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Game Preview: at Virginia Tech

Florida State saw their 10-game winning streak come to an end on the road this past Tuesday against the Virginia Cavaliers and now get to go back to the state of Virginia against to play the Virginia Tech Hokies.

The Hokies are in their first season under Mike Young after Buzz Williams left for Texas A&M this offseason, and most of the key players in that rotation from a season ago departed. Despite those departures, Virginia Tech has surprised a lot of people this season, beating Michigan State earlier in the season and treading water in a death machine that is the middle of the ACC.

This game will be on Fox Sports/ACCNX at 4pm in Blacksburg, Virginia.


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Virginia Tech Breakdown

The Hokies enter the game at 14-7 (5-5), and are reminiscent of a team Florida State just saw- Notre Dame. VT shoots a ton of 3s, doesn’t foul a lot, rarely turns it over, and isn’t a great free-throw shooting team. The main difference is Virginia Tech is nowhere near as efficient offensively but is a much better team defensively.

Entering this game against the ‘Noles, the Hokies are 1st in the conference in both makes and attempts from distance, but making them at a 33.1% clip, which is middle of the road in the conference.

This is an extremely young team (5 of their top 6 scorers are freshmen); for them to be as solid as they are is enlightening for Coach Mike Young since none of these guys are projected one-and-done’s. They are going to be a tough test now, and are only going to be better the more experience they get under their belt.

Leading the way is Landers Nolley II, who is averaging 17.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 2.6 APG on a 40.6/36.7/78.9 shooting split. He has the ball in his hands a lot, which makes sense given his 3.0 turnovers per game.

Nolley is their only scorer in double figures, but they have a few guys close to it in Naheim Alleyne (9.5 PPG) and Tyrece Radford (9.0 PPG) and have a ton of shooters above 35% from 3: Nolley II (36.7%), Alleyne (40.7%), Jalen Cone (53.8%, yes that’s correct), PJ Horne (35.1%), and Hunter Cattoor (39.2%).

Radford, despite being 6’2″, is also the team’s leading rebounder. The lack of size throughout the roster is something to note; their usual starting 5 has no one taller than 6’7″, but it helps when their 5-man (Horne) can stretch out to 3.

They want to shoot a ton of 3s, but if Florida State can run them off of the line, they have a great chance of winning the game, as they shoot under 49% from inside the arc and are bottom-30 in attempts inside the arc. With the new coach coming from Wofford, this isn’t too surprising.

Defensively, they’re pretty solid despite their youth; top-45 in opponent scoring at 63.3 PPG, top-100 in opponent 3-point% at 31.0%, and for some reason, teams can’t make free throws against them as teams are shooting 65.7% from the charity stripe.

Just as they don’t turn the ball over much (9.8 TPG), they also don’t turn other teams over a lot (12.4 TPG). Florida State has made a habit of making disciplined teams really undisciplined with the ball, so whether or not this continues will be a huge factor in this game.

Florida State Breakdown

The ‘Noles started running a new Horns set (ball handler top of the key, two offensive players standing on lane line extended allowing for the ball-handler to have a ball screen either way he went), that gave two ball screens, as Forrest would go one way on a screen, before coming back across the key and getting another ball screen. Florida State was able to get a few good looks off it, and I expect it to continue heading into this matchup with the Hokies.

Devin Vassell continues his great stretch, coming off of a game where he scored 17 points against the best defense in the country and is averaging 17.2 PPG over his last 5 games. He has emerged as a go-to scorer for this team, and I expect more plays to be drawn up for him when needing a basket.

Forrest and MJ Walker are still both scoring in double figures as well. Rebounding has been the biggest issue for Florida State this season, but VT has an even lower rebounding rate than FSU so far; it shouldn’t be too much of a factor in this game.

Injury Report

Florida State

No update has been given on Patrick Williams and his sprained toe – I would say he is questionable.

Virginia Tech

Jonathan Kabongo suffered a back injury before the season, and while there was originally hope he could return during ACC play, he was ruled out for the season a couple of weeks ago.

Projected Starting Lineups

Florida State

G: Trent Forrest

G: MJ Walker

G: Devin Vassell

F: RaiQuan Gray

F: Malik Osborne

Virginia Tech

G: Wabissa Bede

G: Tyrece Radford

G: Naheim Alleyne

G: Landers Nolley II

F: PJ Horne

Keys to the Game

Run Virginia Tech Off of the 3-Point Line

This game is going to feature a lot of switching 1-5 from Florida State (something I know a lot of fans aren’t real happy) to avoid easy 3s being given up. VT would rather hoist up contested shots than get easy looks at the rim, so whether they stick to their guns and fire away or actually take those easy chances is going to be a huge factor.

There’s a lot of pressure on Florida State perimeter defenders today – Forrest, Walker, Anthony Polite, Vassell, RayQuan Evans, and to some extent RaiQuan Gray – to stay in passing lanes and limit the easy looks. I’m sure VT is watching film from the last few games thinking they can get a switch onto Malik Osborne and take advantage of him as well, but I don’t think their guards are as quick as Virginia’s Kihei Clark or Miami’s Chris Lykes.

Control the Glass

With neither team being a great rebounding team, FSU can’t let Virginia Tech get extra possessions or out-muscle them. VT’s usual starting 5 is small, and they only have one true big on the roster. There are going to be some long rebounds that FSU will have to chase after given how many 3s Virginia Tech takes. Giving the extra effort to chase after those boards (which can lead to easy transition opportunities), will be a huge factor.

Limit Lander Nolley II

You’re very rarely going to completely shut out an opposing team’s top player from a game. Nolley has a 34% usage rate, which means more than a third of VT’s possessions feature Nolley while he’s on the floor. They’re going to do whatever they can to get him the ball. What Florida State does to make him give it up is going to be key – whether it’s double-teaming, stunting, or giving him the Ja Morant/Jordan Nwora treatment and completely shutting out everyone else. Make his options limited, and don’t give him the opportunity to feel like he’s in control of the game

Prediction

Florida State opened as 3.5-point favorites, with the over/under set at around 134. Both of those are in line with where I expect the game to be; the o/u might be a little high, but I could absolutely see both teams having great offensive performances coming off of two stinkers.

Both teams need a win here. FSU is looking to avoid losing consecutive games, while Virginia Tech is looking to avoid losing their third straight while gaining a huge resume-building win. After this game, the Hokies only have 2-3 Quadrant 1 games remaining, so a win here would be huge for their tournament hopes.

I like Florida State to win in a very tightly contested game, 68-66. Someone will have to step up and hit free throws down the stretch.


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