Friday, January 18, 2013
game preview: Florida State
Date/Time: Saturday, January 19; 4:00
TV: ACC Net., ESPN3
Record against the Noles: 17-19
Last meeting: FSU 63, UVA 60; 3/1/12, Charlottesville
Last game: Clem. 59, UVA 44 (1/12), UNC 77, FSU 72 (1/12)
UVA: 60.4 (#341)
FSU: 69.6 (#63)
UVA: 102.2 (#130)
FSU: 108.2 (#46)
UVA: 87.7 (#18)
FSU: 96.0 (#112)
UVA: .8270 (#52)
FSU: .7731 (#71)
PG: Jontel Evans (2.6 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.3 apg)
SG: Paul Jesperson (4.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.3 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (15.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.4 apg)
PF: Evan Nolte (6.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (12.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.8 apg)
PG: Montay Brandon (5.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.8 apg)
SG: Terry Whisnant (7.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.8 apg)
G: Michael Snaer (15.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.6 apg)
F: Okaro White (13.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 0.7 apg)
C: Kiel Turpin (3.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.5 apg)
A week off in the ACC basketball season is as good as a bye week, and it came at a good time for the Hoos. They suffered a couple unsettling losses, but the season is by no means lost, and there's still time to right the ship and work their way into the tournament. They'd do well to seize the opportunity, since there won't be another one this year. The rest of the season is two games a week. FSU is coming off a similar off week, so the advantage against the opponent will be limited, but it's an opportunity nonetheless.
If there were any way of knowing which members of this team will be togged up and ready to go, that'd make things easier on me, but Tony Bennett is quietly developing a reputation for stinginess when it comes to injury information. At least Florida State will be in the same predicament as I am, trying to figure out what exactly to prepare for. Darion Atkins probably won't play, if I read the tea leaves right. Akil Mitchell - I guess probably will. Chances are that someone else stepped into the Hoos' secret ankle-breaking machine this week, but I guess we'll see. I'm writing this with the assumption that Atkins is unavailable, and that Evan Nolte will start in his place, but I'm not a mind-reader and I don't know what Bennett is thinking. The man is inscrutable.
-- UVA on offense
This is where the last two games have been lost. The shooting's gone cold and the point guard play against Clemson (that's code for "Jontel Evans") was atrocious. Evans has been made aware of the need to "take care of the ball," yes. The problem, I suspect, is that he was already aware of that need and played over-the-edge cautiously as a result. And that in turn was disastrous.
We're dangerously close to the territory that we've become familiar with over the past few years of basketball previews. That territory essentially is that it doesn't matter what I write if a few shots don't fall. Nothing matters if you can't get people to respect your jump shots, and right now, there isn't much reason to respect UVA's. That, naturally, means Joe Harris, Evan Nolte, Paul Jesperson. The need is even more paramount with one of UVA's post weapons sidelined. Akil Mitchell is the only Hoo that's played consistently well on offense in the past couple games, but he could be neutralized if FSU can key in on him as the only post threat on the floor.
They have ways of making it happen, too. The Noles have no fewer than three seven-footers on the roster, two of which exist in the rotation. Kiel Turpin starts at center, and 7'3" Boris Bojanovsky gets about as many minutes as Turpin. That's not that much, fortunately; FSU will go for long stretches without either on the floor, but both, as you'd expect, are excellent shot-blockers. Another factor here is forward Okaro White, who isn't quite Bernard James but plays an aggressive brand of defense that's led to 23 blocked shots this year and also to fouling out of three games. Ultimately, though, FSU as a team blocks almost 14% of opponent shots; they're 25th in the country in that regard.
It would be nice if the Hoos can stretch the floor and nullify the likely advantage the Noles will have in the paint, because otherwise we're asking Mitchell to do the work of three. An occasional dropped-in jump shot from Mike Tobey, who isn't shy about taking them, would help here. Failing that, UVA might look to try and get White and Terrence Shannon into foul trouble, as both are prone to it. Shannon averages more than five fouls per 40 minutes, which is Jeff Allen territory.
There will be an extra onus on Evans and Teven Jones, as well: FSU's monstrous point guards. Backup Devin Bookert is tall enough at 6'3"; their starter, who Evans will have to deal with, is 6'7" Montay Brandon. I'm sure I've never written a game preview for a team with a 6'7" point guard. You'd think this guy would be all over the top of every steals list in the world, but in fact he's got just two all season; still, I worry that just his sheer size will complicate things for Evans.
