8 with win against Florida State

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Duke may have the best cadre of NBA talent. Virginia may be more disciplined. North Carolina may have more tradition.

The three No. 1 seeds that are not Gonzaga all have something the Bulldogs don’t. That’s not all they have in common, though.

None are as good, consistently high-level as the ‘Zags.

All of Gonzaga’s powers were on display Thursday as they got up big and then held No. 4 Florida State at bay in a Sweet 16 matchup in Anaheim to claim a 72-58 victory at the Honda Center to move a game away from the program’s second Final Four in three years.

Gonzaga has a brilliant chance to do what that 2017 group couldn’t.

Win a national championship.

With two likely-lottery picks in Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke wreaking havoc on both ends of the floor, dynamic guards like Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell, Jr. and high-level role players like Geno Crandall, Corey Kispert and Killian Tillie (an NBA prospect in his own right demoted due to injury), Gonzaga has the talent, experience and versatility to be the class of the country.

It’s certainly not breaking news, but it’s worth a reminder after a loss to St. Mary’s in the WCC title game brought back the old questions about how built the Zags were for the Big Dance.

It’s hard to picture something constructed in a better position to thrive in March.

Clarke is a two-way force of nature who has become one of the country’s premier players. He scores (15 points), rebounds (12 boards), protects the rim (5 blocks) and can defend in space. He’s basically Zion Williamson West with less-cool-but-pretty-cool dunks (and highest-end NBA potential).

Hachimura, who had 17 points and four rebounds, has been the better NBA prospect of the two, but that’s maybe debatable now. Not because of anything Hachimura has done, though. He’s still a lotto pick. He and Clarke are an incredible duo.

They aren’t alone, though, and it was clear in Gonzaga’s control of the Seminoles, who trailed for all but 11 seconds of the game.

The Bulldogs led by as many as 14 in the first half, but Florida State trimmed it to four in the final minutes of the game before ultimately stopping short of completing the comeback . That’s when Gonzaga ripped off seven-straight points to finish the game. The talent, the experience and let’s not forget Mark Few is pretty good at this coaching thing, too.¬†

Everyone knows Gonzaga is good, but just look at not only what they did to Florida State, but how they got contributions from up and down the lineup. Norvell had 15 points. Perkins had 14 points and five assists. Kispert added seven points while Tillie and Crandall gave boosts off the bench.

Trent Forrest was the only Seminole player to notch double figures, finishing with 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting.

Gonzaga basketball may as well go dormant for two months in the winter during WCC play, but don’t forget this is the team that topped Duke – without Tillie – to win the Maui Invitational. This is the program that hung with the Tar Heels until the end in the 2017 title game.

They’re not Duke, Virginia, North Carolina or any other team left in the field.

They’re better.

WATCH: Terance Mann, Brandon Clarke throw down Sweet slams

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It’s going to be hard for there to be a better pair of dunks Thursday – or maybe the rest of the week – then the pair that Terance Mann and Brandon Clarke threw down in quick succession in a Sweet 16 matchup between Florida State and Gonzaga.

First, was Mann, going coast-to-coast, looking like he was going to lay it in and then remembering that dunking is way cooler so doing that instead.

Next came Clarke in transition, throwing doing down a tip-dunk that just Mann look like a guy that should just do layups.

 

Phil Cofer not expected to play in Sweet 16 after father’s death

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Florida State senior Phil Cofer is not expected to play Thursday in the Seminoles’ Sweet 16 matchup against Gonzaga as he mourns the passing of his father, Sports Illustrated’s Jon Rothstein reported Monday.

“We’re going to respect Phil during this tragedy and the passing of his father,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton told Rothstein. “He knows where we are and we know where he is. We’re here for him.”

Cofer was sitting out the Seminoles’ first-round win against Vermont with a foot injury, and was alerted after the game of his father’s passing in a phone call from his mother.

Michael Cofer, who attended Tennessee and played ten seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, was 58 years old.

Florida State defeated Vermont, 76-69, and then defeated Murray State, 90-62, in a game in which Cofer also did not play, to make the second weekend for the second-straight season.

Cofer has averaged 26.1 minutes per game this season for the Seminoles, who will face the top-seeded Bulldogs on Thursday at 7:09 p.m.

Florida State ends Murray State, Ja Morant’s season to advance back to Sweet 16

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Florida State ended the potential Cinderella run of No. 12 seed Murray State and star point guard Ja Morant on Saturday as the No. 4 seed Seminoles ran away with a 90-62 victory in a second-round NCAA tournament matchup in the West Region.

