- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- A look at the Texas A&M-Florida State matchup at the United Center:
How they got here: Somehow, it seems Mark Turgeon always finds a way. The Texas A&M coach faced a serious challenge in the offseason: Replacing three seniors, including stars Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis, with a group of unproven unknowns. The Aggies didn’t miss a beat. Instead, A&M quickly established itself as another smart, solid Turgeon team, one that looked like it might compete for a spot among the Big 12’s elite before a late-January hiccup. Meanwhile, despite losing its leading scorer and best defender in forward Chris Singleton to a broken hand on Feb. 19, Florida State admirably maintained its spot above the bubble fray.
Players to watch: Singleton hasn’t seen action since his injury, but he practiced Thursday and appears likely to play Friday. Saying this is “huge” for the Seminoles is like saying water is “huge” for human survival. With Singleton on the prowl, an already-stout Florida State defense is one of the toughest, most disruptive units in the country. Texas A&M forward Khris Middleton will have to find a way to remain productive despite Singleton’s singular defensive prowess, and A&M will need to balance its interior scoring with some timely perimeter shooting from guard B.J. Holmes.
What to look for: A slow, defensive slugfest that will be decided on the offensive boards. FSU's defense is the second-stingiest in the nation; only Texas has allowed opponents fewer points per possession in 2011. That stinginess stems from Florida State’s excellent first-shot defense. The Seminoles simply don’t allow good looks. That said, Leonard Hamilton’s offense-averse team does allow opponents its share of offensive rebounds, and A&M ranks among the top 15 teams in the nation in retrieving their own misses. The Aggies aren’t going to get many good looks. But if they can take advantage of the offensive glass and get a few easy putbacks, they’ll be at a major advantage against a Florida State team that frequently struggles to score.
Quotable: “How big of a factor he's going to be will be in direct proportion to how he's going to adjust to not being available for a month, not being in practice, not having any contact, not being in rhythm. [...] He's only been in any type of contact with us now for four or five days. So to be honest with you, I think that's yet to be determined.” -- Florida State coach Hamilton on what he expects -- or doesn’t expect from Singleton.