Game Preview: FSU @ Pittsburgh

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, basketball season!

Florida State opens its basketball season with a conference game, playing at Pittsburgh, a place Florida State has had issues recently. The game will be @ 8 pm EST on ESPNU.

Pittsburgh has only played one exhibition game this preseason, a 98-47 victory over Slippery Rock. 5 players finished in the double figures for points, and the team shot 50.7% from the floor and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. The Panthers starting’ 5 consisted of Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens, Gerald Drumgoole Jr, Au’diese Toney, and Eric Hamilton. Johnson, McGowens, and Toney started for them last season, Hamilton is a grad transfer from Chattanooga, and Drumgoole is a freshman from La Lumiere.

Pittsburgh is coming off their first season under Jeff Capel, a season in which they finished 14-19 and an abysmal 3-14 in conference play. They were great defensively but struggled immensely offensively last season. One of those 3 wins was a 75-62 win against Florida State though, a slow-paced game that was made ugly from a combined 50 personal fouls and 24 turnovers. Pittsburgh won the game at the free throw line, going 38-46 from the charity stripe compared to just 20-27 for Florida State. Both Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele fouled out, and Trent Forrest and PJ Savoy finished with 4 fouls.

Last season’s game came just two days after an emotional and physical loss to Duke in Tallahassee. Many players were still bruised up from lingering injuries and it seemed like a game they were likely to drop. This time to start the season, FSU is a much different roster compared to last season and is much more inexperienced, but they are still talented regardless.

Since 2014, FSU has played at Pitt four times, and has a record of just 1-3; the one win by just 5 points in 2014, while the losses in 2015, 2017, and 2019 were by 9, 14, and 13, respectively. It is a tough arena to play in, and is a tough and loud environment considering their lack of success recently.

Injury Report

Florida State

Florida State had many guys out in their exhibition games; RayQuan Evans has missed both games, while MJ Walker, Devin Vassell missed the first game and Dominic Olejniczak missed the second exhibition. Walker also exited the second exhibition early.

Evans is listed as “questionable” with a torn hamstring, per Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. I’m expecting him to play, but nothing is 100% until they warm up.

Walker should also be good to go, while Vassell is 100% and ready to rock.

Dominik Olejniczak is a complete unknown as of now. All that we know is it’s being described as a calf strain, but no word about his status has been set. At this point in time, I would not expect him to play, but there’s time for that to change. If he would not be ready to go, expect Malik Osborne to start at center. Coach Hamilton experimented with this in the second exhibition, and can do it against Pittsburgh, as Eric Hamilton, their starting center in their preseason, was listed at just 6’9″ and 230 pounds, making him a great matchup for Osborne. If Pitt decided to start Terrell Brown instead of Eric Hamilton, as he started 17 games last season, he’s only 6’10” and 235 pounds, not that much of a difference where you think about making a change.


For Pittsburgh, 6’9″ Forward Kene Chukwuka is out until at least January, and potentially longer. This is a big blow for Pitt, and leaves them with just 4 players 6’7″ or taller. Florida State has 7 scholarship players at that height, could be 6 depending on the availability of Olejniczak. Other than Chukwuka, no other injuries have been reported.

Projected Starting Lineups

Florida State

G: Trent Forrest

G: MJ Walker

G/F: Devin Vassell

F: RaiQuan Gray

F: Malik Osborne


G: Xavier Johnson

G: Trey McGowens

G/F: Au’Diese Toney

F: Gerald Drumgoole Jr

F: Terrell Brown OR Eric Hamilton

3 Keys to the Game

Avoid Silly Mistakes

This is true for most games, but especially so for these first few games. The Seminoles lost to the Panthers last season because they let Pitt live at the free-throw line. 46 free throws is an unbelievable amount. Pitt did only shoot 21/36 in their exhibition game, good for 58.3%, but I wouldn’t expect them to be that bad ever again this season. They shot 69.7% from the stripe last year, and you can guarantee that was a focal point for them this offseason.

Turnovers have been my biggest concern from the exhibition games. Florida State has been wanting to pick the pace up these last few seasons, and that can lead to more turnovers. However, 42 turnovers in the two exhibition games are WAY too many. Especially against Division 2 opponents. Pittsburgh was 61st last season in forced turnovers and 48th in drawing fouls, meaning this could be a bad matchup for Florida State.

Attack the Glass

Florida State has a massive size advantage. As noted earlier, Pitt only has four players listed at 6’7″ and above compared to 7 for Florida State. Pitt also has 7 players at 6’3″ or below, whereas FSU only has one, but he isn’t a scholarship player and won’t see playing time unless it’s a blowout. Last season, Pitt was 331st in offensive rebounds allowed, and 270th in total rebounds allowed. With Florida State’s height, length, and athleticism, they need to establish dominance on the boards from the first tip to give themselves the best chance to win.

Do Your Job

This is a huge focal point for the staff. If guys are consistently doing their job on defense (boxing out, hands in the passing lanes, etc) and offense (sprinting down the floor, not walking, getting back in transition after a shot goes up), it’s tough to beat Florida State. When they’re locked in on the gameplan, know the opponent across from them, and are doing what they do best, it’s a wrap. When there’s no new film on an opponent, you have to rely on what you do best and adapt to the opponent later.

Game Prediction

FSU opened as -4.5 favorite. Opening games are tough to predict. Each team is going to add wrinkles, and with this being Capel’s second season at Pitt, you’d expect them to make a big jump. Since 2010, Pitt is 5-4 in their first power conference games of the season (ACC, American, Big10, Big12, Big East, Pac12, SEC), while FSU is 4-5. In basic season openers, both teams are 8-1. A win here would provide Florida State with great momentum headed into the rivalry against Florida on Sunday, but this is a tough first game.

In the end, I think there’s too much inexperience on the Seminoles’ roster to safely predict them to walk away with a W, but they are my guys. I’ll predict a loss tonight in a very close contest and hope and pray that I’m wrong in my prediction (kind of like my football predictions, yikes). At the very least, I’d take Pitt against the spread. A spread of 4.5 this early on is really high, especially for a road team.

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