NCAA Sweet 16 Preview – Gonzaga vs Florida St.

For the second straight year Gonzaga and Florida State square off in the Sweet 16 round of March Madness. The #1 seeded Bulldogs face a tough test from the Seminoles out of the ACC, a #4 seed that Coach Few has already described as “vastly underseeded.” Here’s why.

Defending the Seminoles

In addition to a stifling defense, Coach Leonard Hamilton has a balanced offensive attack led by Senior guard Terrance Mann and sixth man Mfiondu Kabengele. Florida State utilizes Mann or starting point guard Trent Forrest in ball screen actions, allowing the 7’4 Christ Koumadje to roll towards the basket and look to post smaller defenders.

The Seminoles begin with Koumadje, a large body and deterrent around the rim, but their offense jumps when they turn to their sixth man Kabengele. Kabengele also works as a screener, but his offensive game is more versatile than the starter Koumadje. The sixth man of the year in the ACC, Kabengele can score from all three levels and is the leading scorer for FSU.

Florida St. spaces the floor with capable spot up shooters in Pj Savoy, Devin Vassell, and MJ Walker. The Seminoles are without  senior forward Phil Cofer, a key contributor who is dealing with the unfortunate loss of his father. Raiquan Gray has filled in the starting lineup, and at 6’8 and 260 he is a physical forward that can play through contact and make the occasional outside shot.

Matchup to Watch: Guarding Mfiondu Kabengele 


Florida State utilizes their depth, often playing 10 guys in spurts,  meaning on any given night one Seminole can get cooking. The most potent threat for Coach Hamilton comes off the bench before unleashing a skilled post up game featuring fancy footwork and a go-to mid-range jumper.

Kabengele can also step out behind the arch, shooting 38% on the season. Averaging only 21.4 minutes per game this season, the Canadian product’s numbers adjusted per 40 minutes played are 25 points per game, 11 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game.

Florida St. will look to clear the left side of the floor and let Kabengele go to work, as 56% of Kabengele’s post ups are on the left block per Synergy Sports. Kabengele scores .817 PPP on such situations, a decent mark, but one that he can improve on going forward.

Another post tendency for Mfiondu is catching, facing up immediately and rising for a jumper. Kabengele is frequently deployed as an on-ball screener, where he is incredibly effective diving to the basket and finishing athletically or popping to the 3 point line.

On possessions where Kabengele rolls to the basket, he accounts for a whopping 1.429 PPP, indicative of his monstrous impact on the offensive end. Kabengele has had back to back 20 point games in the NCAA tournament, and is capable of looking unstoppable for stretches.

The Bulldogs, and mainly Brandon Clarke, must be prepared to keep Kabengele away from getting to his left shoulder and finishing with his right hand. The Zags posses a nice mix of front-court defenders in Clarke, Rui Hachimura, and Killian Tillie to throw at Kabengele to hold him down, however it will take more than that to advance.

Here is a look at Kabengele’s offensive profile:


(Side Note: Kabengele also had 4 blocks last year vs. Gonzaga)

Key Play to Defend: On-Ball Screens

The Seminoles are most effective setting screens in early offense or transition, often setting a double screen high up the floor. These screens put pressure on the scrambling defense with Kabengele or the 7’4 Koumadje diving and the crafty upperclassman back-court of Mann and Forrest driving to the basket.

The Seminoles have a variety of ways to nudge their guards loose from defenders such as having Forrest set a “rub” screen allowing Mann to penetrate. That play is one of many clever ball screen plays that Coach Hamilton runs, including “screen the screener” and roll-replace actions.

Guarding Mann will be another big key for Gonzaga, as he was excellent in last year’s game scoring 18 points on 8-13 shooting. This season when Mann was in the pick and roll and either scored or assisted, 33.9% of his possessions, he accounted for a legit .965 points per possession (PPP), on a total of 173 possessions. Mann is an athletic guard at 6-7, and he has an effective slashing game, often changing pace beautifully before exploding to the rim. Mann also comes off a variety off off ball pin down screens, all looking to get his defender trailing him.

Trent Forrest is skilled in the ball screen game, and properly 50.2% of his possessions where he scored or assisted have been dicing defenses in the screen and roll.  In the 278 such possessions, Forrest has run up .896 PPP, giving the Seminoles nice dual pick and roll threats. Forrest often “snakes” the pick and roll or “jails” his defenders forcing the roll man’s defender to step up, opening Koumadje for lobs near the rim

Gonzaga defenders must do a good job of making Mann and Forrest see defenders and not get downhill on the basket. Guarding FSU will require attention to detail because of the unique skillsets of their front and back-court players, but Gonzaga will be ready.

Gonzaga must make Florida St. beat them in the half court, where their defensive personnel is more effective.Last year’s contest changed when the Bulldogs had live ball turnovers that led to easy Florida St. buckets in transition.

Here is a look at Mann/Forrest in the pick and roll and a few of Coach Hamilton’s ball screen sets.





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