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Game Preview: Florida State at Florida

87.

There are 87 teams in what I consider to be a “Power Conference” in Division 1 college basketball: AAC, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC 12, and the SEC. Of those 87 teams, only one starts with two straight true road games.

That one is Florida State.

That’s absurd for a team that’s been to two straight Sweet 16’s, but Florida State has to play the schedule in front of them. They lost Wednesday night in a close, ugly battle against Pittsburgh, and now have to play their in-state rival Florida in the Sunshine Showdown Sunday at 1 pm on ESPN.

Florida Breakdown

Florida won their opening game of the season over North Florida 74-59, but looked fairly unimpressive. Especially considering UNF beat Florida National University, an NAIA program, by a score of 89-81 Thursday night.

The Gators only shot 29/69 (42%) from the floor, 3/15 (20%) from the 3-point line, 13/18 (72.2%) from the free-throw line, turned 18 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points, and only played 8 players ten or more minutes. Their prowess on the offensive glass gave them an offensive rebound rate of 45%, meaning they gobbled just under half of all possible offensive rebounds.

It’s not like North Florida is a defensive juggernaut either. A season ago, the Ospreys were 299th in points allowed, 346th in offensive rebounds allowed, and 332nd in opponent field goals made. UNF is just a team that wants to score as many points as possible, they don’t care as much about defense.

Which brings another point, Florida’s defense is elite. They forced UNF into a turnover rate of 22.7 per 100 possessions (would’ve been the highest in college basketball last season if stretched out for a whole season), and held the Birds of Trey to just 11/34 (32.4%) shooting from distance. Their defensive rating of 84.3 for the game would’ve been good enough to be the best in the country last season by 3.1 points.

They are led by Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. He finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals against UNF, and in his last 4 games against Florida State, he has averaged 11.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, no steals or blocks, and fouled out in 3 of those 4 games (he played another game against FSU at the beginning of his career, but only played 9 minutes and put up basically no stats).

Florida’s roster is also insanely stacked with 6 blue-chip talents: three former 5* (Andrew Nembhard, Tre Mann, Scottie Lewis) and three former 4* (Noah Locke, Omar Payne, Keyontae Johnson). Lewis and Mann were ranked 7th and 21st in the 2019 recruiting class, respectively. Payne was a big man that Florida State was very high on, and his recruitment came down to FSU, UF, and Texas. He ultimately chose the Gators, and it’ll be interesting to see how he’s used.

At one point, coach Mike White chose to run both Payne and Blackshear on the court together which is an odd fit, to say the least. I don’t see this happening against FSU, but it’s Mike White so anything is possible.

Obviously, one game is not a big enough sample size to draw too much from, but even just the eye test says Florida’s offense is lackluster and their defense is elite. Sound familiar? It’s because it’s very similar to Florida State.

Florida State Breakdown

I won’t go as in-depth with FSU since we should know their roster, and how the last game turned out against Pittsburgh. I will stack up the analytics so you can see the similarities between FSU and Florida through one game.

According to the analytics, FSU’s offense isn’t that far behind the defense, which the eye test would disagree with. They posted a defensive rating of 95.5 against Pitt, a good number but not an elite number. They posted a solid defensive rebound rate of 67.7, which means an offensive rebound was allowed roughly 1/3 of each chance, which is an okay number, especially considering the lack of true bigs in the game, but it’ll need to go up against Florida.

Florida State only played 7 players more than 10 minutes, which is a shock considering Florida State teams in the past. A lot of this is due to injury (Dominik Olejniczak and RayQuan Evans) and foul trouble (Balsa Koprivica). As Evans and Olejniczak return to the lineup, the depth will be back to the way you’re used to seeing it. Forrest was forced to play 39 minutes because of the lack of depth, and as great as he is, he’s going to need breaks occasionally.

Despite not having a true shot-blocker on the floor, Florida State still posted a monster block rate of 24.0 (meaning they blocked 1 out of every 4 two-point attempts), but didn’t force a great turnover rate, which is atypical of Leonard Hamilton teams.

