Game Preview: at Virginia

With this being the second time Florida State has played Virginia, we’re changing this preview up just slightly, but it should still be extremely informative. The ‘Noles have been struggling a little the last few games despite winning and entering the Top 5 of the AP Poll, so a tough road test against the defending champions is a great way to re-establish dominance.

On January 15, Florida State beat the Cavaliers in a 54-50 game that came down to the end. FSU started great and finished great, but struggled in the middle 30 minutes, so the exact opposite of the Notre Dame game. Devin Vassell and Anthony Polite were monsters for the ‘Noles, combining for 32 of their team’s points, well more than half. For FSU to win their third straight over the Cavs, some other players will have to step up.

The game will be on ESPN at 7pm, live from John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Virginia Breakdown

Instead of listing everything out again, I will link you back to the first preview article for the home game against Virginia as nothing much has changed as far as their stats go; Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key, and Kihei Clark are still their main guys (although Tomas Woldetensae had 21 in their last outing), their offense is horrible, and their defense is stifling. They are what they are at this point.

Florida State made it their mission to get the ball out of Kihei Clark’s hands last game, and it sort of worked. Clark finished with 8 points and 5 assists, but he also coughed it up 9 times. Most of his baskets came on easy opportunities where he just got by the defense before help could come. His speed and small size make him such a tough guard.

The Cavs got some help from bench warmer Thomas Woldetensae, who made 3 of his 4 shots from deep, all in ridiculous fashion. Diakite was the real game-changer for Virginia, scoring 16 points on 8 shots, and adding 6 rebounds.

Now, let’s see what Virginia did well against Florida State the first time these two played, and see how Florida State can guard it next time. The video below is a compressed game, meaning it’s all the made field goals and highlight pays, but it still gives a nice glance of what teams do in just 9 minutes.

When Virginia got in their offense, Florida State did a great job of shutting it down. They were trailing the movers and helping off of the blockers correctly, and very rarely got beat off of it. The only time they did came off a slick slot pass from Clark to Diakite early in the 2nd half.

Most of Virginia’s points came from when the play broke down and FSU just didn’t do a great job of containing the dribble/Virginia just made tough shot/FSU didn’t rotate correctly when the play did break down. One play that sticks out for the Virginia just making tough shots is Diakite getting the ball in the right corner, driving left before posting up MJ Walker and hitting a tough turnaround fade. Stuff like that is hard to guard, and there’s not much more FSU can do there. Another play came with about 7:36 remaining in the first half, when Key drove left from the top of the key, the Florida State defender did exactly what he’s told by walling straight up, helpside defense came, Key just made a tough layup over two FSU defenders. The ‘Noles not having a true towering defensive presence in the middle is going to bring some of this, although having Koprivica back should help with that.

For the not containing off of the dribble, there were numerous plays in the first half where a Virginia guard would just isolate a ‘Nole and win off of the dribble, and no help side defense would come. This is one of the few minor tweaks I expect to come from this scout from the coaching staff, a little more emphasis on help defense to stop some of these easier looks at the rim. A lot of these are effort plays, like Virginia chasing down a long rebound before taking it in for an easy layup. That’s the FSU not rotating correctly. Another example came early in the second half where Clark drove baseline, kicked it to the corner, who kicked it back inside immediately to Key and it resulted in an easy look.

In the clutch, Virginia tried to isolate Diakite in the post on a mismatch, but Florida State’s length forced an errant pass and a turnover. I expect Virginia to try and isolate Diakite more in the post, especially as FSU switches everything, to try and get more instant offenses.

Most of the reasons Virginia scored are easy fixes for Florida State, Virginia’s offense doesn’t scare me whatsoever.

Florida State Breakdown

Similar to what I did in the Virginia section, let’s see what FSU did well against Virginia.

Florida State did a great job of creating off of the dribble once they got that UVA defense moving. Vassell was able to isolate a few times and get to his spots in the midrange before rising and hitting. Polite also had a nice take for a layup (should’ve been an and-one) after they overloaded one side of the defense, and the quick reactionary reach-ins that are trademarked by Virginia weren’t there.

Attacking off of the dribble, especially as Virginia is still getting backs on defense, grabs extra attention allowing for backdoor cuts (which happened with 6:22 remaining in the first half on a baseline slot pass from Forrest to Vassell), lobs, and kick-outs for 3. Forrest and RayQuan Evans will have to have great games distributing the ball/fighting through reach ins to force that extra attention if FSU wants to win tonight.

