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Game Preview: Gardner-Webb

Well, Florida State lost Saturday night. Their first non-conference home loss in more than half a decade. Time for a new streak to start.

Luckily, this isn’t football. One loss doesn’t wreck an entire season, and you get a chance to learn from it and move on. People are quick to forget that FSU lost to a really bad Pitt team and scraped out a 5-point win over Western Carolina before going on to have the best season in program history. Yes, there are some things to figure out, which we will get to later, but I’m not all that concerned. They’ve gone about it the right way, saying all the right things, now it’s time to do all the right things.

The second game of two games in three days, Florida State now looks to bounce back against Gardner-Webb, who was supposed to be their season opener, but was postponed due to COVID issues. This is the last game before Christmas, and the last non-conference game of the season until the NCAA Tournament begins.

This game will start at 7pm EST on ACCNX from the Donald L Tucker Center.

Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs (1-3) Breakdown

There really isn’t too much to this Gardner-Webb team, so I will make this brief. They’re called the Runnin’ Bulldogs for a reason, they’re going to run and shoot. That’s about it. They shoot 40.2% from 3 (top-25 nationally), but just 46.6% inside the arc (bottom-75 nationally). They don’t get to the free throw line a ton (16 attempts per game), but when they do, they shoot just 67.2%. They also get annihilated on the glass, giving up more than 12 offensive rebounds per game.

Here is the breakdown of their shot selection: Spot-up 31.7%, transition 17.1%, Pick-and-roll ball handler 14.3%. They do really well against zone (1.121 Points per possession on 51.9% shooting), typical of great 3-point shooting team, while also being very poor against man defense (0.738 PPP on 37% shooting). This plays well into FSU given their propensity for playing man defense. The Runnin’ Bulldogs are one of the best teams in college basketball in transition, scoring 1.185 PPP on 55.6% shooting. Once you get this team in the half-court, they aren’t nearly as dangerous.

On defense, they actually spend most of their time in man, but on occasion they will show a soft zone press back into a 2-3 zone. Their zone defense has actually been pretty good too. It forces teams to slow down and pass, instead of just bully in man-to-man defense, which tends to happen.

Their roster can be separated into a few categories: rebounders, playmakers, shooters.

Rebounders: Kareem Reid and Ludovic Dufeal. Both are fairly respectable rebounders and shot-blockers, but don’t provide much offensive threat. Reid hasn’t even attempted a 3-pointer on the season yet, while Ludovic has hit just one attempt in four games.

Playmakers: Jacob Falko. Falko is their main threat inside the arc. When a play breaks down and GW needs someone to create something off of the dribble, this is who they turn to. He’s second on the team in field goal attempts, but does a nice job of spreading the ball around when it’s needed; a good rebounder for his size as well. These elite 3-point shooting teams are usually great at spreading the ball around as a team, and not with just one man. So even though only one player is listed, a lot of these shooters are great about knowing when a good shot can become a great shot by making one extra pass.

Shooters: Jaheam Cornwall, Lance Terry, D’Maurian Williams, Anthony Selden. Cornwall, Terry, and Williams can shoot with the best of them, all at 40% or more. Here is a breakdown of how many of each player’s total shots come from 3: Cornwall 54.3%, Terry 78.2%, Williams 53.8%, Selden 68%. These guys will fire with any inch of space, especially Lance Terry. I expect Florida State to not help as much, and try to force them into the middle as much as possible. Run this team off of the line and force them to make rushed decisions against the length of our defense.

Here are team stats. PPG/RPG/APG/SPG/BPG/ToPG/FoulsPG      FG%/3PT%/FT%

70.5/36.0 (7.5 ORB, 28.5 DRB)/13.0/4.5/5.0/14.5/20.3         43.9/40.2/67.2

They allow: 73.8/40.0 (12.3 ORB, 27.7 DRB)/16.5/6.8/4.0/10.3/16.0       40.1/31.1/71.8

#1 Jaheam Cornwall 14.5/5.3/3.3/0.3/0.3/2.5             39.1/40.0/85.7

#0 Lance Terry 11.0/2.5/0.5/0.5/0.0/0.8                      56.5/55.6/80.0

#3 Jacob Falko 10.3/4.8/2.0/0.3/0.0/1.3                      39.0/27.3/75.0

#4 D’Maurian Williams 7.8/2.8/2.8/0.8/0.0/1.8          42.3/42.9/75.0

#14 Kareem Reid 6.5/4.5/0.5/0.5/1.5/2.5                      50.0/NA/28.6

#23 Anthony Selden 6.5/2.3/0.8/0.5/1.3/0.5                36.0/35.3/100.o

#24 Ludovic Dufeal 3.3/6.0/1.3/0.8/1.8/0.8                 41.7/25.0/66.7

#21 Florida State Seminoles (4-1) Breakdown

FSU lost Saturday night for two simple reasons: three UCF players scored 20+, and UCF made 7 more free throws on the same amount of attempts. The Knights also grabbed more rebounds and forced an extra turnovers, but when Isaiah Adams goes for 22, Darin Green goes for 20, and Brandon Mahan goes for 32, you usually don’t win that game. Here’s what needs to get fixed going forward.

