Florida State vs. VCU: it's the only Sweet 16 matchup of double-digit seeds in the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket. It was also one of the most interesting possible games of the 2011 NCAA Tournament schedule, with a beautiful contrast of styles, and it will be worth tuning in to see which one wins out at 9:57 p.m. Eastern from San Antonio on Friday. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr will have the call on TBS.
The knock on Florida State all year has been simple: yes, Leonard Hamilton's defense is superb (tops in defensive efficiency, and allowing opponents to shoot less than 40% on both twos and threes), but can the Seminoles score? They did on Sunday against the middling Notre Dame defense, especially from deep (nine of 19 threes went down), and if they can combine that sort of punch with the chokehold their lanky, athletic half-court defense can create, the 'Noles might well head to Houston for the Final Four. But, uh, don't count on that: casual might be a kind adjective for FSU's ball security, and getting flustered by an ad hoc press from the Fighting Irish bodes ill against the signature VCU press.
Sure, it's going to be young, charismatic coach Shaka Smart that gets the lion's share of the credit for the Rams' March Madness run. But it's also worth noting that VCU hasn't quite had the same blueprint for all three of their wins: the Rams forced 15 turnovers against USC and 17 against Georgetown, but coaxed Purdue into coughing up just seven; the Rams hit 12 threes against Georgetown, but didn't hit 10 in either other game; they only outrebounded USC; they had 26 assists against Purdue, and 25 combined in their first two wins. So, essentially, VCU has a repertoire, an arsenal that makes it very dangerous: Jamie Skeen and Bradford Burgess can hit threes or grab rebounds ... or Joey Rodriguez can dish assists ... or the Rams can pressure a skittish team into a dozen or more turnovers and run in transition. There's a reason Smart's dubbed his system "havoc" — hint: it's the press — but it's doubtful that even he imagined his team could be this versatile and this hot in March.
Star Watch: Bernard James, a 26-year-old junior plucked from junior college after a tour of duty with the Air Force, is FSU's most reliable big man. If VCU can't deal with him, it won't win.
Prediction: Florida State's defense is rock-solid, but the offensive efficiency the Seminoles showed against Notre Dame may have been illusive. Count on VCU running the 'Noles ragged, forcing double-digit turnovers, and advancing to the Elite Eight with a 71-58 win.