Friday, February 3, 2012

game preview: Florida State; PLUS we got Pitt

Date/Time: Saturday, February 4; 1:00


Record against the Noles: 17-19

Last matchup: FSU 63, UVA 56; 2/12/11; Tallahassee

Last game: UVA 65, Clemson 61 (1/31); FSU 68, GT 54 (2/1)

Opposing blogs: Tomahawk Nation

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 59.9 (#341)
FSU: 68.1 (#99)

UVA: 106.1 (#82)
FSU: 106.0 (#83)

UVA: 86.5 (#8)
FSU: 85.5 (#5)

UVA: .8897 (#22)
FSU: .9009 (#18)

Common opponents:

Clemson: UVA won 65-61; FSU lost 79-59
Virginia Tech: UVA lost 47-45; FSU won 63-59
Duke: UVA lost 61-58; FSU won 76-73
Georgia Tech: UVA won 70-38; FSU won 68-54

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (6.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.6 apg)
SG: Sammy Zeglinski (8.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (12.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (17.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.5 apg)
F: Akil Mitchell (4.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.8 apg)

Florida State:

PG: Luke Loucks (7.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.1 apg)
SG: Michael Snaer (14.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.8 apg)
G: Deividas Dulkys (7.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.2 apg)
PF: Bernard James (10.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 0.5 apg)
C: Xavier Gibson (7.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 0.4 apg)

The ACC made it's long-awaited announcement about future divisional alignments and scheduling and so forth, and that's big enough news I thought about skipping the game preview and rambling about that instead.  But this is as big a bastaball game as there is in the remainder of this season, so it'd be wrong to skip it.  So you get both.  Stupid blogger thoughts on the 14-team ACC are appended to the end of this preview.

As for the game itself, it's kinda big.  FSU and UVA are extremely similar in some respects (nearly identical KenPom numbers, heavy emphasis on defense) and polar opposites in others (tempo, defensive style) and are the two odds-on contenders for the right to be named Best Team In The ACC Other Than You-Know-Who.  Except that FSU has already beaten both You-Know-Whos.

Shameless plug before the fun stuff begins: since I'll be watching this game on ESPN3 and not on the tube, I'll be tweetering like a wild man all game; follow @MaizeNBlueWahoo for stupid blogger mini-thoughts.

-- UVA on offense

You know how UVA's defense works: don't let anybody inside, especially don't let anyone drive inside, and sag off on the perimeter.  FSU is more or less the opposite: they will hound and harass you on the perimeter and dare you to take advantage of their aggressiveness by driving.  Then they position a couple of athletic trees near the basket and get swatty.

Said trees are named Bernard James and Xavier Gibson.  It's not uncommon for teams to not have a real center, so they station a four there and hope it works out.  Florida State is the opposite; both these guys could legitimately be fives.  They have block percentages of 9.0 and 8.8 respectively, which means that when they're both on the court at the same time, the chances are better than 1-in-6 that your shot will meet an immovable object on the way to the net.  FSU is also excellent at defending the three-point shot, allowing just 28.3% shooting from there.  Just to up the degree of difficulty a little more, FSU is one of the biggest teams in the country, 9th in "effective height."  The guy who spells James and Gibson is seven-footer Jon Kreft, and their starting guards all stand 6'5".  And sixth man Okaro White comes off the bench at 6'8".

How do you score on a team like this?  I expect that, for starters, Mike Scott will have to deploy his 14-17 foot jump shot more often than usual.  James and Gibson will probably double him when he gets the ball in the post, and they're athletic guys but whether or not they're effective in chasing Scott to the perimeter (and no big guy this year has been, so far) it'll at least spread the floor a little.

I also think UVA will go into maximum slow-down mode.  I mean, even more so than usual.  FSU is a team that thrives on generating turnovers, and their size makes them really good at it.  The first twenty seconds of the shot clock will feature a little bit of jogging around, setting screens and playing catch on the perimeter, in full Tony Bennett war crime style.  Jontel and Sammy aren't big guys, and FSU has the athleticism advantage.  If Sammy or Joe Harris finds themselves with a nice open shot, fine, but I think we'll be content with taking our one shot late in the shot clock using one of our main scorers, instead of trying to force-create openings.

Deividas Dulkys is a better defender than Michael Snaer, so I think he'll draw Joe Harris; Dulkys has sneaky-good hands and is one of the Noles' top ball thieves.  But he's skinny and nowhere near as quick as Snaer.  If Harris is allowed to go one-on-one with his back to the basket, Dulkys may need help.  Harris typically is a perimeter player, of course, but if he gets the ball closer to the bucket, the Hoos might be able to work some inside-out magic, or else find Mike Scott a little bit more open than he should be.  At the point, Luke Loucks has a big size advantage on Evans - how many 6'5" point guards are there? - but he's got no quicks and Evans ought to win the matchup more often than not.

There may be a few second-chance points to be found as well; despite having such a big team, FSU is surprisingly average at defensive rebounding.  James is a bright spot for them here, but Gibson, for his size, isn't that great.

Any way you slice it, though, points will be hard to find.  This is a team that held UNC to 57 points, and in the Noles' second-fastest-paced game of the season, too.  (Somehow, Clemson scored 79 on them.  That is a mystery of the highest order and the Hoos' ray of hope.)  UVA will have to work for every point, and must stay disciplined; against a pressure defense like FSU's, it's easy to fall into the trap of rushing one's shot.

