Breaking Down the 3rd Round Matchup of #6 Cincinnati vs. #3 Florida State

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The Florida State Seminoles have had a fabulous season finishing the regular season as the 12th ranked team in the country and an ACC title under their belts knocking off Duke and UNC along the way. If you have been alive in the past decade you know how big those two wins truly are. The Seminoles were one of the hottest teams heading into the NCAA Tournament and hit a snag against St. Bonaventure in the 2nd (1st) Round yesterday. The Bonnies led from the opening tip right up until the 7-minute mark in the second half when FSU’s Bernard James tied the game at 52 (similar to Cincy-Texas!). The Seminoles took the lead and never relinquished it for the rest of the afternoon. They ended up winning 66 – 63 avoiding an opening-round upset.

Scouting Florida State in the game it was abundantly clear that their size became too much for the Bonnies. The Seminoles are the 5th tallest team in the nation. In the first three-quarters of the game St. Bona was able to get tough lay-ins when their guards drove the land. FSU was simply outworked in that span. But as the Seminoles started crashing the lane and playing better in the paint, those lay-ins became tougher and tougher to get for the Bonnies. That was the key for Florida State turning the game in their favor. The inside game will be a determining factor between FSU and UC tomorrow at 9:40 pm.

Key Numbers

Statistically, Florida State is actually slight better than Cincinnati on the glass boasting 36.5 rebounds per game (68th) vs. 36.3 (80th). The difference as I mentioned is that the Seminoles go big most of the time and their second leading rebounder is a 6’8″ forward. By comparison, guard Jaquon Parker is the Bearcats’ second leading rebounder. Yesterday Cincinnati played a smaller Texas team and as a result Mick Cronin started Parker. Against Florida State who run 3-2 sets he will probably start Justin Jackson or maybe even Cheikh Mbodj to match their size. On the other hand Mick might opt to go with a 4-guard lineup because of FSU’s horrid 0.76 assist-to-turnover ratio. The extra speed will allow UC to press much easier than with two power forwards in the game. Cincinnati just barely won the turnover battle against Texas (9 to 11) and this will be more of a key for a Bearcats win than the rebounding, which I think will be even.

Players to Watch

Cashmere Wright: Florida State turns the ball over a ton (15th most in the country). Cashmere Wright has the most steals on the Bearcats. Ergo all eyes will be on him to rattle the Seminole guards tomorrow. In addition, don’t be surprised if Mick gives freshman GeLawn Guyn, UC’s defensive specialist in the 2011 class, some playing time to spell Cash and force a few turnovers of his own.

Yancy Gates vs. Bernard James (#5): I know I said collecting rebounds won’t be that big of a factor in this game but Cincinnati shouldn’t exactly let Florida State own the paint and that responsibility will for the most part fall on the broad shoulders of senior power forward Yancy Gates. He was the star against Texas with a double-double and 10 boards but the going will be much tougher as he will man-up FSU’s Bernard James. The 6’10” 240 lbs senior leads the Seminoles with 8.2 rebs per game and was dominant against an undersized St. Bonaventure team yesterday, tallying 19 points and 9 boards.

Justin Jackson/Cheikh Mbodj: Mr. Electricity was pretty silent in the opening round game against the Texas Longhorns. It’s nothing personal but JJ just doesn’t match up well against the 4-guard lineup Rick Barnes elects to go with. So, like I mentioned, Jaquon Parker got the bulk of the playing time. But Jackson will be leaned upon to guard Okaro White. Likewise, Mbodj will probably go man-to-man with the 6’11” tower of a center in Florida State’s Xavier Gibson. In limited minutes Cheikh played pretty well against Texas gathering in 3 rebounds but like Gates will have to play very well to contain Gibson.

Michael Snaer (#21): The Seminole guard had exactly ZERO points against St. Bonaventure yesterday. That’s a problem for the Bearcats because a.) Snaer is FSU’s leading scorer and b.) Florida State still won. Don’t expect him to throw up a goose-egg tomorrow night. He’s a very dangerous player who compliments the Seminole forwards well. Let’s not let him get hot, shall we?

Final Thoughts and Prediction

If there is one team that plays as physical as any Big East team that doesn’t play in the Big East it’s Florida State. Therefore this will seem like a hard fought conference game with the final score in the 50’s or 60’s. These are two very similar teams that stress defense. That being said there are a lot of playmakers on either team that any defensive lapse will be exploited quickly. While it may be a grind at times on the offensive end the game could swing in one way or the other quickly if either team gets comfortable moving the ball. This is going to be close game and for Cincinnati’s sake they better make their free throws or at least play better than last in the NCAA Tournament which is where they are ranked right now. The Bearcats made late free throws against Texas to ice the game and will probably need be just as clutch tomorrow. This is a tough game to predict, as are all games in the Big Dance, but I’m picking UC because they played better against a tougher opponent. Also this is a Cincinnati Bearcats blog and picking against UC would making me sad:

Cincinnati: 63

Florida State: 61