Both teams had a slower pace of play. Florida’s 69.7 would’ve been middle of the pack last season, while Florida State’s 65.4 would’ve towards the slower in the pack. FSU wasn’t Virginia-levels of slow, but right in the middle between 2019/20 UF and 2018/19 UVA.

Florida did a much better job taking care of the ball than Florida State did, but it is also two entirely different levels of competition so I’m not taking too much stock in it.

Injury Report

Florida State

Dominik Olejniczak: He was ruled out Wednesday, but still not much has been brought to the light about his situation. It’s still being described as a calf strain, but they’re being incredibly secretive about this. My best guess is it’s a 50/50 chance whether or not he’s a go for Sunday. And if it’s this uncertain, Hamilton is likely to keep him out.

RayQuan Evans: He was credited with two minutes and a turnover against Pittsburgh, but I seriously never saw him in the game. From what we understand, he was cleared to play, but Hamilton chose to take the cautious approach with bringing Evans back, which is understandable. Hamstrings are tricky injuries with athletes, and they can often flare back up if they aren’t 100%. I expect him to play Sunday.

Florida

Gorjok Gak: The big man is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. They have plenty of depth down low to make up for his absence though.

Projected Starting Lineups

Florida State

G: Trent Forrest

G: MJ Walker

G: Devin Vassell

F: RaiQuan Gray

F: Malik Osborne

No changes. If Olejniczak is good to go, he would likely slide in at center in place of Osborne.

Florida

G: Andrew Nembhard

G: Tre Mann

G: Noah Locke

F: Keyontae Johnson

F: Kerry Blackshear Jr

This has been the starting lineup against smaller teams, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach White plugged in Scottie Lewis instead of Tre Mann or Noah Locke to matchup with Florida State’s length.

Keys to the Game

Keep the Fouls Under Control

Florida State lost to Pittsburgh mainly because they kept letting the Panthers get to the free-throw line. Florida wasn’t great from the charity stripe against UNF, but you’d rather not have them live at the line. Florida State’s offense was in such a funk the first half because both MJ Walker and Devin Vassell picked up two quick fouls and then sat the rest of the first half. It hurt the spacing and the overall flow of the game.

The bigs especially have to stay out of foul trouble if Olejniczak isn’t ready to go. As much as I like Harrison Prieto, you don’t want him getting extended minutes against Blackshear and Payne.

For the Love of All Things, Box Out

Keeping Blackshear and the rest of Florida off the offensive glass has to be priority number one. If they keep getting offensive boards as they did against UNF, it’s going to be a long game for the Seminoles. Both Blackshear and Dontay Bassett had 4 offensive rebounds, and that is how Florida gets their best chance to win.

Boxing out is a major factor in how the staff grades the defense in a game, but it’s going to be even more important in this game.

Expose Them

Florida enters the game ranked 6th in the country, and it’s not hard to see why with all the talent they have. Florida State comes in unranked, also not hard to see why considering all the talent lost from last season. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Oh yeah. Right.

Break out the black uniforms (which has been confirmed), come in with a will to fight, and get onto Florida from the jump. Florida State caught the Gators off guard two years ago by breaking tricks out that we hadn’t seen from the ‘Noles. Florida was shell shocked and couldn’t bounce back. Will Coach Hamilton and the rest of his staff have any more tricks up their sleeves? Only time will tell.

Final Prediction

Florida opened up as -6.5 point favorite, which isn’t as high as it could be, but higher than it should be.

This is going to be an ugly, ugly game. Both teams have stingy defenses and haven’t shown the fireworks on offense yet. I joked on Twitter that the final score might be something along the lines of 56-53, but it’s surprisingly realistic. That being said, Florida State is going to be extra motivated and a little more disciplined coming off of the loss at Pittsburgh.

I think by the end of the game, that little 6 next to “FLORIDA” is going to represent how many times in a row they’ve lost to Florida State. Gimme the ‘Noles in a tight, low scoring affair.


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