Second-round preview: Florida State vs. Cincinnati

Tonight, the ACC Champion Florida State Seminoles will meet the Big East runner-up Cincinnati Bearcats in Nashville, with the victor advancing to face the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sweet 16.

Both teams have a plethora of reasons why their fans should be confident in their squad to get a victory tonight, but one thing is certain — this game will not be decided early. In all likelihood, tonight’s contest will come down to a few key possessions at the end of the game, much like both teams’ first-round victories that got them here.

Cincinnati’s success hasn’t been a secret. The Bearcats started the year very slowly, but after a brawl with cross-town rival Xavier, they rallied to win 20 of their next 27 games, including a 12-6 record in the Big East. Head coach Mick Cronin has a slew of great players, and senior forward Yancy Gates might be the most powerful.

This year, Gates is averaging 12.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. If you haven’t seen him play, Gates is 6-foot-9, 260 pounds of absolute Beast Mode. He had his way with Big East big men and controls the paint.

So, in my opinion, the battle of the game will be between Gates and FSU big men Bernard James, Xavier Gibson and Jon Kreft.

The Seminoles’ trio had plenty of training for tonight when they had to contain St. Bonaventure star Andrew Nicholson. They cut him off in the second half of their 66-63 victory over the Bonnies Friday afternoon, giving Seminole fans plenty of confidence that their defense was up-to-par for the tournament.

If they want to beat the Bearcats, it would be a good idea to prioritize the containment of Gates, much the same way.

But there are other problems with the Bearcats. They execute very well on offense with other players, too — Gates might lead the team in scoring, rebounds and blocks, but sophomore guard Sean Kilpatrick can go off as well. In their 71-68 victory over Syracuse in the Big East semifinals, Kilpatrick scored 18 points and added five assists and five steals. He can be a handful if you don’t keep him contained, so it will be very important that the FSU guards play the type of lockdown defense they exhibited in the second half of their game against St. Bonaventure.

Now, here’s the good news: Cincy isn’t perfect, and they are capable of having a very bad day if you get in their face and play physically.

In the Big East Championship game, Louisville held Cincinnati to just 44 points, and the Cardinals needed to shoot just 35 percent from the floor to beat the Bearcats. It can be done.

But one thing’s for sure … the Seminoles can’t win another game if guard Michael Snaer doesn’t score. After being held scoreless against St. Bonaventure, FSU will need Snaer to get rolling early if they’re going to put the necessary pressure on Cincinnati to keep up.

If Florida State can keep the final score in the 60s or below, there’s a very good chance they will be playing next weekend. But if the scoring gets out of hand and FSU has to score 80 or more to get the win, it could spell danger.

Everyone seems enthralled by an all-Ohio matchup between Ohio State and Cincinnati in the Sweet 16. Here’s to hoping the Seminoles keep that from happening.

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