Florida State heads to Tobacco Road

After helping lead Florida State to an 88-72 statement win over the #7 Duke Blue Devils, Xavier Rathan-Mayes made it clear that the Seminoles were for real at his postgame press conference.

“We’re pretty freakin’ good if we haven’t proven that already.”

Now, the 16-1 Seminoles are in for another test as they travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to take on the #11 North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday, January 14 at 2 p.m. The game will be shown nationally on ESPN.

Florida State hasn’t won at North Carolina in over six years but the Noles are looking to change that. FSU went on the road to a hostile environment and upset Virginia 60-58 after Dwayne Bacon drilled a go-ahead three with 2.8 seconds to play. It was just the second loss in their previous 37 ACC home games for the Virginia Cavaliers.

However, none of the players believe they’ll win this game easily. In fact, the Tar Heels atmosphere behind over 21,000 fans will probably be even more raucous than the one they faced in Virginia.

Florida State is off to their best start in ACC Conference play in school history after winning their first four league games. At 16-1, the Seminoles are also off to their best start under head coach Leonard Hamilton.

FSU is averaging 86.7 points per game as a team while shooting 50.8% from the field and 37.4% from three point range. The Noles are led Dwayne Bacon, who’s averaging 17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game on 47.6% shooting from the field and 37.5% from deep. Projected NBA lottery pick Jonathan Isaac is putting up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game on efficient shooting (51.8% from the field, 35% from three). Xavier Rathan-Mayes has been coming on strong since ACC play began. In his first four conference games he’s averaging 14.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and four assists per game. Mayes has also improved on his shooting percentages. He’s shooting 53.1% from the field, 43% from deep and 70.4% from the line. All upticks in what he’d been shooting throughout the nonconference slate.

In total, the Seminoles have 11 players averaging double-figures in minutes per game, PJ Savoy just misses the cut on this list at 9.4 minutes per game. That’s almost 12 players who are consistently getting on the court and they all are contributing to FSU’s success. Now the Noles depth will be put to the test by an opponent that also has 11 players averaging double-figures in minutes per game.

North Carolina is currently 15-3 overall and 3-1 in conference play. The Tar Heels are averaging 89.3 points per game while shooting 47.6% from the field and 37.4% from long range. They’re led by junior forward Justin Jackson. Jackson is averaging 17.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. He’s their top option on offense and he is very talented. Jackson can score down low and is making almost 40% of his triples. Joel Berry is putting up 15.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He’s also North Carolina’s top three point shooter at 42.2%. Berry is averaging 2.4 made three’s per game, Florida State is going to need to try and hold him in check defensively.

As I stated above, the Tar Heels roll out a deep rotation just like the Seminoles. They have four players who score in double figures per game and 11 who play double figures in minutes per game. North Carolina will be without Tony Bradley, who is one of their top reserve forwards. Bradley is still in the midst of recovering from a concussion.

Projected Starters:

– Florida State

PG: Xavier Rathan-Mayes

G: Dwayne Bacon

G: Terance Mann

F: Jonathan Isaac

C: Michael Ojo

– North Carolina

G: Joel Berry II

G: Kenny Williams

F: Justin Jackson

F: Isaiah Hicks

F: Kennedy Meeks

Prediction: It’s going to be a war for 40 minutes, especially between two teams who are so talented and deep. The key to this game for Florida State is going to be defense. The Seminoles have to continue to exhibit the level of defense that they have shown through the season so far. They are putting more pressure on opponents, usually playing tight against their man throughout each possession. We’ve also seen the Noles press after made baskets which in turn forces the opposing team to take time to navigate through the pressure and have shorter possessions on offense.

FSU also needs to force turnovers, it’s clear that this team is at its best when they get the chance to run in transition. I’m going with the momentum, the Noles win a tight game in Chapel Hill and put themselves in the conversation for a Top-5 ranking.

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