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Florida State takes aim at third-seeded Michigan

By Jack Magruder, The Sports Xchange

Upstart Florida State does not have a go-to guy, per se, as much as go-to cohort. Michigan operates in a somewhat similar fashion, although it will bring the more recognizable names into the Elite Eight matchup between the two schools Saturday.

Nothing summarizes ninth-seeded Florida State's NCAA roll more than this -- the Seminoles (23-11) have received 118 points, 59 rebounds and 22 assists from their reserves while getting past Missouri, No. 1 seed Xavier and No. 4 seed Gonzaga.

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Third-seeded and No. 7-ranked Michigan (31-7) also spreads things around, especially on the perimeter, although athletic big man Moe Wagner and point guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman are usually at the fore.

The Wolverines will be taking a 12-game winning streak into the West Regional final Saturday, their longest since they went 16-0 to open the 2013 season, the last time they reached the Final Four.

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Florida State had lost three of four and five of eight before its NCAA Tournament run behind a group that includes senior starters Phil Cofer and Braian Angola, junior starter Terance Mann and bench contributors such as junior P.J. Savoy, sophomore Trent Forrest and redshirt freshman Mfiondu Kabengele.

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"We win games by committee," Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We might have five guys to start, but they may not be the same five that finish. We believe in that philosophy. It doesn't really seem to matter with them who is playing as long as we are winning. This is a bunch of guys that are connected.

"We in the ACC, there are a lot of one-and-dones (players) and McDonald's All-Americans ... we feel that we can compete if we have a number of guys contributing night in and night out."

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With its 75-60 victory over Gonzaga, Florida State has beaten three straight higher seeds to reach its third Elite Eight, and its first since 1993. The Seminoles will look to make their first Final Four since 1972, when the Ron King/Reggie Royals team lost to the Bill Walton/Jamaal Wilkes/Henry Bibby UCLA team in the title game.

With Florida State and Kansas State advancing Thursday, there are two No. 9 seeds in the Elite Eight for the first time in NCAA tournament history.

"It's interesting that we probably are the only ones (who) believe we are capable of doing this," Hamilton said. "We're always the underdog. We're clawing and scratching and scratching and clawing, just trying to put ourselves in position where we feel we are capable of going.

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"Our youthful inexperience has raised its ugly head several times, and it cost us. But we've maintained a level of confidence that if we just keep learning, keep growing, keep maturing, we can put ourselves in this position."

The 6-foot-5 Forrest had seven points, six rebounds and six assists against Gonzaga, bringing his tournament totals to 29 points, 17 rebounds, 17 assists and nine steals in 81 minutes. The 6-8 Kabengele had four blocks Thursday and has seven in the tournament.

Mann scored 18 points against Xavier, the only Seminole in double figures, and said the strained hamstring that made him questionable for the 75-70 victory over the Musketeers on Sunday was no longer an issue.

"We're 18 strong and we really don't care," Angola said.

After escaping on Jordan Poole's 3-pointer after the buzzer -- the shot was released before the buzzer and went through the rim just after -- in a 64-63 victory over No. 21 Houston last Saturday, the Wolverines blew out Texas A&M 99-72 on Thursday with 14 3-pointers, one short of a season high. They shot 61.9 percent from the field, the best of any NCAA Tournament team so far.

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Abdul-Rahkman (24 points) and Wagner (21) led five Michigan players in double figures. Abdur-Rahkman made four threes, the 6-11 Wagner had three and 6-8 Duncan Robinson had two as the Wolverines reached the Elite Eight for the third time in six seasons. They have not lost since falling to Northwestern 61-52 on Feb. 6.

"We knew we could pick and choose our spots on offense," Abdur-Rahkman said.

Wagner, a native of Berlin, Germany, said he spoke to his family after the game and that a tavern in his neighborhood showed the game on TV.

"I think we are a very confident team and that's all that matters," Wagner said. "We've been playing within ourselves all year. Looking at the game plan, trying to execute that. I think we've been believing all year that we can beat anyone if we play our best basketball."

Both teams stress defense. Michigan is ranked third in defensive efficiency in the kenpom.com rankings. Florida State, ranked 44th, has 27 steals and 19 blocked shots in the tournament.

"Their defense is terrific." Michigan coach John Beilein said of the Seminoles. "They prioritize it, and they have great length to do it. It's a challenge. We pride ourselves on not turning it over."

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