NASHVILLE, Tenn. - This won't be a basketball beauty contest. There will be little room for finesse.
This is "survive and advance" in its truest form.
Teams with like-minded, rough-and-tumble defensive personalities, Florida State and Cincinnati are expected to deliver a gritty, physical 40 minutes for the right to take on No. 2 seed Ohio State in the Sweet 16. The Seminoles and Bearcats will tip it off at Bridgestone Arena at 9:40 p.m. ET.
"(FSU) plays with unbelievable discipline and toughness," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "I don't think they're going to change. It's going to be hard to get a basket against them. We've got to make sure we return the favor."
A program built with the defense-first mindset, Florida State ranks No. 6 in the nation in field goal percentage defense (38.1 percent). Cincinnati will counter with the No. 35-ranked scoring defense in the nation, allowing just 61.1 points per game. The Bearcats have held opponents to 60 points or less 18 times in 35 games this season.
Cincinnati's defensive persona is derived from its backcourt. The Bearcats flaunt a scrappy four-guard lineup led by Cashmere Wright and [/db]Sean Kilpatrick[/db], a unit that likes to create tempo and fluster the bigger, slower opponent.
"They're not afraid to check you, bump you, grab you, and they're not afraid if you do that to them either, they don't shy away from it," FSU assistant coach Stan Jones said. "It's an area of the game that our guys are going to have to understand is going to be a part of the game for 40 minutes, not just for one or two possessions. Because that's who they are and what they do."
Florida State has the deeper rotation of talented defenders - the Seminoles rotate nine players regularly while Cincinnati only has six who average at least 10 minutes per game. The Bearcats have been incredibly efficient despite the lack of a bench - they rank No. 14 nationally in personal fouls per game (15.2), 15th in turnover margin (+3.4).
Between its trio of 6-5 backcourt players and four regular post guys standing 6-foot-9 or taller, Florida State will have an edge in size all over the floor as well. Cronin says that FSU's effectiveness comes from his team-first mindset on the defensive end.
"They have five guys always playing as one, as a unit. Nobody is ever on an island," Cronin said. "You're not going to be able to live off your set plays against Florida State. You might get them here or there, but their players are going to make adjustments on their own because they're so trained, they're so well coached, and so locked in on the defensive end."
FSU's interior rotation, led by Bernard James will focus on stopping Cincinnati big man Yancy Gates a future NBA player whose ability inside opens up opportunities for his guard-heavy offense.
"He's like the police officer out there, protecting everybody. It gives them great balance so now their guards can play a little more free," Jones said. "He's a big point of what we've got to do with our defensive preparation."
FSU has had success against standout big men of late, containing North Carolina's Tyler Zeller and St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson en route to victories.
Cincinnati will focus on the Seminoles' Michael Snaer, who should find extra motivation on the offensive end after going scoreless against the Bonnies on Friday.
"We're going to play hard out there and give it all on defense," said Cincinnati guard Dion Dixon. "I'm going against a great guy, Snaer, he's a great player so I've got to prepare for him well."
With a trip to the East Region semifinals on the line, there is no doubt that both team are prepped for a physical night.
"I know they're going to be physical, scrappy, tough," Snaer said, who compared the Bearcats' physicality to Michigan State. "We all know what we need to do, and as long as we stay locked in offensively and defensively we'll be fine."