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Game Preview: at Louisville

In a quick turnaround following an impressive win over UNC, Florida State now plays just two days later on the road at Louisville. Both teams will be coming off of just one day of rest, but the timing of when they played on Saturday really favors FSU (which I will talk about shortly). Louisville lost a ton from a really good team a season ago, but brought in someone who would likely be ACC Player of the Year if the season ended today in Carlik Jones.

The Cardinals are coming off of a horrific loss against a Miami team that only had 7 available players, and just simply outplayed UL in all facets. Jones had a good game, but outside of him it was fairly underwhelming. They couldn’t make a 3 and were outrebounded for the 3rd game this season. They’ll be motivated to not lose 2 in a row this early into conference play, but also motivated to not lose for a 4th straight time against Florida State (Chris Mack has yet to beat FSU since he got to Louisville).

This game is a part of ESPN’s Big Monday, between two teams that REALLY do not like each other, and will be live at 7pm from the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Louisville Cardinals (9-2, 4-1) Breakdown

The Cardinals played Saturday at 8pm at Miami, the furthest place away from their own arena they could’ve played (923 miles; next closest is Boston College at 817 miles). Game ended around 10pm, and if they follow the same kind of schedule Florida State does, it probably looked something like this: leave the arena around 10:45 or 11:00 after guys get time to shower, eat, do media, etc. load the bus and drive 30sh minutes to the airport, load the plane and get ready for takeoff, so they probably don’t takeoff until around midnight, 2-hour to 2-and-a-half hour flight to Louisville, land and drive 30sh minutes back to the basketball facilities. They’re likely not back in their apartments until 3am and fall asleep sometime after that.

They still haven’t had time to get treatment outside of basic ice packs right after the game, and likely didn’t get any until Sunday afternoon, after they’d all gotten some rest, which is almost impossible to get enough sleep for this kind of timetable. Keep this in mind when we compare it to Florida State’s in the next section of the preview.

Louisville already plays a slow pace of ball, ranking bottom-75 in tempo (66.5 possessions per 40 minutes), and with a quick turnaround, it wouldn’t surprise me if they want to slow it down even more to force Florida State out of their rhythm. They also rank top-10 in KenPom’s luck rating (for comparison, FSU is 101st). They’ve had three teams shoot below 50% from the free throw line in their game, something Louisville has no impact on, which probably factors into that luck rating. KenPom doesn’t even really like Louisville: 31st overall, 34th offense, 40th defense.

The defensive ranking is probably the most surprising considering Louisville is top-75 nationally in the following defensive statistics: PPG (52nd- 64.4), FG% (52nd- 39.8), Opp. True Shooting % (61st- 49.7%), and Opp. EffectiveFG% (73rd- 46.5%). They’ve also had the widest variety in teams played so far this season from really tough (Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Seton Hall) to absolute breezes (Evansville, Kentucky, Prairie View, Western Kentucky, Wake Forest). It’s been tough to get a real sense of what this team is, but I’m going to do my best.

Here’s a breakdown of shot attempts: Spot-ups (25.4%), PnR Ball Handler (18.0%), Transition (14.3%), Cuts (8.9%). I usually don’t include anything under 10%, but that’s an abnormally high rate for possessions from cuts. Louisville does do a fantastic of cutting off-ball, something they’ll do a lot against a Florida State team that love to play up on the line. They love doing these space the floor, pass away, back screen for the passer to try and get a look at the rim.

They’re also fantastic at dumping off to the guy sitting under the rim when they’re able to get inside the lane, which is something FSU’s natural defense usually takes care of. The way Florida State’s defense collapses on paint and baseline drives, Louisville won’t get many chances like the one below.

This team is actually horrible on spot-up chances, scoring just 0.773 PPP, bottom 10% nationally, and shooting a disgusting 30.2% on these chances. They’re good to great everywhere though: top-25% in PnR Ball Handler (0.819 PPP) and cuts (1.27 PPP), and a blistering top-7% in transition (1.21 PPP). Florida State has been excellent at allowing no easy layups the last few season. Does that continue in this game?

What is more likely to happen is what Louisville did in the game against FSU last year, where they just get a high pick-and-roll, getting the switch, and going 1-on-1 with whoever switches out to end in a lot of long 2s. It wasn’t sustainable gameplan last year, although it did work in the first half, and it wouldn’t be this year either.