Although Morant had the nation buzzing, again, thanks to a 5-for-5 start from three-point range to put the Racers ahead early in the first half, the depth, length and athleticism of Florida State quickly proved to be problematic for the Ohio Valley Conference champions. Settling in after Morant’s hot start, the Seminoles opened the game with a blistering 50-point first-half thanks to balanced scoring and 8-for-14 (61 percent) three-point shooting.

Florida State (29-7) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season thanks to a 10-deep effort with contributions from numerous guys. Even without seniors Phil Cofer and David Nichols, the Seminoles were incredibly impressive as they threw five or six different defenders at Morant to slow him down while most of the roster hunted dunks and lobs on the offensive end.

Sophomore forward Mfiondu Kabengele (22 points, seven rebounds, three blocks) was a menace on both ends of the floor for the Seminoles, giving the team an early boost off the bench offensively and providing rebounding and rim protection at the other end.  Senior wing Terance Mann helped the Florida State attack with an efficient 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists as he got pretty much any look he wanted attacking the rack. Making only his third college start in place of the injured Cofer, freshman forward Raiquan Gray had a career-high 11 points and five steals as he gave Florida State a solid boost with his first-half perimeter shooting and unique playmaking. And Florida State had 47 bench points on Saturday as they never stopped coming at Murray State.

The Seminoles don’t feature eye-popping NBA Draft prospects or a household name. Yet they continue to show well in the NCAA tournament the past few years thanks to their unique collection of athletes. With its deep-and-athletic positionless rotation, Florida State has only lost twice since Jan. 5¬† — to No. 1 seeds Duke and North Carolina. The Seminoles look like one of the most dangerous teams heading into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament because they can win in a lot of different ways.

The Seminoles survived the hot shooting of Vermont in the first half while closing the game out with great free-throw shooting. On Saturday, Florida State stopped a supernova talent at lead guard from carving them up by throwing body-after-body at Morant. If Florida State is shooting well from the perimeter (a credible future concern given their 33.4 percent three-point shooting entering Saturday) then they can compete with any team in the country.

Murray State (28-5) looked like they could be up for another potential upset following Thursday’s win over No. 5 seed Marquette. But after the hot-shooting start from Morant, the Racers didn’t have enough help from his overwhelmed teammates. After the memorable triple-double against the Golden Eagles, Morant finished with 28 points, five rebounds and four assists as the sophomore had to do much more as a scorer against Florida State. While Morant had the hot start from deep, Florida State’s defense gave Morant some problems inside the arc as he was 8-for-21 from the field — 3-for-15 from two-point range.

Limiting looks for the rest of Murray State’s roster, only guard Shaq Buchanan (12 points) and big man Darnell Cowart (10 points) finished in double-figures as the Racers struggled to get clean looks outside of Morant.

The NCAA tournament run for Murray State ends in disappointing fashion thanks to Florida State’s onslaught. But we were also fortunate to see a superstar like Morant get to play two games against high-major competition on the national stage. Entering the NCAA tournament, many casual basketball fans had seen Morant’s name in the top three of NBA mock drafts and seemed skeptical about Morant’s lofty status given his mid-major pedigree. With the tournament’s first triple-double in years, the tournament’s best first-round dunk and a hot three-point shooting game, Morant captivated the nation for two rounds before his exit.

If this is the final send-off for Morant at the college level before June’s NBA Draft (and it probably is given his top-three status), then what a way to go out. Considering that Murray State would have likely missed the NCAA tournament had they lost to Belmont in the OVC tournament title game, we’re fortunate that the Racers (and also Belmont) got into the Field of 68 and gave us some great games. When critics ask for more quality mid-major teams to earn at-large bids over near-.500 power-conference teams this OVC stretch in 2019 is precisely the reason why.

Florida State advances to face either No. 1 seed Gonzaga in next Thursday’s Sweet 16 in Anaheim. The Seminoles facing Bulldogs will be a rematch of last season’s NCAA tournament Sweet 16 matchup that saw No. 9 seed Florida State upset the No. 4 seed ‘Zags. Since both teams bring back similar rosters from last season, that rematch will be one of the most highly-anticipated games in the Round of 16.

No. 4 Florida State wears down No. 13 Vermont

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Florida State wore down No. 13 seed Vermont in the second half as the No. 4 seed Seminoles moved on with a 76-69 win on Thursday in a West Region game in Hartford.

The Seminoles (28-7) trailed by nine in the first half before rallying to tie it at halftime. Playing without senior forward Phil Cofer (foot in a walking boot), Florida State took some time to adjust on both ends of the floor. In the second half, the Seminoles made their big push behind strong offensive outings from Mfiondu Kabengale (21 points, nine rebounds) and Terence Mann (19 points). Kabengale and Mann were tough to stop on the interior as both did a nice job of finishing consistently around the rim.