Overall, FSU's defense has fallen off sharply from last year, when they were one of the nation's elite. That's true no longer, but they're still respectable. The only thing they do badly, for whatever reason, is rebound; they're 304th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, but since we've (likely) lost our second-best offensive rebounder and Tony Bennett prefers not to crash the offensive glass, there's probably not much we can do about that. Just make it moot, I guess, by hitting shots.
-- UVA on defense
Where FSU's defense has slipped, their offense has taken up the slack. The main threat: three-point shooting. Florida State's percentage as a team is .391, which is good for 17th in the country. They've got four players hitting on better than 40%, and in volume sufficient enough to be worrisome: Michael Snaer, Okaro White, Devin Bookert, and Terry Whisnant.
Snaer is FSU's go-to guy, with White not that far behind. Snaer is kind of a volume scorer inside the arc, shooting less than 40% from two, but he's a versatile guy who draws a ton of fouls and not to be taken lightly. White is relatively low-usage for a team's second-leading scorer, but usage rate includes turnovers, and White takes care of the ball very well, especially for a forward. These two are giving FSU a potent scoring punch that is dangerous from most anywhere on the court.
Terrance Shannon can also score - strictly down low, he lacks White's versatility - but he'll also be one to contend with. But FSU's frontcourt is otherwise thin on scoring options, something of a blessing for our thin front line. Neither Kiel Turpin nor Boris Bojanovsky play enough minutes to do anything more than chip in here and there. And the entire frontcourt, White included, has a very low assist rate - in other words, once the ball goes in, it tends not to come out.
At point, the Seminoles rely on a pair of freshman. Montay Brandon starts, Devin Bookert comes off the bench, but they split the minutes about evenly. If not for that I might suggest that Bookert's superior play comes from playing against bench players himself. Perhaps it does, but at any rate, there's almost nothing on the stat sheet that Brandon does better. His assist rate is barely half his turnover rate (though Bookert also turns the ball over too much.) Bookert has been the superior three-point shooter, hitting on more than half his attempts, and Brandon is an atrocious free-throw shooter. The only place where Brandon is better is two-point shooting percentage, and small wonder at that; Brandon probably posts everyone up who tries to guard him. It wouldn't surprise me, though, if at some point this season there's a change of the guard here.
The rest of the Seminole backcourt consists of complementary pieces to the scoring of Snaer and White. Terry Whisnant is a deadly shooter and hasn't missed a free throw all year. (I await your actions, gods of the jinx.) Aaron Thomas is a sound player for the most part, except for his miserable three-point shooting. (If not for his 4-for-22 performance this year, FSU would be another 10 or so places higher in the ranking, moving them into the top ten, easily.) Ian Miller has been limited by a foot injury this year (amazing - it doesn't only happen to us) and has given way in the scoring department somewhat to Snaer and White and various others, but he's a guy who doesn't do anything badly, either.
To take advantage of FSU on this end of the floor, UVA needs to mercilessly hound the Seminoles' freshman points, who've been known to be free and easy with the ball. Their frontcourt, particularly Bojanovsky and Shannon, can also be turnover-prone. The Hoos must beware that FSU doesn't go on a three-point binge, which can change the flow of the game in a very bad way. With a thin frontcourt, they'll need to also stay out of foul trouble; hard to do, because the Noles draw fouls very well. UVA has defended better teams before, so it's not like this is an insurmountable task, but three-point shooting teams have a way of bailing themselves out of bad situations.
Perhaps our best hope is the youthful inconsistency that dogs all teams that rely so heavily on underclassmen. That, and the friendly confines where the game will be played. Like UVA, FSU has lost to some bad teams this year; South Alabama, Mercer, and Auburn show up as the Seminole equivalent of UVA's CAA blemishes. Common opponents are no use as a comparison: FSU beat Clemson at Clemson and lost to UNC at home.
I have a hard time predicting a win, though. Maybe I'm snakebit by watching the offense perform the last two times out. This is truly an anything-can-happen kind of game, what with the week off and the plethora of freshmen that'll take the court for both sides and the inconsistent results both of these teams have put on their resume so far. I don't have a great feeling about it, though. If we do lose, as predicted, it means I'm a genius and I told you so; if we win, you can just chalk it up to me trying to shake off a jinx, OK?
Final score: FSU 69, UVA 59