Defensively, they don’t force a ton of turnovers or block many shots, they just sink in a force teams to take tough looks. They’re one of the best in the country on spot-up defense, sitting top-10% at 0.768 PPP allowed. With a team as “small” and athletic as they are, they recover to shooters fast, and they want you to try and shoot over the top of them. They’re about as average as it gets in transition defense. Where they’re bad is in ball screen defense, allowing 0.991 PPP. There are only 9 teams in all of Division 1 Basketball that allow more points per possession on ball screens than Louisville, and newsflash, Florida State runs a TON of ball screens.

I mean, this is abysmal defense. This set Wake Forest ran is called a Horns set. FSU hasn’t ran it yet this season, but has in the past few seasons, and I know it’s in the playbook. Will they break it out in this game? Maybe. Maybe not. At the very least, expect roughly a billion ball screens, and our guards will need to come straight downhill off of them.

This team is led in almost every single stat by Carlik Jones, a transfer from Radford, who is the only player in the ACC who is Top-15 in PPG, RPG, and APG. For someone 6’1″, he’s a dynamic 3-level scorer that can get his shot off over just about anyone. In the past two games against Wake Forest and Miami, Jones was the only player to get up more than 10 shots (20 attempts in each game). This is one of those head of the snake scenarios where if you can limit him (cut the head off the snake), the rest of the team goes with it. He’s only been below 15 points once this season, an 11-point outing against a Pitt team that if they’d had shown any life on offense, might’ve won. Jones plays an insane 37.2 minutes per game, so if FSU could force him into foul trouble somehow (not likely, but hey, one can wish), it would effect the whole game.

David Johnson was inconsistent his freshman season, but started showing some flashes towards the end. This season he started off hot, including a 7 game stretch where he scored 12+ points in each game. These last two games though, he’s scored just 5 points in each game, dipping his scoring output from 14.7 PPG to 12.9 in just two games, but still contributed as a distributor. Two point guard lineups is the direction college basketball is going to end up going towards (at least in my opinion), because you can have two true primary ball-handlers that can beat a press in case one struggles. Going against a team like Florida State that has so many different bodies to throw at these two is going to be something to watch and see if they can handle it. Johnson and Jones are responsible for 44% of all of Louisville’s shot attempts, and both have usage rates above 22%. Johnson also plays an insane amount of minutes at 34.4 per game. Best shooter by a healthy margin of anyone on the team.

Jae’Lyn Withers is a scrappy, do-it-all player, much in the mold of Malik Osborne. The leading rebounder on the team, he can also stretch the floor a little bit. FSU would definitely prefer he shoot rather than stay around the rim. He has the biggest differential between offensive rating and defensive rating, speaking to his versatility when he’s on the floor.

Dre Davis is… fine. Good off-ball cutter and plays well within the system, but he’s not someone that scares me at all. Naturally, he has the lowest Box +/- of the starters, so at least my instincts match up the analytics. He’ll give consistent effort, but is a poor shooter and has the worst defensive rating by a wide margin of any of the consistent rotation guys. He does lead the team in offensive rebounds, so he’s someone you have to get a body on when a shot goes up.

Samuell Williamson is a lot of the same as Withers, but he’s not as good of an offensive player; he actually has the lowest offensive rating of anyone that gets consistent minutes, and the second lowest of anyone that’s registered minutes for Louisville. Great defender, posting the second best defensive rating on the team, and is another really good rebounder for his size.

For their bench guys, Quinn Slazinski can come in, grab some rebounds, and play some solid defense. Other than that, he’s not much. Same goes for JJ Traynor, who leads the team in blocked shots. He does have a high 3-point percentage, but he takes less than a 3-pointer per game.

That’s it as far as their depth goes. Once they get Charles Minlend and Malik Williams fully healthy, this will be a much different and much better team, but they play just about 7 players every game, which will be tough on this quick of a turnaround.

