Xavier coach Chris Mack knows that at this point in the season, underestimating an opponent is likely to lead to an ouster from the NCAA Tournament.
When the 11th-seeded Musketeers take the floor for their second-round game against third-seeded Florida State in West Region competition at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida, they expect to see a relentless Seminoles team that just keeps answering challenges.
“They're really athletic,” Mack said. “They're really long. It's just stating the obvious. It's amazing how Leonard Hamilton's teams play very, very hard all the time. I was an assistant at Wake Forest years ago, and that was always a trademark of his teams that they really battled on the defensive end.
“They made catches tough. They got deflections. They tried to get you out of whatever you were running. (Thursday) was no different, and that's what we're going to have to handle on Saturday if we expect to advance.”
The Seminoles (26-8) are unrelenting on both sides of the floor, holding their opponents to 41.2 percent shooting from the field and just 71.5 points per game while averaging 82.6 on the offensive end.
Additionally, Florida State has averaged four more rebounds per game than its opponents and have forced 252 steals, 80 more than the Seminoles have given up. Also, Florida State’s defense has forced 485 turnovers.
“You have to be extremely smart when you drive the basketball, and drives can't lead to bad decisions, whether that's blocked shots or whether that's traveling violations because you get intimidated,” Mack said.
“We have to do a great job of getting multiple paint touches and trying to figure out a way to draw their center out on the floor. Whether it's Ojo or Koumadje, both of those guys do a tremendous job of protecting the rim. We just have to be solid with our decision making. Easier said than done, and can't get sped up.”
While preparing to face off against an aggressive defensive team, the Musketeers are working on ways to slow down 6-foot-10 freshman forward Jonathan Isaac, who is Florida State’s second-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game.
In 31 starts, Isaac has averaged 7.7 rebounds, 1.55 blocked shots and 1.16 assists over 26.0 minutes per game. Isaac shoots better than 50 percent from the field and 78.6 percent from the free-throw line.
“The unique thing about him is he can do it in a variety of ways,” Mack said. “He can post up. He can certainly shoot the basketball from the perimeter. They throw lobs to him. He's a terrific offensive rebounder. He's really, really talented. For as good as he is now and as productive as he is now, I'm glad we don't have to play him in four years because he's going to be even scarier.
“He's a challenge. The thing that makes Florida State unique, and as difficult as they are now, he's not the only guy. We've played a lot of teams over the years where you can key in on a guy like that because maybe their other players aren't near the talent level. That's not the case with Florida State.”