A brief history: Florida State is returning to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season after a decade long drought. Gonzaga on the other hand, will be making their 12th straight appearance to the dance. Friday night's game between Florida State and Gonzaga will be the first time the two teams have met. Both teams did win their in-season tournaments this year and Gonzaga won the Maui Invitational while Florida State took the Old Spice Classic crown.
Common opponents: Gonzaga is known for tough out of conference scheduling and made no exception this season as they took on two Atlantic Coast conference upper tier teams. Gonzaga lost to Wake Forest 77-75 on December 5 while FSU beat the Demon Deacons 51-47 on March 3. Gonzaga lost to Duke 76-41 on December 19 while FSU lost to the Blue Devils 70-56 on January 27.
Gonzaga won the Maui Invitational earlier this season.
Meet the Bulldogs: Gonzaga hopped onto the NCAA tournament scene nearly a decade ago and for years, were considered everybody's Cinderella. The Bulldogs have made many runs in the tournament but never really come close to winning it.
This season, the Zags are led by senior guard Matt Bouldin (15.8 ppg, 4.1 apg). Bouldin's main sidekick is freshman forward Elias Harris (14.7 ppg; 7.2 rpg) but the Bulldogs are a very well balanced team as they have four players average in double figures.
Battling down low with Florida State's Solomon Alabi will be 7'0" sophomore Robert Sacre. Sacre averages 10 points and 5.2 rebounds in 24 minutes of play. Coming off the bench to back him up is 7'5" Will Foster who plays just 7.4 minutes a game.
Calling the shots for Gonzaga is head coach Mark Few, who has turned Gonzaga into one of the most respected basketball programs in the NCAA.
Key matchup: Gonzaga's Matt Bouldin vs. Florida State's Michael Snaer. Bouldin is one of the top guards in the nation and it will be up to a true freshman to keep him in check Friday night. Snaer has proven to play solid defense on just about anybody this season and fears no one. If the California native can slow down Bouldin and produce some offense for the Seminoles, FSU will be in great position to win this game.
If Michael Snaer can limit Matt Bouldin, the Bulldogs could be in trouble.
X-Factor: Florida State's 2 point field goal defense. The Seminoles allow opponents to shoot just 47.1% inside the arch while Gonzaga shoots a glaring 54.4% in that region of the floor. Over 70% of Gonzaga's field goal attempts this season have come within the arch. If Florida State's defense holds true, they will be in it until the end. Gonzaga forces few turnovers so if the Seminoles don't shoot themselves in the foot, their defense will be key to victory.
Florida State's stifling defense will be key Friday night.
What to expect: A low scoring game. Gonzaga does like to push it when they can, but that will be very difficult against Florida State's tenacious defense. Gonzaga can play patient ball and they will be forced to Friday night. Both teams should struggle offensively and this should be a close game that comes down to the final minutes.
NoleDigest Prediction Florida State is looking to avenge a first round loss in last year's tournament but is facing a team that is coached to compete in runs like this. Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton will be key on the defensive end as usual but must contribute offensively to lead the Tribe to victory. Derwin Kitchen will have an easier time as Gonzaga rarely pressures the ball which will allow him to become more of a floor general Friday night.
In the end, Gonzaga has not faced a defense like Florida State's this season and their strengths will be limited by that. The Seminoles are more rested and should come out firing defensively which will create offensive opportunities for the Seminoles. Look for Florida State to squeak by in a nail biter.
Florida State 62, Gonzaga 59
Tribe set to battle Bulldogs
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