Team Stats PPG/RPG (ORBs/DRBs)/APG/SPG/BPG/ToPG/FPG          FG%/3pt%/FT%

Louisville Produces: 71.2/37.1 (9.1/28.0)/12.3/4.8/2.4/12.4/18.4          47.3/33.0/74.8

Louisville Allows: 64.4/31.5 (9.8/21.6)/10.3/5.9/2.4/11.7/18.2          39.8/31.4/65.3

Player Stats

#1 Carlik Jones 18.0/6.2/4.9/1.3/0.1/2.3/1.5                          43.5/36.7/83.7

#13 David Johnson 12.9/5.6/4.1/0.9/0.3/3.3/2.9                  45.5/43.9/78.6

#24 Jae’lyn Withers 10.0/7.2/0.6/0.8/0.4/1.3/3.5                61.1/30.0/73.1

#14 Dre Davis 9.5/3.5/1.2/0.8/0.5/1.5/2.5                              47.4/24.1/73.5

#10 Samuell Williamson 8.9/6.2/1.2/0.4/0.2/2.2/2.9          44.6/30.4/75.0

#11 Quinn Slazinski 6.6/4.3/0.6/0.5/0.0/0.7/1.9                   46.0/24.0/80.8

#12 JJ Traynor 4.9/2.5/0.0/0.1/0.9/0.6/1.5                           52.6/42.9/64.7

Florida State Seminoles (7-2, 3-1) Breakdown

So compared to Louisville’s Saturday game, here is how FSU’s Saturday probably looked: Game at noon, ended around 2. They were able to do media, shower, and get treatment right there. Ice packs, cold and hot tub, leg compressions, stim treatments (if they’re needed), before leaving the arena to go get food. By the time they get back to their apartments, they’ve likely been sent their next game film, all before Louisville has even started warmups in their game. They’re able to get a good night’s rest, come into the facility in the morning to get more treatment, get a long film session in before heading to the court for free throws and a walkthrough of their gameplan and get on the plane in the early afternoon, all by about the time Louisville is just starting their prep work.

So while there isn’t a day disadvantage for either team, Florida State should be more refreshed, be a little more recovered from bumps and bruises, and had more film study heading into gameday. Most of the time, these kind of Big Monday games just come down to who has more talent and better coaching, both of which I’d give the advantage to Florida State.

One thing I’m watching for is how Florida State decides to play their bigs. I’m of the opinion we’ll see a lot of Malik Osborne in this game at the 5, since Louisville has no true big and Osborne will be able to keep up athletically. But if Balsa Koprivica shows himself as a big rim threat and FSU says “No, you’re going to play up to us instead of us playing down to you,” it’ll be really interesting to see how it works. Louisville basically only has one true big available. Withers has been admirable in that spot, especially on the glass, but I don’t think he’s a game breaker. I’d love to see Koprivica dominate down low with his skillset.

The other thing I’m looking for is if Scottie Barnes plays. What he’d provide in a game like this, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes, where he’d be such a mismatch nightmare on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he’d provide Florida State with another ball-handler that can be used to drive into lanes. Defensively, he’s another body that you can throw at Louisville’s two-headed monster and really force them into mistakes and to speed up, except he’s 6’9″ with insane length. An ideal game for Florida State looks like a lot of possessions.

Florida State currently sits at 23rd in KenPom: 13th in offense and 44th in defense. The defense will get better by the end of the season, but I think the biggest difference is opposing turnover rate. They sit at 113th right now at 18.3%. Here’s where they’ve finished the last couple of seasons going in reverse chronological order (2019 and 2018): 16th and 69th. Their ability to create turnovers last season was a huge factor in why they were such a good team and why many considered them a national championship favorite.

The Seminoles currently sit top-75 nationally in the following statistics: PointsPG (64th- 79.1), BlocksPG (17th- 5.0), FT% (57th- 74.6%), FTM (41st- 16.0), 3PT% (41st- 38.2%), FG% (74th- 46.8%), Opp2PT% (32nd- 43.8%), Off. Rating (42nd- 111.6), True Shooting % (52nd- 57.6%), Steal % (73rd- 10.8%), Block % (11th- 14.7%), EffectiveFG% (62nd- 54.0%), Off. Rebound Rate (35th- 34.5%), and FT per FGA (50th- .274). If a lot of those statistics don’t paint the picture of the effectiveness of this offense so far, an offense that’ll keep getting better, I don’t know what does.

Injury Report

Scottie Barnes will be a game-time decision with his ankle turn. He did make the trip.

MJ Walker rolled his ankle in the UNC game, but was able to come back into the game and put together a masterful performance. He was apparently a GTD with a knee injury last game, but you wouldn’t have known it.

