Fresh off of an upset victory over Maryland, 11th-seeded Xavier (22-13, 9-9 Big East) will have to do it again against No. 3-seed Florida State (26-8, 12-6 SEC) if the Musketeers want to advance to their sixth Sweet 16 over the last decade.
It won’t be easy as the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. might virtually serve as a home arena for the Seminoles.
How to watch, listen, and stream
Game Time: Saturday, March 18, 2017, at 6:10 p.m. ET
TV: TNT (Ian Eagle, Steve Lavin, Evan Washburn)
Live Stream: March Madness Live
Florida State is a 5.5-point favorite, per Oddsshark.com.
This is the second meeting between both schools. They first met in 1958, when the Musketeers won 76-60.
How They Got Here
Xavier: The Musketeers upset second-seeded Butler in the Big East Tournament but found themselves on the wrong end of a thrilling shocker, as a last-second Creighton three bounced them out just before the finals. Xavier has reignited the spark, upsetting No. 6-seed Maryland in the opening round, 76-65.
Florida State: Facing some upset troubles of their own, the Seminoles were able to fend off a late second half rally by Florida Gulf Coast to win 86-80. It wasn’t the prettiest of games for Florida State, who turned the ball over 16 times and shot an unimpressive 2-of-11 from deep, but just like various players said after that game, "it doesn’t matter if you win."
What to Watch For
Bring Home the Bacon
Florida State is looking to reach its second Sweet 16 in the last 24 years, last doing so in 2011. To do so, it will rely on its pair of potential future NBA draftees. According to DraftExpress, Dwayne Bacon is looking like a mid-second round pick for this upcoming draft. However, just a sophomore, Bacon has already shown flashes of athleticism that can rival some of the veterans around. He is a crafty and acrobatic finisher around the basket, using that quickness to burst his way inside. The 6-foot-7 guard is primarily a slasher, but he’s slowly growing more comfortable with pulling up from deep. Bacon isn’t lights out from beyond the arc, but his 34.3 percent from long range is much improved from where it was a year ago.
While Bacon leads the team with 17.1 points per game, it’s actually his teammate Jonathan Isaac who’s looking like the better NBA prospect. DraftExpress, as well as a few other mock draft websites, have him as a lottery pick, with some listing him as a top 10 pick even. Isaac is a 6-foot-10 forward that is a matchup nightmare for opponents. Despite being a big man, he has excellent handles and movement with the ball for someone his size and position. He’s agile on his feet, and has no problem going inside or taking jumpers. The freshman phenom is averaging 12.1 points per game and a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game. He’s a solid defender overall, but there are times he’s been posted up on. His combination of size, speed, and athleticism will certainly grab your attention.
Own the Paint
For Xavier to pull off an upset on Saturday, it will need to command the play inside the arc and in the paint. Florida State’s gameplan revolves around interior play. 55.8 percent of the Seminoles’ points this season have come from two-pointers, that’s good for 38th in the country. Meanwhile, their play from beyond the arc isn’t as integral, accounting for just 24.5 percent of their points this season (311th in the country).
With dominant finishers like Bacon and Isaac in the mix, there’s no doubt Florida State would give their two young stars the ball to attack the basket. The Musketeers have to be on their toes, especially in limiting fast breaks or points in transition, as the Seminoles boast one of the highest tempo offenses in the tournament. Only Kentucky and UCLA blitz their opponents faster than they do.
This is a mismatch for the Musketeers, who unfortunately have one of the worst two-point defenses in the country. According to KenPom, they allow opponents to shoot 52.6 percent inside the arc, which slots them in 298th in the country. Xavier big man Sean O’Mara had the game of his life against Maryland, the 6-foot-10 forward will need to bring that back for this battle with Florida State.
Trevon Bluiett knocked down six 3-pointers in the win against Maryland. He is a player that is capable of bursting out for a big game at any moment and has responded well to taking a much greater workload since his partner-in-crime Edmond Sumner went down. He’s the team’s top-scorer, and he will need to get the Musketeers going early to hang with the highflying Seminoles.
As solid as Florida State may be defensively, it is a bit lacking on the perimeter. It has relinquished a 34.2 three-point shooting percentage to opponents (118th in the country).
While the Musketeers might not win down low or inside, they must win the battle from deep. Bluiett needs to maintain his high-scoring duties, and Xavier will hope that guys like J.P. Macura, Kaiser Gates, and Malcolm Bernard can also find their groove from deep.
Especially Macura, who was quiet in the Maryland game, after being locked in against Creighton in the Big East Tournament semifinals.