Knowing the Enemy: Florida State
One thing that has been established early in ACC play is if you are playing on the road it will be hard to get a win and nothing will be guaranteed, just ask Duke who lost to Virginia Tech and ask Virginia Tech who lost to N.C. State — as for the Seminoles, they are proving as to why no one should be sleeping on them as they have earned a No. 12 ranking nationally.
Both teams are building up their resume early on this year with Florida State having big wins against Florida, Illinois and Virginia — their only blemish is a three-point loss to Temple. Respectfully though the Hokies have some big wins as well against Duke, Nebraska, New Mexico and Michigan — likewise in comparison to FSU, the Hokies have two tough losses against N.C. State where they got routed and a three-point loss to Texas A&M where the Hokies were up by 17 at one point.
Florida State enters the game 14-1 and 10-0 at home. The Hokies enter this game 12-2 with a 1-1 record on the road. To say this is a “must win” for Virginia Tech would be pressing the panic button a little too early. However, with the Hokies not having Khadim Sy and/or Seth Allen, the Hokies may be in some trouble as the ACC schedule grows.
JW: With the lack of size on the Hokies roster, what will FSU do to disrupt the Hokies on both sides of the ball?
Frank: As is the norm for a Leonard Hamilton coached squad, Florida State is one of the biggest teams in the country. The starting five doesn’t have a single player under 6-foot-4. Michael Ojo (the starting center), checks in at 7-foot-1, and for good measure, his backup Christ Koumadje is the tallest player in school history, at 7-foot-4. Despite all that size, however, FSU is just a good, but not great rebounding team. On average, they out-rebound their opponents by 5.3 per game, which ranks 54th in the country. Because of their switching style of defense, and their preference to front opposing big men in the post, they’re often out of position to grab defensive rebounds. So, although VA Tech may be smaller than Florida State, their quickness could allow them to get to loose balls and gives themselves extra possessions. On the other side of the floor, FSU will try to use their length in the passing lanes to get steals and run the break for easy buckets. Freshman Jonathan Isaac is extremely lanky, and does a good job making himself big around the rim, forcing opponents into tough shots. The team’s overall defense has made major strides throughout the season so far. If they can maintain focus, and not get caught looking ahead to Duke on Tuesday, they may be able to slow down the Hokies potent offense.
JW: With the injury to Khadim Sy for the Hokies, if he is able to play, do you see FSU trying to push him around? If he doesn’t play does that change FSU’s game plan?
Frank: Yes, and no. If he does try to play through injury, the Seminoles don’t really have a typical back-to-the-basket big man to take advantage of him. I could see Hamilton telling his guys to run more pick-and-rolls, trying to get Sy caught in mismatches against players like Dwayne Bacon or Xavier Rathan-Mayes. Though that’s not really a strength of their offense, either. I don’t really think his presence will change FSU’s game plan all that much.
JW: What are the keys for the Seminoles to win this game?
Frank: Florida State needs to maintain their defensive effort. It’s been great recently, but they can’t let up against a team as explosive as the Hokies. Further, they need to get their freshman phenom Issac going again. He hasn’t looked the same since returning from a hip-pointer a few weeks ago, yet is still second on the team in scoring. If he can start to shoulder some of the load again, and not make Bacon do everything, FSU’s offense will be even harder to stop. Finally, the ‘Noles need their bench to keep providing them with a spark. The starting unit often takes a while to get it going, but the young bench guys like CJ Walker and Trent Forrest use their defensive tenacity to get the whole team fired up and into the game.
JW: We have already seen the Hokies win two big games this season against Duke and Michigan, do you see Virginia Tech being in the NCAA Tournament if they finish below .500 in the ACC?
Frank: According to Team Rankings, the Hokies currently have a 43 percent chance of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. If they were to win one more game against a top-15 opponent, they would be in extremely good shape, even with a losing record in conference play. Eight wins in the ACC (counting Duke already), including one of Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina, or Louisville, should be more than enough.
JW: Who should the Hokies focus on when they play FSU and why?
Frank: Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Issac. Bacon would have been a late first round pick after last season, but came back to improve his game. So far, it seems like the right decision. He’s averaging 18 points per contest, and has raised his three-point shooting to 39 percent, a much higher mark than the 28 percent he shot them at as a freshman. Issac, on the other hand, was one of the highest-rated prospects to ever sign with Florida State. Currently, he’s projected to go seventh overall in next year’s draft (via Draft Express). His game isn’t the flashiest, but he’s 6-foot-10 and handles the ball like a guard, while shooting 37 percent from three. Both are special talents, and FSU is lucky to have them.
JW: What is your prediction on the outcome of this game?
Frank: I think this will be a close game. Florida State has made it a habit to get themselves into tight contests, before using their depth and explosiveness to blow opponents out late in the second half. I expect this game will be similar, which is not a knock against the Hokies. They’re a really good team, and have earned that 12-2 record. But the Seminoles are at home, which helps, and have had the whole week off (after a huge win in Charlottesville), so they’ll be well-rested, too. My prediction is 86-76, Florida State.
You can read our preview with Chop Chat here. Tip for this game is scheduled at 2 PM on the ACC Network.