West Region also has an unexpected flavor to it
Published 1:44 am Thursday, March 22, 2018
By Beth Harris
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gonzaga, Michigan and Texas A&M are no strangers to the Sweet 16.
Florida State? It’s been 25 years for the Seminoles, who are brimming with confidence after knocking off No. 1 seed Xavier last weekend.
“Nobody had us here,” Seminoles guard Braian Angola said.
Texas A&M took care of defending national champion North Carolina in the second round, ensuring neither of the region’s top two seeds would be in Los Angeles.
The Aggies are seeking to make the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
“The first time you get in a situation like this you’re celebrating and everything’s about having fun,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “You want your guys to experience it all. Sometimes you experience too much of the success.”
That wasn’t the case with the start of SEC play in late December. After being ranked fifth early on, the Aggies lost their first five conference games and dropped off the radar.
They endured suspensions and injuries along the way.
“I believed that we could get it corrected, and I knew we had the pieces,” Kennedy said.
Florida State has a lot of moving parts. The Seminoles use a 10- and 11-man rotation, which goes against what most teams do in reducing their bench as they go deeper into the postseason.
“Very, very impressive,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton suggested it’s more about survival in the ACC against tradition-rich programs like North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Louisville and Notre Dame.
“We feel that we can compete a lot better if we have more guys to share the load where we don’t put all that responsibility on one or two particular players,” he said.
His players appreciate his trust in them.
“It is great because everyone that comes into the game is fresh,” reserve forward Mfiondu Kabengele said. “Energy is always high on a team like ours and that always makes it fun to play.”
A look at the regional semifinal games:
TEXAS A&M vs. MICHIGAN:
The Wolverines (30-7) bring an 11-game winning streak — third-best in the nation — into their fourth Sweet 16 berth in six years.
They led the Big Ten in scoring defense at 63.1 points per game while averaging nine 3-pointers.
Defense is the hallmark of the Aggies (22-12). They held opponents to 32 percent shooting on 3-pointers and limited them to 40 percent from the field overall.
Their frontcourt trio of Tyler Davis, D.J. Hogg and Robert Williams — all 6-foot-9 or taller — makes it tough for opponents to shoot over them.
“If you want to stop Rob, you are going to have to double-team him because he is so dominant in the paint and just so big in general,” teammate T.J. Starks said.
Michigan counters with 6-11 Moe Wagner, a junior from Berlin, Germany, whose minutes were limited by foul trouble in the first two tourney wins.
FLORIDA ST. vs. GONZAGA:
The Zags bring a 16-game winning streak — the nation’s best — into Staples Center and are the only team in the country to be appearing in a fourth straight Sweet 16. During Mark Few’s 19 years at the helm, the Zags are 21-5 as a higher seed, including a 15-1 mark since 2009.
Gonzaga (32-4) is dead calm at the free throw line, shooting 85 percent in the final three minutes of its last 14 games. During that span, the Zags have made 50 of 59 foul shots. The last player opponents want to foul is Josh Perkins, who has hit all 17 of his shots during that stretch.
As good as the Zags are at the line late, Zach Norvell Jr. is Mr. Clutch. He’s scored a team-best 93 points in the last five minutes of games this season. When he’s not scoring in the final five minutes, he has dished out 11 assists with one turnover and had eight steals.
Florida State (22-11) knocked off higher seeds in its first two tournament games: No. 8 Missouri and No. 1 Xavier.
The only other time the teams met was in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, with the Zags winning 67-60.