Men's basketball

Gonzaga faces Florida State in the Sweet 16. 

A year after Florida State (29-7, 13-5 ACC) bounced Gonzaga (32-3, 16-0 WCC) from the Sweet 16, GU has an opportunity to exorcise its demons in this year’s Sweet 16. The top-seeded Zags and fourth-seeded Seminoles will meet in Anaheim, California, on Thursday at 4:09 p.m. with a trip to the West Regional Final and the Elite Eight on the line.

With the nation’s 10th-ranked defense, according to KenPom.com, Florida State rounds out a trio of top-10 defenses in the West, behind Texas Tech (No. 1) and Michigan (No. 2). In two words, Florida State is long and large, boasting eight players 6 feet, 7 inches or taller, with 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje headlining the group. Six-foot-7 guard Terance Mann and 6-foot-4 Trent Forrest compose a stingy defensive backcourt, which limited Murray State star Ja Morant to 8-of-21 shooting in the team’s 90-62 Round of 32 victory on Saturday.

Florida State’s size often enables it to control the glass, where the Seminoles rank 17th in total rebounding, 27th in offensive rebounding and 32nd in defensive rebounding. Keeping them off the boards is key, considering GU’s propensity for allowing offensive rebounds.

The Bulldogs will need to be frugal with the ball against a Florida State squad that gambles for steals and blocks, ranking 36th and 30th in the nation, respectively. However, GU is fifth in the nation in assists with 635, highlighting an emphasis on ball movement that should curb some of Florida State’s aggressiveness.

While the Seminoles sport rangy defenders capable of guarding multiple positions, GU will likely seek out Koumadje, who struggles to move laterally. If Josh Perkins is on his game, expect the Perkins-Brandon Clarke, Perkins-Rui Hachimura and Perkins-Killian Tillie duos to target the big man in pick-and-roll action. With the Zags fielding the best frontcourt trio and most efficient offense (per KenPom) in the nation, it should help to mitigate some of the advantages Florida State’s glut of size presents.

Offensively, Florida State isn’t quite as vaunted, ranking 28th in KenPom’s metric, which is 14th among 16 remaining teams. Six-foot-10 forward Mfiondu Kabengele — despite coming off the bench — paces the club, averaging 13.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 50.6 percent shooting. Kabengele is also capable of stepping out beyond the arc, having knocked down 24-of-63 (38.1 percent) 3-pointers this season. Given the height advantage Kabengele possesses over Clarke and Hachimura, Tillie could see a significant run against the big man, so avoiding foul trouble will be paramount.

Mann sprinkles in perimeter offense from the guard spot, registering 11.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 41.1 percent from deep. Forrest adds 9.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

Despite Kabengele and Mann’s outside shooting merits, the rest of the roster struggles. Phil Cofer — who will miss today’s game after the recent death of his father — is the team’s only other player shooting above 33.1 percent from 3-point range. If GU limits dribble penetration, draws Koumadje outside the paint to expose his lack of mobility, takes care of the ball and generates efficient shots with its passing, the Zags should be able to punch a ticket to the Elite Eight.

Jackson Frank is a sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: @jackfrank_jjf.

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