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Game Preview: at Pittsburgh

The third time is the charm? This is the third time this season that Florida State has been scheduled to play at Pittsburgh, with the first two times being delayed due to COVID issues on Florida State’s side. Now the team is in Pitt and ready to exorcise some demons, because the Petersen Event Center has not been kind to the ‘Noles.

Had this game been played a month ago, there’s an argument Pitt would be favored following two wins over Syracuse and one over Duke. Since then, they’ve lost 6 of their last 7, but that one win was one over Virginia Tech. Florida State has lost 4 straight and is overall 1-8 all time at Pitt. Something has to give.

This game will be live at 4pm EST on ACCNX/Fox Sports South from the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, PA.

Pittsburgh Panthers (9-8, 5-7) Breakdown

This is a big game for Pitt. At one point they were in the conversation as one of the four or five best teams in the conference, but that was before people realized Duke wasn’t any good and Pitt then lost 6 of their next 7. That one win being against Virginia Tech is reason enough to be focused heading into this. Now, Pitt sits 11th in ACC standings. They’re desperate for a win, and a win against a team like Florida State would be mightily impressive. Their last game against NC State was a good film study, as NC State plays a very similar type of ball to FSU, just with a lot less talent.

Pitt… isn’t great. On either side of the ball. They’re pretty versatile on where they get their shots from, but aren’t efficient in any facet: 21.9% of possessions are spot-ups, 16.7% transition, 14.3% PnR ball handler, 11.1% cuts, and 9.3% offensive rebounding. The biggest ones to worry about are transition, where they get 19.3% of their points, and offensive rebounding. This is a team that relentlessly attacks the glass, and FSU will have to be dialed in like they were against UNC to limit the rebounding.

The biggest thing with their offense is they get to the free throw line a lot. 21.5 FTA per game is 51st nationally, and their free throw rate of 36.6% is 63rd nationally. Their ability to attack the glass gets them a couple extra chances, so FSU will have to play smart defense without fouling, and try to keep drivers out of the lane.

Defensively, they’re mostly a man-to-man team, but play a decent amount of 2-3 zone due to their limited depth, but allow 0.888 points per possession, which is in the bottom half of the country. They’re elite in spot-up defense, in the 99th percentile, allowing just 0.711 PPP. Everywhere else, they’re below the 20th percentile. It’s one of those defenses that if you allow them to stand still, they’re good at reacting, but if you get them moving, like in a ball screen or in transition, you’re likely going to score.

Justin Champagnie leads the way, and he is a real dude. If the season were to end today, he’s winning ACC Player of the Year, as he leads the conference in both scoring AND rebounding. Despite being just 6’6″ and listed as a guard, he’s actually a tremendous post player, scoring 1.024 PPP in the post. He’s not much of a shot creator for himself, with most of his shots coming on cuts, but he’s one of those off-ball movers that can get you in trouble fast if you lose sight of him. FSU will have to be aware of his whereabouts with their switching scheme.

Xavier Johnson is their best shot creator, leading the team in assists, but can be pretty loose with the ball. Average shooter, but is dangerous when he gets downhill with a full head of steam and is really good in transition. FSU’s goal will be to keep him off of the free throw line, he has scored half of his career points against Florida State at the free throw line.

Au’Diese Toney has taken a massive step forward from last season, jumping from 9.5 PPG to 14.4 PPG. Most of that comes from being more aggressive and getting to the free throw line more, but he’s also a really good rebounder for his size. This game will be a good test for Florida State’s wings to make sure they’re boxing out on every possession.

Ithiel Horton is their best perimeter shooter, shooting 37.4% from outside, and 65.2% of his shots come from outside. He takes the most 3s of anyone on the team. A lot of these guys are respectable shooters, but he’s the most dangerous and the one you really have to close out quickly.

No one else scares me on this team. Karim Coulibaly is just a big body, Femi Odukale is an ok secondary creator, Nike Sibande is a solid shooter but not anything lethal, and Williams Jeffress is just another big body.

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

Pitt Produces: 72.2/38.6 (12.6/25.9)/15.6/6.1/3.5/12.6/17.2          43.5/32.8/66.9

Pitt Allows: 69.8/33.6 (9.4/24.2)/16.1/6.2/4.2/12.8/18.2          43.4/31.7/69.4

Player Stats

#11 Justin Champagnie 18.7/11.5/1.6/1.2/1.2/1.3/1.7          51.2/34.5/70.8

#5 Au’Diese Toney 14.4/5.9/2.3/1.3/0.1/2.4/2.1                  46.4/34.0/66.7

#1 Xavier Johnson 14.1/3.4/5.9/1.3/0.1/3.3/3.1                  42.3/32.4/79.1

#0 Ithiel Horton 9.8/2.4/1.7/0.4/0.2/1.1/1.6                       40.4/37.4/80.0

#12 Karim Coulibaly 5.2/4.2/0.9/0.6/0.9/0.8/3.1              52.2/25.0/76.2

#2 Femi Odukale 4.6/2.1/1.9/0.7/0.1/1.5/1.3                      41.8/18.8/43.2

#24 Williams Jeffress 2.2/2.6/0.7/0.5/0.1/0.3/1.1            22.0/13.3/50.0

#16 Florida State Seminoles (12-3, 8-2) Breakdown

Florida State’s offense was on another level Monday night. They were already really good this season, having the best offense under Coach Hamilton since he got to Tallahassee, but an offensive rating of 130.8 against Virginia is absurd. The previous highest offensive rating against Virginia that FSU had posted prior (dating back to 2002, when KemPon started) was 119.4 in 2006. Still not satisfied? 130.8 is the 3rd highest offensive rating Virginia has given up tp ANYONE since the start of the 2015 season, a period in which Virginia is a combined 141-36. FSU now sits 8th this season in offensive rating, 8th in 3pt%, 36th in PPG, 13th in offensive rebound %, and 29th in eFG%. This team is a nightmare of opposing defenses. Also, Balsa Koprivica posted an offensive rating of 226 against Virginia. 226. I have no words.