The ‘Noles are also spectacular in transition, both offensively and defensively. There are no easy layups against the ‘Noles in transition, Trent Forrest will swat shots, which is so impressive from a point guard. The effort the whole team gives to force usual 3-on-1’s into 3-on-2’s or 3-on-3’s saves a few possessions each game. Offensively in transition, rarely is it just a 1-on-1 break, there is usually someone coming from behind to help clean up any messes, but they finish well in traffic in transition.

Most of Florida State’s 3s came from just rising over a short closeout, and those shots falling are huge to having success against Virginia. There were also a couple of times where FSU just sprinted down the floor, and swung the ball a few times before getting an open corner look. The only real set play that resulted in a 3 was Polite’s end-of-half buzzer beater, and that rarely results in an open look for 3; the ‘Noles run it a lot in late clock scenarios, usually it results in a lob or a Forrest floater/layup. FSU has been hot from 3 in conference play, and it’s going to have to continue.

In the clutch, FSU still used great ball movement to get open looks, and sold hard drives to the basket before kicking out for 3. Hitting 3s against Virginia really spaces their defense out.

Injury Report

Florida State

FSU welcomed back Balsa Koprivica last game, something that was unexpected. However, Patrick Williams sat the last game out with what was described as a “sprained toe.” No further report has been given, so he is likely questionable for this matchup, but I would expect him to be sitting out again, just given the quick turnaround from Notre Dame to Virginia.


Forward Kody Stattman suffered a broken nose in practice prior to their last game against Wake Forest, and from Coach Tony Bennett’s comments earlier today, it seems Stattman is still in concussion protocol, so I would expect him to be out. A huge blow to an already short bench.

Projected Starting Lineups

Florida State

G: Trent Forrest

G: MJ Walker

G: Devin Vassell

F: RaiQuan Gray

F: Malik Osborne


G: Kihei Clark

G: Tomas Woldetensae

G: Braxton Key

F: Mamadi Diakite

C: Jay Huff

Keys to the Game

Stick to the Gameplan

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. The gameplan of limiting Kihei Clark worked last time, they just have to do a better job of containing him off of the dribble. I expect Coach Jones and Coach Hamilton to have a very similar gameplan for this game, with just a few minor tweaks here and there. FSU is much more talented, they just have to find ways to break through on offense.

Be 100% Locked In/Don’t Get Comfortable

Basketball player and sports fans around the world were stunned from the passing of Kobe Bryant on Sunday, and many of FSU’s players were big fans of Kobe. Devin Vassell even shared on his Instagram Story that he wore the number 24 because of Bryant. It’s been an emotional few days, but these Florida State players can show their tribute by dominating the game from start to finish, and being 100% locked in.

We saw in the last game against Notre Dame that the team got too comfortable with a big lead and let the Irish back in to the game, as both their offense and defense was struggling in the closing minutes of the game. Easy looks at the rim have turned out to be not so easy in the last few games, and it is such an easy fix, just have to stay focused for the whole game.

Stay Hot From Deep

Florida State has shot the 3-ball well in the last stretch of games, shooting 35% or better in 5 of their last 6 outings, and each of the last 3, including a blazing 12/18 performance against Notre Dame. In conference play, FSU is shooting 74/183, good for a 40.4% (2nd in the ACC). As long as FSU can stay hot deep, they really can beat anyone in the country in any arena. I’m not expecting a 12/18 performance again (and no one ever should), but it just shows this team can really heat up when they want to.


Virginia opened as a 1-point favorite over the Top-5 ‘Noles, despite losing 4 of their last 6 and coming off of an OT win over Wake Forest. Florida State may have their recent struggles as well, but they’re still on a 10-game winning streak. Depending on the betting site you look at, the o/u is somewhere between 105 (under) and 115 (HARD under).

I like Florida State to win this one in an ugly, ugly, first-one-to-45-wins kind of game. Virginia has still only lost once this season when holding opponents under 60 points, and that was against Florida State. On the flip side, they’ve only won once when an opponent scores more than 60, but that was an OT 65-63 win over Wake Forest, so I’m not sure it’s really relevant here. I have FSU bucking the trend again and winning 52-46.

Tomas Woldetensae has played really well recently after struggling to begin the season, but I believe FSU will do a good job of slowing him, Clark, and Diakite down enough to win the game, while also finding some hidden offense of their own, whether it be from an Anthony Polite or Wyatt Wilkes again.

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