Florida State rides its depth to showdown with Michigan

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — When Florida State took the dais for Friday’s news conference at Staples Center, the Seminoles trotted out six players.

For reference, teams typically bring out two or three top players to the podium.

But for No. 9 seed Florida State, it symbolized the depth and selflessness that has propelled the team this deep into March and into tonight’s West Region final against third-seeded Michigan.

“One of the phrases that we use to represent who we are, we’re 18 strong,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We win games by committee. We might have five guys to start, but they may not be the same five that finish. We believe in that philosophy.

“That’s who we are, that’s what it represents, and this represents who we are, the type of program we have, and how much these guys trust each other and trust our system that they feel like they all are important.

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“It doesn’t really seem to matter with them who is playing as long as we are winning.”

That’s what Florida State has done, reeling off three straight upsets over No. 8 seed Missouri in the first round, No. 1 seed Xavier in the second round and No. 4 seed Gonzaga on Thursday in the Sweet 16 to reach the Elite Eight for the third time in program history and first time since 1993.

And it has done it by using an 11-man rotation and balanced scoring attack, with Seminoles starters Terance Mann, Phil Cofer and Braian Angola averaging roughly 13 points and six others contributing roughly six or seven points apiece.

In the NCAA Tournament, reserves Mfiondu Kabengele, PJ Savoy and Trent Forrest have all come off the bench and scored at least 11 points once over Florida State’s three postseason victories.

“We go in the game, and we don’t care who scores, as long as we can win. That’s our motto,” Angola said. “Just 18 strong, from the last guy in the scouting team to the starters. We just don’t care who plays or who scores the basket, as long as everybody’s happy. We buy into the system, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”

According to Cofer, Florida State runs each five-man group to exhaustion and that sets the tone for the next group of five Seminoles to match that intensity in a never-ending cycle.

It has been the team’s strength all season long and several Seminoles said it will play a critical role in trying to wear down and crack Michigan’s stifling team defense.

“I think it’ll be a good advantage no matter who we play because our bench comes in and does a lot of good things for us,” Mann said. “I think it’ll be key.

“When everyone is playing well and everyone is coming at you in different waves with different fives — we can go big, we can go small. We always have any given five players on the court so you never know what you’re going to get on any night. It’s kind of hard to prepare for I’d assume for other teams, but it has to be all of us playing well at the same time for that to really work.”

Michigan freshman forward Isaiah Livers said Florida State mirrors the Wolverines because they can also delve deep down into the reserve unit to have someone from the second team come in and contribute at an important time of the game.

But the challenge, Livers said, is memorizing all the strengths and tendencies of all the personnel on such a short turnaround.

“It’s just natural for you to look at the person on the top of the personnel to know what he does,” Livers said. “You’re not really going to prepare to know somebody deep on the bench. You’re not going to know what he does. He could be a shooter or he could be a really quick dude and then when you close out on him as shooter it’s just bad.”

However, Michigan coach John Beilein said he doesn’t think Florida State’s ability to consistently roll out wave after wave of players will be a determining factor due to the longer TV timeouts and the fact players are accustomed to logging heavy minutes at this time of the season.

“They have great depth,” Beilein said. “But it’s not going to be like, ‘OK, they beat us because of their depth.’ I think they’ll beat us because they’re a better team.

“They’ve really had a great year, but they played this way the whole year and I wouldn’t stop doing it if I was them either.”

And come Saturday, Michigan will be faced with weathering a depth storm like none other.

“It’ll be tough, but it’s still a 40-minute game,” Michigan senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. “We’re used to playing a lot of minutes. You just got to take care of your body and your mind. I don’t think we’ll run out of energy because there’s a chance to go to the Final Four on the line.”


Michigan vs. Florida State

Tip-off: 8:49 p.m. Saturday, Staples Center, Los Angeles

TV/radio: TBS/950 AM

Records: No. 3 seed Michigan 31-7; No. 9 seed Florida State 23-11

Up next: Winner advances to Final Four vs. Loyola Chicago-Kansas State winner.