The third round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament seeded Florida State and seeded Cincinnati to battle at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Florida State was put to the test in its opening-round matchup with 14th- seeded St. Bonaventure on Friday, needing a late surge to complete a 66-63 comeback win. FSU trailed nearly the entire game, but sophomore Ian White's three-pointer with 5:06 remaining gave the Seminoles' their first lead at 55-52, but it wasn't clear sailing from there despite a 12-0 run to follow. The teams traded threes in the waning moments to make it a two-point game and FSU needed to produce a stop on the game's final possession to advance. The Seminoles' junior sharp-shooter Michael Snaer was held scoreless for the first time in his collegiate career, with senior Bernard James stepping up with a career-best 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting. James also grabbed nine rebounds, while Luke Loucks registered 13 points, seven boards, six assists and three steals.
Florida State claimed its first-ever ACC Tournament title this year, and is in the NCAA Tournament for a school-record fourth consecutive year, 14th overall. The 'Noles are now 15-13 all-time in the event, and they are hoping to reach the Sweet 16 for the second straight year after falling victim to VCU's improbable run to the Final Four in 2011. The program's best finish in the tourney came as runner-up to UCLA back in 1972. FSU also reached the Elite Eight in 1993 and have made four appearances in the Sweet 16 all-time.
Cincinnati withstood a spirited comeback to survive against 11th-seeded Texas on Friday, pulling out a 65-59 victory to reach 25 wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2004-05. Senior Yancy Gates came up with a pair of big baskets down the stretch, helping the Bearcats to a six-point lead with a little more than a minute to play. UC then finished out the win by hitting 5-of-6 at the foul line. Gates wound up with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while junior JaQuon Parker netted 13. Senior Dion Dixon chipped in with 12 points and junior Cashmere Wright totaled 11 points, six boards and five assists as Cincy shot 45.8 percent from the floor and held Texas to just 35.1 percent shooting.
Cincinnati stamped its claim as one of the Big East's most dangerous teams entering this tournament after a thrilling run to the conference tourney title tilt where it dropped a 50-44 decision to Louisville. This is the Bearcats' 26th overall appearance at the Big Dance and 16th in the past 21 years, and they carry a 42-24 ledger into tonight's matchup. The program has found a wealth of success in past NCAA tournaments, winning back-to-back national titles in 1961-62. The Bearcats have made it to the Final Four on four different occasions, their last in 1992, with eight Elite Eight appearances. UC was knocked out in the third round of last year's tournament by UConn as a six seed.
These two teams met on a regular basis in years past as members of the Metro Conference, with Florida State owning a 22-15 lead in the all-time series. The Seminoles captured a 58-47 win in the last encounter, a neutral-site affair on Nov. 28, 2008. FSU also has a 4-2 edge in neutral-site games, although this is the first meeting between the two in the NCAA Tournament.
The Seminoles have proved to be as deep a team as any in the tournament this year with high-caliber minutes coming from up and down the roster. First and foremost for the 'Noles is Snaer, who despite shooting 0-of-7 versus St. Bonaventure has developed a knack for coming up with big shots this season. Many of Snaer's theatrics have come from beyond the arc where he shoots 40.8 percent from the floor with a team-leading 64 threes and 14.1-point average. In addition, his .846 free-throw percentage is second in the ACC. James also serves as a main cog in FSU's success, averaging 10.8 ppg on an incredible 61.4 percent shooting while posting a team-best 8.2 boards and 2.3 blocks. Miller gives the Seminoles three players averaging double-digit scoring with his 10.8 ppg while landing 34 threes at a 35.8 percent clip.
The Bearcats have an efficient offense with four double-digit scorers, but maintain one of the Big East's better scoring margins at plus-7.3 thanks in large part to their defense. Cincinnati holds teams to 61.1 ppg to rank in the top-40 nationally and a mere 41.0 percent shooting from the field. The offense averages 68.4 ppg and shoots an underwhelming 42.1 percent overall, but also has one of the league's better three-point shooting percentages at .339. A big reason for that success comes from sophomore Sean Kilpatrick, who leads the conference with 85 triples on 36.8 percent shooting and tops the Bearcat roster with 14.1 ppg. Dixon follows with a solid 13.1 ppg while Gates provides 12.4 ppg and a team-high 9.2 rebounds -- good for third in the Big East. Wright gives UC a legitimate fourth double-digit scoring option at 10.9 ppg and leads the team with his 4.6 assists per game. Wright is also second to Kilpatrick on the squad with 59 threes on 36.9 percent shooting. Dixon also drops a decent number of three-pointers with 45, but shoots a dismal 26.3 percent from beyond the arc.