(The Sports Network)
The 10th-seeded Florida State Seminoles and the second-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish take to the United Center court tonight for Southwest Regional third-round action in the NCAA Tournament.
Florida State won its first game in the Big Dance since 1998 with a 57-51 decision over seventh-seeded Texas A&M on Friday. With the win, the Seminoles, who are 13-12 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, notched their 22nd victory of the season, marking their school record third consecutive season with at least 22 wins. Florida State has not advanced to the Sweet 16 since the 1992-93 campaign.
Notre Dame earned an expected 69-56 victory over 15th-seeded Akron on Friday. The Irish, who improved to 31-34 all-time in the Big Dance, have now recorded 27 wins on the season, which stands as the second most in program history. They are now 13-2 over their last 15 games.
Florida State and Notre Dame have never met on the hardwood.
In typical fashion, Florida State won its tourney opener behind a strong defensive effort, as the 50 points allowed to Texas A&M marked the fewest allowed by the Seminoles in an NCAA Tournament game. It also marked the third consecutive game that they have allowed 67 points or fewer in the Big Dance. Florida State, which has given up just 51 ppg in its last two contests, also held the Aggies to 31.4 percent field goal shooting for the game. The Seminoles enters tonight's contest as the national leader in field goal percentage defense (36.2). Key to the Texas A&M victory was the willingness of head coach Leonard Hamilton to change his philosophy. Trailing 26-23 at the break, Hamilton switched his team to a rarely used zone defense during intermission, which resulted in a 34-24 second half advantage. Also fundamental in the win was Derwin Kitchen, who scored 15 points, grabbed seven boards, handed out three assists and tallied two steals. Bernard James added 10 points, six boards and three blocks. Kitchen is now averaging 10 ppg on the year, good for second on the team. Chris Singleton, who returned to the lineup after missing a handful of games down the stretch with a foot injury, recorded five points in a limited 16 minutes. His return to form will be essential to the cause, as he currently leads the team in scoring (13.5 ppg) and holds Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year distinction. In all, the Seminoles rely on their defense, as they hold teams to 61.9 ppg, while averaging 68.9 ppg on the offensive end of the floor.
Notre Dame appeared tight in the role of favorite during the early going Friday, and led by just four at the break after a lackluster first half. The Irish rallied however, scoring the first nine points after intermission to build a comfortable cushion, before pulling away for the convincing win. Ben Hansbrough, the Big East Conference Player of the Year, led the squad with 15 points, despite going just 4-of-11 from the field. He has now led the Irish in scoring in 13 of the last 16 games and a team-high 20 times this season. His 31 games in double figures also stand as a team-high. Tim Abromaitis added 14 points in the win and has now scored in double figures in 11 of the last 12 contests. Scott Martin added 11 points, while Carleton Scott pulled 14 boards to go with his eight points. In all, the Irish went 7-of-17 from three-point range, a step below their impressive 8.1 threes per game average. Overall, the Irish went 44.7 percent from the field, as compared to 35.9 percent for Akron. They are now 23-1 this season when shooting a higher percentage from the field than their opponent. Hansbrough continues to lead the team in scoring (18.4 ppg) and assists (4.3 apg) and has knocked down a team-high 83 three-pointers on 43.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Abromaitis adds 15.3 ppg and has hit 75 threes, as the Irish average 75.8 ppg. Defensively, they allow 65.3 ppg.
Expect Notre Dame to earn the win tonight. Florida State relies heavily upon its strong defense, but the Irish have the shooters to combat the Seminoles' strength. Offensively, it is unlikely Florida State will have the firepower to hang with the explosive Irish.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Notre Dame 70, Florida State 65