No. 11 Xavier outcoaches and outexecutes No. 3 Florida State to earn trip to Sweet 16

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The Unexpected Perk of Winning March Madness
Sunday March 19th, 2017

ORLANDO, Fla. — No. 11 seed Xavier advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015 by crushing No. 3 seed Florida State. Here are three points from the Musketeers’ 91–66 demolition of the Seminoles.

1. The key matchup Saturday was Chris Mack versus Leonard Hamilton, and Mack dominated

Xavier’s players seemed prepared for everything and unsurprised by anything. The Musketeers were disciplined in their 1-3-1 zone, daring the Seminoles to try to dribble through it or shoot over it. On the offensive end, Trevon Bluiett (game-high 29 points) made tough shots over bigger defenders. In the post, 6’9” freshman Tyrique Jones gave up at least three inches to the Seminoles players assigned to guard him, but he still racked up 13 points on 6 of 7 shooting in 17 minutes. Some of those baskets were facilitated by guard J.P. Macura (10 points, five assists), who routinely drove into the forest that is Florida State’s front line so he could suck in the defense and pass to an open shooter.

The Musketeers also beat the Seminoles back down the floor after nearly every miss that Florida State rebounded. This allowed Xavier to set up its zone and keep the Seminoles from exploiting their athleticism in transition. Florida State scored only two fast break points in the game. “We had to get them in the half court as much as possible,” Mack said.

Seminoles players, meanwhile, looked as if they’d never played against a zone in their lives. Which is strange, since they faced one for part of the first half of their win Thursday against No. 14 seed Florida Gulf Coast. That zone confused the Seminoles, so it would make sense that Florida State coaches would emphasize halfcourt offense against a zone, knowing they were facing an opponent that routinely employs a zone. If they did, it didn’t show on the court.

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2. Xavier’s return to the Sweet 16 offers some redemption

The Musketeers advance to face the winner of Saturday’s Saint Mary’s-Arizona game on Friday in Memphis, Tenn. For Xavier’s veterans, the chance to play in the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed might wash out some of the bad taste from last year’s tournament experience.

The Musketeers were a No. 2 seed last year and had the ball with a chance to beat No. 7 seed Wisconsin in the round of 32 when Edmond Sumner was whistled for a controversial charge. That gave the ball back to the Badgers, and Bronson Koenig hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to win the game.

That this team has reached this point should be extremely satisfying for the Musketeers, who looked cooked as they lost six in a row in February and March as they dealt with a season-ending knee injury for Sumner and an ankle injury that temporarily sidelined Bluiett. Xavier has now won five of six since snapping that losing streak.

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3. Florida State wasted too much time on an ill-fated offensive strategy

The worst thing to happen to Florida State might have been point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes draining a three-pointer for the Seminoles’ first basket. This may have given Florida State players some false confidence that they could beat Xavier’s zone simply by bombing away. They couldn’t. Florida State missed the other seven three-pointers it tried in the first half and then missed four in a row early in the second half. (Yes, the bigger, longer, more athletic team missed threes on four consecutive possessions of an NCAA tournament game.)

By the time the Seminoles realized they could score much more reliably on Rathan-Mayes drives or midrange jumpers from Dwayne Bacon (team-high 20 points) and Jonathan Isaac (eight points, 12 rebounds), they were down double digits.

Florida State ended its first NCAA tournament since 2012 with a whimper. Freshman star Isaac is probably headed to the NBA draft to be a lottery pick. Sophomore guard Bacon, who tested the draft waters last year, may also be gone.

The only good news for the Seminoles? Jimbo Fisher still works in Tallahassee.

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