-- UVA on defense

How might this game be won?  Turnovers on this end.  A TO% of 24.1 makes FSU the #323 team in the country - turning it over one out of every four possessions.  Backup point guard Jeff Peterson is shockingly terrible with a whopping 37%.  Yes, if Peterson is on the court for eight possessions, he'll turn the ball over on three of them.  Five Seminoles average more than two turnovers per game.

And even playing at a much, much faster pace, FSU as a team averages fewer assists per game (12) than UVA (13.)  Why so few?  It has a lot to do with the number of transition baskets they get, off of all those turnovers they create on the other end.  It's also a function of having so many bigs - James, Gibson, White - involved in the offense.  But it's also a function of having black holes for offensive players.  Just about every Virginia player is better in the assist department than his Florida State counterpart, except for the point guards who are about even.  Once the ball hits the hands of a Seminole, it's likely to go toward the basket.  Or end up in enemy hands.

Despite the fact that James is the second-leading scorer, the truth is that the halfcourt offense runs through the guards mostly.  Or at least it should, as Gibson is actually the highest-usage player on the team, but one of the least efficient.  James is mostly a putback and transition guy.  Point guard Loucks doesn't look for his shot much, instead looking to feed Snaer and Dulkys, both of whom have very good shots.

When FSU's starters are in, that's when they'll have the advantage.  When they're not turning the ball over, they're pretty tough to stop.  UVA will have the upper hand when any of them are off the floor - Ian Miller has been a terrible shooter this year, and Peterson's turnover habit is already well-documented.  Jon Kreft is a nonfactor.  UVA's pack-line defense should be a good matchup against such a turnover-prone team, as it's something of a novelty and designed to let you make your own mistakes.  But FSU's size will be tough to defend and there'll be times there's nothing we can do.

-- Outlook

No doubt, FSU is a tournament team, and they have a terrific chance to earn the #1 seed in the ACC tourney.  Both of these teams are built in such a way as to give each other fits.  But unfortunately, FSU more so.  In order to win, UVA must force the Seminoles into a thousand turnovers and limit their own, because this defense will be maybe the toughest we see all year.  Including Carolina.  On the road, this is easier said than done.  It should be close, but the win will be just out of reach.

-- Final score: FSU 54, UVA 50


So, now the big-picture stuff.  ACC expansion and scheduling, as announced today.  Everybody say hi to Pittsburgh (HI PITTSBURGH!) as the Panthers will be the newest members of the Coastal Division when they eventually leave the Big East for better pastures.

There'll also be nine conference games on the football schedule, and the permanent crossover remains, so no changes there.  Pitt and Cuse are simply each other's buddies.  But the rest of the statement reads like this:
The format will consist of each team playing all six in its division each year, plus its primary crossover partner each year and two rotating opponents from the opposite division. This six-year cycle allows each team to play each divisional opponent and its primary crossover partner six times (three home and three away) while also playing each rotating crossover opponent two times (one home and one away).
I parse and parse and parse this statement and I can't for the life of me tell whether they're doing this right or not.  What do I mean?

- Wrong: The way they're doing it now.
- Right: The format proposed at the bottom of this post.

Just replace the Pitt helmet with a Syracuse one.  Both ways would fulfill "playing each rotating crossover opponent two times in six years" but my way means three calendar years between games against a particular opponent.  The current way - a home game directly followed by an away game directly followed by a huge gap - would mean five calendar years.  Let me make this perfectly clear: if a normal student attends UVA, and during his time there, there are teams in the conference that we never play, then we have ceased to be a conference and are instead a little mini-NFL.

I don't have much faith that they got this right.

The choice of divisions for the newcomers, however, seems obvious in retrospect.  BC can play Syracuse, and we have a little mini-region here in the mid-Atlantic now with us, Tech, Maryland, and Pitt.  It will help our recruiting a little bit, as Pittsburgh is an area we like to have a presence in.  (The reverse will also be true, of course.)  And for once, I can see myself at a UVA football game in the future - Pittsburgh is only five hours from me.  Bloomington was six and I made it a point to get my ass down there, so Pittsburgh has its appeal.  Only problem: they don't have their own stadium and borrow that of the Steelers.  Lame.

As for basketball, I don't have a complaint about 18 games at all but I do have a beef with not playing Maryland twice every year.  Come on, man.  Screw that.  I suppose the upside is a more even spread of games against the conference in general, and the symmetry of the three-year cycle has a certain appeal.  The other upside: a slight advantage in the year-to-year schedule, assuming Tech's downward spiral is a long-term thing, as they're obviously our one scheduling buddy.

One final disappointment, but not a permanent one: no announcement about how they're gonna work the baseball schedule with an odd number of teams.  Here's a hint for the decision makers: get rid of divisions.  Pittsburgh is the school with a baseball team, so it would be kind of bullshit to merely drop them into an already ridiculously stacked Coastal.

Finally, I don't get into politics here for a reason, but I'd like you to know that the Canadian pipeline is alive and well, regardless of what the President says.  This one sends big football players to Charlottesville instead of oil to Texas, though.  The Sabre's Good Ol' Blog is reporting (via the Ottawa Citizen) that Trent Corney is UVA's first 2013 commitment.  Technically, Corney is a grayshirt, meaning he'll graduate high school this year, spend a semester at FUMA, and show up in the spring of 2013.  For recruiting board purposes that makes him an early-enrolling 2013 guy.  My thoughts on grayshirting are not happy thoughts, but the difference between this and the way Nick Saban and Les Miles do it - which is to spring it on a kid at literally the last possible minute so he doesn't have a chance to look elsewhere - is the difference between tapping another bumper parallel parking, and plowing your car into a kindergarten classroom.

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