MJ Walker is 7 points away from 1,000 career points. Walker’s development has been a joy to watch over his time in Tallahassee; he went from hyped-but-raw prospect, coming off of the bench, battled through inconsistencies and nagging injuries, then emerges this season as the go-to scorer and a lethal shooter. He still has plenty of time this season to further cement his status in FSU Basketball lore, but he’s been vastly underrated these last few seasons.

FSU will need some help if they want to win the ACC regular season championship. While they share the same amount of losses and own the head to head against Virginia, it’s going by win percentage this year and Virginia has played more conference games due to fewer COVID postponements. Because of that, FSU would essentially need to win out and hope Virginia drops one. Here is Virginia’s remaining schedule: at Duke, NC State, Miami, at Louisville. Louisville will be a toss up, but the rest should be easy wins for Virginia. Then there’s Florida State’s schedule: at Pitt, at Miami, at UNC, Boston College, at Notre Dame. 4 out of 5 games to finish the season on the road is a really tough finish, even if some of the teams there aren’t all that tough themselves. The ‘Noles will have to be on their A-game to close out this stretch.

A great way to start on your A-game is to get revenge against Pitt. Playing in their place has been a tough place to be at for FSU, even for a team like last year that could’ve won a national championship. FSU lost 63-61 last season after Trent Forrest missed a look at the end, and FSU was swamped down with foul trouble. Balsa Koprivica fouled out in 6 minutes of playing time, both Malik Osborne and RaiQuan Gray fouled out, Dominik Olejniczak was out with a leg injury, and MJ Walker was only able to play 16 minutes with 4 fouls. Their depth and rotations hadn’t quite been figured out with it being the first game of the season, and only 7 played played double-digit minutes. I don’t see the depth being as much of an issue this time around.

Injury Report

Florida State “should” be healthy. Balsa Koprivica was able to come off of the bench last game and give FSU some quality minutes. He was the only one dealing with any kind of injury.

John Hugley, one of their main depth pieces, is out indefinitely after being suspended by the school after he was charged with 3 felonies.

Femi Odukale suffered a leg injury in their last game against NC State, but was able to return to the game. He may be limited in some capacity but should play.

Projected Starters

Pittsburgh

G: Xavier Johnson

G: Ithiel Horton

G: Au’Diese Toney

G: Justin Champagnie

F: Karim Coulibaly

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: MJ Walker

F: Wyatt Wilkes

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Balsa Koprivica

Keys to the Game

Foul Trouble

The best way to beat Florida State is to slow the game down by getting to the free throw line over and over. In the last three games of FSU at Pitt, the Panthers have 99 total free throw attempts, an average of 33 per game. This year isn’t much different for Pitt, they’re 21.2 FTA per game is 51st nationally, their free throw rate of 36.6% is 64th nationally, and 20% of all of their points this season have come from the free throw line (to compare, FSU has 18.7% of their points coming from the free throw line). If FSU can stay out of foul trouble and defend smartly at the rim, they take away a major portion of Pitt’s offense.

Part of staying out of foul trouble include rebounding the ball well. Pitt is one of the better rebounding teams in the country, ranking 47th in RPG, 25th in ORBs per game, 47th in total rebound rate, and 29th in offensive rebound rate. Florida State is just ahead of Pitt in both of those facets, but they haven’t played a team quite like Pitt that relentlessly attacks the glass.

Justin Champagnie vs RaiQuan Gray

This is going to be a sight to behold. Yes, Gray will switch off as the possessions progress, but this is a key matchup. They just limited two potential ACC POTY in Sam Hauser and Jay Huff, and now get the favorite as we stand in late February in Champagnie. If you can limit him, which… good luck, you’ll stand a great chance in this game. Champagnie has been in double figures scoring in every single game this year, and has had a double-double in 10 of the 15 games he’s appeared in. All of this at 6’6″. Gray and the rest of Florida State’s defense will be a tough test for him.

Killer Mentality

If FSU wants to win the ACC regular season championship, they almost have to win out. There is no room for a mishap, and they’re going to have to come out with the same energy they had against Virginia every single game. No lapses. Beating a Pitt team that has given even our best teams issues in the past is a great way to have that mentality. A lot of times, it’s difficult for teams to get up for these lesser opponents in the ACC on the road, but there’s plenty of reason to get up for this game.

Game Prediction

Florida State opened as a 5.5-point favorite, with an o/u of 146.

This will be a tough one. FSU has almost no road game experience this year, but I think this will be a team hungry to prove themselves. Pitt is struggling to find themselves and is desperate for any win to get their momentum back on track. I went back and forth on this one a lot, but eventually just chose to rode the momentum.

FSU 74-69.


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