LOS ANGELES – Gonzaga has seen just about everything possible on the basketball court during coach Mark Few’s tenure.
Florida State, Thursday’s challenger in the Sweet 16 at the Staples Center, qualifies as unique in one regard.
“Probably easily the most physically imposing and athletically gifted team we’ve faced maybe in the 19 years I’ve been head coach,” Few said. “Just the bodies, the size, the length and the athleticism they bring is really impressive.”
Later in GU’s locker room, Few noted that John Calipari’s Memphis team with Derrick Rose might top the list, but his point remained the same.
“We just haven’t seen anything like this,” said Few, whose 2015 team ran into eventual national champion Duke with three freshmen taken in the first 24 picks of the NBA Draft.
The ninth-seeded Seminoles (22-11) present specific challenges for No. 4 Gonzaga (32-4), but the Zags pose issues for FSU, too.
“They come after you in waves,” Zags assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. “It’s one of those deals: How can you make your fundamentals and discipline outperform their athleticism and aggression? That’s an age-old question in basketball.
“Which team can assert their will for longer portions of the game?”
Here are some things to watch.
Gonzaga forwards Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura are capable of 25-point nights. FSU’s 7-foot Ike Obiagu, 6-8 Mfiondu Kabengele and 7-4 Christ Koumadje don’t score much, but they are a defensive presence.
“We know their defense collapses a lot when you get in the lane so kick it out for open 3s,” Williams said. “When we do get in the lane, just try our best to go up strong and finish.”
The FSU trio contributed 125 of the team’s 170 blocked shots. The team rejected 10 shots versus Missouri and Xavier in the NCAA Tournament. Williams has demonstrated he can operate against taller defenders, torching 7-3 Mattias Markusson and LMU for 30 points.
“It’s going to be a fun game down low, especially with our bigs that like to block shots and their bigs that like to play offense,” said Seminoles guard Braian Angola, a North Idaho College product. “It’s going to come down to the toughest team is going to win.”
Fast and furious
Gonzaga likes to play fast. So does Florida State. Here’s a question you don’t hear often: Can the Zags keep up?
The answer appears to be yes, but they’ll need stay out of foul trouble. The Seminoles play as many as 11 and they have an ability to wear down opponents. Top-seeded Xavier found that out Sunday.
“The people that come off the bench create another sense of energy,” said FSU guard P.J. Savoy, who played AAU ball with former Zag Zach Collins in Las Vegas. “Other teams get tired and it wears on them.”
Gonzaga thrives in the open court, but it maintains a tight seven-man rotation. The Zags have committed 22 turnovers in the tournament. FSU has forced 34.
“They speed you up,” Zags point guard Josh Perkins said. “We have to do a good job of taking care of the ball and not giving them what they do best, transition offense.”
There might not be two more balanced offenses in the country.
“You kind of break guys into categories, shooters, nonshooters, posts and attack them that way,” Lloyd said. “We’re going to guard this group of guys like this and this group like that rather than on No. 14 we’re doing this.”
GU has five players averaging double digits, followed by Silas Melson at 9.4 and Corey Kispert at 6.8. FSU counters with nine players between 6.6 and 12.9 points.
“If you don’t help, we have people that penetrate and get in the lane,” Savoy said. “If you help too much, we have guys that can shoot daggers.
“We know they can create their own shots. They’re big shot-takers and big shot-makers.”
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