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NCAA Tournament: Previewing Michigan’s Sweet 16 opponent Florida State

The Wolverines and Seminoles meet with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.

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LSU v Michigan Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Florida State’s been a trendy pick to upset the Michigan men’s basketball team in the Sweet 16. On ESPN’s Tournament Challenge Second Chance, 35 percent of brackets have the fourth-seeded Seminoles defeating the top-seeded Wolverines — for comparison’s sake, just 12 percent of brackets have Creighton, the five-seed in the West Region, knocking off No. 1 Gonzaga.

No doubt a lot of that sentiment stems from the status of Isaiah Livers, and make no mistake: Michigan is worse without him on the court. But that can be true at the same time as this: Florida State is a really, really good team in its own right and a tricky matchup for the Wolverines.

Leonard Hamilton, the world’s youngest-looking 72-year-old, has assembled a very Leonard Hamilton team in Tallahassee. The Seminoles are tops in the nation in average height, per KenPom, and have a deep, balanced rotation. FSU will play at least nine guys on Sunday and can go as many as 11 or 12-deep if it chooses.

In true Hamilton fashion, the Seminoles (14th in offensive efficiency, 31st in defensive efficiency per KenPom) are also impossible to pigeonhole. No one is tied to a specific position. Their best players are versatile, skilled in many ways and don’t fit any established positional archetypes.

Their leading scorer is M.J. Walker, a 6-foot-5, 213-pound senior guard who, barring a Willis Reed tribute by Livers, will become the only player on either team to have played in both the 2018 Elite Eight game, which Michigan won 58-54, and Sunday’s contest. Walker averages 12.3 points and 2.6 assists per game and is the Seminoles’ best outside shooter, hitting 43.6 percent of his 4.4 3-point attempts per game.

Raiquan Gray (12.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is a 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward who doesn’t play like one. The junior is incredibly mobile for his size, and often takes the ball up the court and operates on the perimeter, where he can use his feet and dribble moves to get by defenders. He can also make plays for others: he averages 2.3 assists per game. He’s not a threat to shoot, but he’s adept at drawing fouls and shoots 75.8 percent from the line.

Freshman wing Scottie Barnes (10.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg) is 6-foot-9, 227 pounds, and isn’t just a terrific passer for his size: he’s a terrific passer, period. He averages 4.1 assists per game on a phenomenal 31.9 assist rate, which ranks second in the ACC per KenPom. Barnes, who comes off the bench, epitomizes this Seminole squad with his hybrid skill set — except for from outside, where he’s shooting just 30 percent on 1.6 attempts per game. If Michigan wants to limit his impact on the game, it would do well to keep him 20 feet or farther from the hoop.

Anthony Polite, a 6-foot-6 junior, is a pretty conventional player by Florida State standards. He has the team’s highest offensive rating per KenPom (121.0), the product of his 44 percent clip from 3-point range. Polite (10.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg) is more of a shooter than a creative option, but clearly, the Wolverines can’t afford to give him space.

Balsa Koprivica (9.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg) is a long, lean 7-foot-1 center. FSU isn’t going to run offense through him often with guys like Walker, Gray, Polite and Barnes. Instead, Koprivica shoots 60 percent from the field, mostly on rolls and dump-ins, and protects the paint on the other end, where his height and mobility make him a force.

Other players you should know about: RayQuan Evans, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior guard, isn’t much of an offensive threat, shooting under 40 percent from the field and averaging 5.2 points per game, but usually starts for FSU. Malik Osborne (5.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg) is a 6-foot-9 forward, who excels on the offensive glass: his 9.4 ORB rate is second on the team. Sardaar Calhoun, Nathanael Jack and Wyatt Wilkes all shoot over 37 percent from 3-point range, and Tanor Ngom is 7-foot-2.

As you might have gathered, the Seminoles’ focal point is their size. They’re huge at every position: all of their rotation players stand between 6-foot-4 and 7-foot-2, and even their smaller players like Walker and Evans are fairly stocky.

The two obvious areas where that size will come into play are at the two guard spots and at center. Koprivica has the height to match Hunter Dickinson inside, but FSU may not go with that matchup as often as you’d expect, as the Seminoles use their athleticism and length to switch on ball screens. Either way, they’re going to pose a huge problem for Mike Smith and Eli Brooks, who will be giving up at least four inches to whoever’s guarding them. Florida State has the ability to grind the Wolverines’ ball-screen attack to bits. Accurate shooting and passing inside to Dickinson will be at a premium.

On offense, Florida State will likely want to use its size to get downhill, especially with Gray and Barnes. The Seminoles have the shooters around non-threats Gray and Barnes to make that approach work: they hit 38.2 percent of their threes, which is 16th in the country per KenPom. They play fast as well — they were third in the ACC in tempo per KenPom, and have the athletes to make Michigan’s life really, really hard in the open court.

On another note: for whatever reason, the Seminoles have been somewhat up and down. Their 71-53 win over Colorado in the second round was their best win of the season, per KenPom, as the Buffs rank 10th. FSU lost by double digits to KenPom No. 84 Notre Dame and No. 103 Central Florida, had trouble pulling away from No. 181 Gardner-Webb, and had No. 173 Wake Forest take it to overtime. There’s no denying the Seminoles’ talent, of which there’s enough to beat anyone in the country, but there are some weird spots on their resume.