Sharp shooting vs. dynamic defense. A star guard vs. star big men. The WCC vs. the ACC. All the hype this weekend might be about Syracuse and West Virginia but on paper, Friday's best game figures to be the 8-9 matchup between Gonzaga and Florida State.
The contrasts flash from the stat sheet: Gonzaga is sixth in the nation in field-goal shooting at 49.4 percent. But Florida State is No. 1 in defensive field-goal percentage, allowing opponents to shoot just 37.4 percent. Gonzaga is 26th in scoring at 77.6 points per game; Florida State is 19th in defense at 60.2.
"They're a phenomenal defensive team," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "That [37.4] figure just jumps out at you."
The Seminoles are huge up front, led by 6-foot-9 sophomore and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Chris Singleton and 7-1 soph Solomon Alabi. Gonzaga has some size, too, but its game revolves around 6-5 senior guard Matt Bouldin, the WCC Player of the Year.
Playing its usual brutal schedule, Gonzaga has been a model of consistency in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season. Florida State, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma. And that's odd considering it went 10-6 in the ACC for the second straight year and finished tied for third in the conference.
The Seminoles played a middling non-conference schedule, with their only quality win a one-pointer over Marquette, and started conference play just 5-5 before getting hot down the stretch. Only three of their 10 conference wins were against NCAA teams and they were a first-round loser to 11th-seeded North Carolina State in the ACC Tournament.
Bouldin drives this engine, leading the Zags in scoring and getting the ball distributed around the offense as well. And while he's the main attraction, it's far from a one-man show. Elias Harris, a 6-8 freshman from Germany, was named WCC Newcomer of the Year. Harris and 7-foot sophomore Robert Sacre have to play big. Bouldin is helped in the backcourt by 6-5 junior Steven Gray and lightning-quick 5-11 sophomore Demetri Goodson.
Coach Leonard Hamilton's club lives off its defense. The 'Noles are ferocious in the paint (23rd in the nation in rebound margin and 10th in blocks). In addition to Singleton and Alabi, the starting lineup includes 6-8 Ryan Reid and the bench features 6-11 Xavier Gibson.
The backcourt starters are freshman Michael Snaer, who moved into the starting lineup at midseason to provide scoring punch, and junior Derwin Kitchen. Advantage, Gonzaga. The Seminoles can struggle on offense; they have scored fewer than 60 points in seven games and scored in the 50s in three of their last four.
Two problem areas: Florida State's 16.8 turnovers per game are second-highest in the tournament field to Arkansas-Pine Bluff's 16.9, and the Seminoles are 290th at the line at just 64.6 percent.
A hard game to figure, as it should be in almost any 8-9 matchup. Gonzaga's past NCAA experience should help, except that it really applies only to Bouldin. And which Florida State team shows up? Dealing with the inside game will be Gonzaga's chief struggle. Protecting the ball and keeping Bouldin under control will be Florida State's priorities. The survivor gives Syracuse plenty of problems Sunday.