Charles Minlend has been cleared to play for Louisville following an MCL sprain just before the season started, but played just 1 minute two games ago, and didn’t play at all against Miami. Coach Mack has said there’s still a lot of mental hurdles he has to overcome before he’s ready to play major minutes. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve just been trying to save him for this game, because they really do not like Florida State.

Big man Malik Williams will still be out with a foot injury.

Aidan Igiehon, one of the true big men on Louisville’s roster, is out with a groin injury.

Projected Starters

Louisville

G: Carlik Jones

G: David Johnson

G: Dre Davis

F: Samuell Williamson

F: Jae’lyn Withers

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: MJ Walker

G: Anthony Polite

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Balsa Koprivica

Keys to the Game

Beat ‘Em on the Boards

Louisville has been outrebounded 3 times this season: Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Miami, games in which they’re 1-2 (apparently rebounding is the only thing Kentucky is good at; they outrebounded UNC too). Miami is comparable to Florida State in rebounding, with both teams posting a rebounding rate around 53%. FSU will have a massive size advantage, especially with their guards and centers.

The blueprint for a win is there, and it starts on the glass. I’m curious to see what Florida State does with Balsa Koprivica, who was huge in the UNC game, but this is an entirely different team stylistically that they’re about to play. If Koprivica plays and is effective at taking away the paint and grabs some tough boards, I like FSU’s chances more

Rim Runs

With packline defenses, FSU will need to have effective rollers in the pick-and-roll. They’ll need to have slips, skip passes to corners and seal-offs in the paint, and lobs straight at the rim (can hear the coaches saying “THE RIM IS ALWAYS OPEN”). Outside of the ball screens, Louisville has no true rim protector; they’re one of the worst shot blocking teams in the conference and the country, and only one player on their roster averages more than 0.5 blocks per game, and that’s someone that only plays about 16 minutes per game.

Yes, the packline defense will make driving lanes close fast, so Florida State will need to be strong with the ball as they drive. Once they break that initial barrier, they’ll be able to get those kick-out 3s that they love to get, and open shots up at the rim. Wisconsin and Miami were the only two teams to have 15+ assists against Louisville, which led to both teams getting a win. Getting rim runs and playing inside-out is a great way to get those assists.

Threes Need to be Smart

With Louisville running the infamous packline defense, it forces a team to want to take more 3s than they should. Florida State’s offense became real stagnant before their two week pause because they were taking more than 30 3s per game against Clemson and Gardner-Webb. In the two games since the pause, they’ve taken 18 and 16 and shooting them at a combined 62.5%. That’s absolutely not a sustainable number, but this offense is at its best when it takes 16-22 3s per game and they’re working to get open shots with off-ball movement and making their offense play inside-out.

In Louisville’s two losses, their opposition shot 64% from 3 (Wisconsin) and 40% (Miami). Shooting above 40% from 3 is always a great milestone to shoot for and displays excellent efficiency, but if FSU gets there I think it’ll be a win.

Game Prediction

Louisville opened as a 1.5-point favorite with the o/u set at 141.

Will Florida State be able to keep up their increasing margin of victories over UL that we’ve seen the last few games? FSU went from winning by 5 in 2019, to 13 early last season, and 15 at the end of the season. I kind of doubt it; this should be a tightly contested affair featuring heavyweight punch after heavyweight punch. For betting trends, each of the last 4 games between these two have hit the over, so I expect nothing less here.

I’m of the opinion that any team predicated on guard play, like Louisville is, and doesn’t have many other threats, it plays right into Florida State’s hands. Carlik Jones is an absolute bucket getter, and he’s going to get his own. I believe David Johnson is more easy to limit though, and he’s had just 5 points in each of his last two games. Withers may score in double digits, but he only takes 6 shots per game; Jones and Johnson combine to shoot 44% of all Louisville shots. Florida State can throw so many different guys at these two players; between MJ Walker, RayQuan Evans, Anthony Polite, Scottie Barnes (if he’s healthy), Sardaar Calhoun, and even RaiQuan Gray, they can all rotate guarding these two and really try to wear them down. Louisville will already be a little more worn down given their lack of depth and later playing time Saturday night.

Because of that, I’ll take Florida State 80-72. It’s going to be a close game most of the way, but I’m more confident in Coach Hamilton, his staff, and their abilities to make adjustments during the game. If Scottie Barnes plays, even if it’s just 10-13 minutes, it’s just more time that FSU can get on Louisville’s guards to wear them down, and FSU might win by a couple more possessions.


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