Florida State didn’t have a great game shooting the ball (21-for-55 for 38 percent) on Thursday. To offset the inconsistent shooting, the Seminoles did an effective job of limiting turnovers (seven for the game) and knocking down free throws (31-for-37) to close out the game as Florida State scored 24 of its 49 second-half points from the free-throw line.

Vermont (27-7) stayed in the game thanks to its hot three-point shooting (16-for-32 for 50 percent) but they struggled to get any offense inside of the arc. Florida State’s superior length and athleticism proved to be tough on the Catamounts over the course of a full game as Vermont only had seven field goals that weren’t three-pointers.

Anthony Lamb (16 points) led four Catamount scorers in double-figures as Stef Smith (15 points), Ernie Duncan (15 points) and Ben Shungu (15 points) also contributed on the offensive end. Lamb, the America East Player of the Year, was limited to a 4-for-13 shooting day as he couldn’t get going on offense until late in the game.

This wasn’t the prettiest win for Florida State. But the Seminoles withstood a hot-shooting opponent during a game in which they weren’t playing their best on offense. That’s a very good sign for Florida State going forward, because if they figure things out on offense, then they’re looking like a very dangerous No. 4 seed. The health of Cofer will also be something to monitor for the next round as redshirt freshman Raiquan Gray made his second career start in his place.

Florida State moves on to face the winner of No. 5 seed Marquette and No. 12 seed Murray State on Saturday in Hartford.

NCAA Tournament 2019: Instant Analysis West Region

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The West Region has an intriguing draw with Gonzaga gaining the top seed and Michigan, a Final Four team from last season, getting the No. 2 seed. This region has some potential darkhorse Final Four team and some trendy potential upsets to keep an eye on during the first weekend.

The No. 1 seed is¬†Gonzaga. Despite a loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC title game, the Bulldogs still earned a No. 1 seed out west as they face the play-in winner between No. 16 seeds¬†Fairleigh Dickinson and Prairie View A&M.

It should be a matchup of a lot of length and athleticism when No. 8 seed Syracuse and No. 9 seed Baylor collide. The health of Orange star guard Tyus Battle (hip) and Bears senior guard Makai Mason (toe) could very well decide who advances in that one.

The best lead-guard matchup of the first round goes down in Hartford with No. 5 seed Marquette and All-American Markus Howard battling OVC champion and No. 12 seed Murray State and Ja Morant. The Golden Eagles struggled down the stretch in Big East play as they went from Final Four darkhorse into a potentially-popular first-round matchup.

ANALYSIS: East | South | West | Midwest

A dangerous¬†No. 4 seed could be¬†Florida State¬†as the Seminoles just knocked off Virginia in the ACC tournament over the weekend. Coming off of an Elite Eight appearance last season, the Seminoles could be a sleeper Final Four team out of this region. The Seminoles collide with No. 13 seed¬†Vermont, a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The America East champions had a beatdown of UMBC in the conference tournament title game.

After an impressive season in the MAC in which they became a consistent top-25 team, Buffalo gets a No. 6 seed. The Bulls could get a fascinating first-round matchup as they await the winner of the play-in game between No. 11 seeds Arizona State and¬†St. John’s. If the Sun Devils advance past Dayton, it’ll be a matchup of Bobby Hurley-coached programs as he left Buffalo for Arizona State a few years ago.

Texas Tech¬†earned the No. 3 seed out of the Big 12 following an impressive regular-season title. Although the Red Raiders made the Elite Eight last season, the roster is almost entirely different from last season. But the Red Raiders have a star in Jarrett Culver and the nation’s best defense.¬†Northern Kentucky, the No. 14 seed, draws Texas Tech after winning the Horizon League title.

Following a disappointing regular season,¬†Nevada¬†is a No. 7 seed facing No. 10 seed¬†Florida. The Wolf Pack had preseason top-10 hype but failed to deliver results in the regular season behind a loaded roster that is mostly in-tact from last season’s Sweet 16 team. The Gators needed some late wins this season to get in — most notably over LSU in the SEC tournament. Florida is dangerous but extremely inconsistent.

Rounding out the West is No. 2 seed Michigan as the Wolverines attempt to return to the Final Four. Guard Charles Matthews recently returned from injury as Michigan appears to be near full-strength heading into the Big Dance. The Wolverines face No. 15 seed Montana to open things up as the Grizzlies represent the Big Sky.