First, the defensive rotations. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen FSU this lost defensively, especially when RaiQuan Gray wasn’t on the floor (he has to stay out of foul trouble). There were times when FSU overhelped when they shouldn’t have to allow a kick-out 3, and then times where they should’ve helped but stayed on their man and allowed a layup. This is part of what happens when you switch everything with an inexperienced team. Coach Hamilton has said they may go to hedging instead of switching, which is what they did when Christ Koumadje, Michael Ojo, and Ike Obiagu were on the floor in years past. You likely won’t see it much in this game, as they haven’t had any time to practice, but with a week off following this game, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it against Clemson.

Secondly, shot creation. MJ Walker has been the most consistent player so far, scoring 14+ in every game and averaging 17.8 PPG. He can’t be the only one though. Anthony Polite is a solid 10-12 points each game, but he’s more of a shot maker than shot creator. Scottie Barnes was really quiet against UCF, and that can’t happen again. Florida State is actually top-15 nationally in 3-point percentage at 41%, so if FSU can get another shot creator or two to step up, like Calhoun or Evans, it makes this offense incredibly dangerous.

Lastly, depth. I was concerned about the depth coming in, but I didn’t expect them to be this underwhelming so far this season. A total of 95 of FSU’s 386 points have come from the bench, 24.6%. That’s not the FSU way. I expected Sardaar Calhoun to play more because of his offensive firepower, but he’s averaging 10 minutes per game so far, simply due to his inexperience in the system. Nate Jack has had some good moments, but his playtime remains inconsistent. RayQuan Evans has been disappointing, almost looking like he has regressed.

A huge talking point at the end of the game was the decision to put walk-on Harrison Prieto in the game with 8 minutes remaining. Here’s what went into that: Malik Osborne was hurt, Balsa Koprivica was wildly ineffective, getting double teamed every time he touched the ball and wasn’t playing defense correctly, Gray was in foul trouble, and Tanor Ngom and Quincy Ballard are still too inexperienced in this system, not knowing what to do yet. Prieto didn’t even play that poorly, he’s just not that athletic. Had he made those two free throws, it’s a one possession game, then he had the illegal screen call that was an embarrassingly bad call for the officials. But the decision to play him speaks for the lack of depth we’re used to seeing from this team.

Injury Report

Malik Osborne suffered a thigh contusion Saturday night, and he will be a game-time decision. At the very least, I believe he will give it a go.

Projected Starters

Florida State

G: Scottie Barnes

G: MJ Walker

G: Anthony Polite

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Balsa Koprivica

Gardner-Webb

G: Jaheam Cornwall

G: Lance Terry

G: Jacob Falko

F: Ludovic Dufeal

F: Kareem Reid

Keys to the Game

Focus

It’s easy to lose focus after a disappointing loss, like the one to UCF. It’s also easy to lose focus in the last game before Christmas. This is a good test for the maturity of this inexperienced Florida State team: gain some momentum and re-gain some confidence heading into a Clemson/Duke stretch next week. This team has some good leadership in MJ Walker and this veteran coaching staff, it’s time for them to take control.

Protect the 3

As with a lot of mid-majors, Gardner Webb can shoot with the best of them. As a team, they shoot 40.2% from 3 on 24.3 3PA. It’s going to be another one of those annoying games where the opponent jacks up 3 after 3 and make a lot of them. FSU’s length should give them issues, but as long as they don’t allow Gardner-Webb to get open in transition or have bad rotations, they should be fine.

Attack, Attack, Attack

Florida State needs to be relentless tonight. Attack the rim, attack the glass, attack on closeouts. Gardner-Webb gives up 12 offensive rebounds per game, and given FSU’s size advantage, they should be able to take advantage there and get easy put-backs. Teams have shot 46.3% inside the arc against GW, and the ‘Noles need to take advantage of this with their size.

Prediction

Florida State opened as 20-point favorites, with the o/u set at 142.

I’m conflicted on where to go with this game. On one hand, I think FSU re-focuses and is a well-oiled machine on offense, and cleans up some mistakes on defense. While on the other, Gardner-Webb can light up the scoreboard from 3 and is going to make some shots that make you shake your head.

I’ll take the ‘Noles 85-67.


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