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Game Preview: Notre Dame

Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire

Florida State has entered uncharted territory for this program, Top 5 in the AP Poll, something that hasn’t happened since 1972. Now after a week of simmering expectations and settling down, they get a game with a tough and gritty Notre Dame team.

Notre Dame is 2nd nationally in limiting their own turnovers. Florida State is 8th nationally in turnovers forced per game. This is a complete clash of styles that should make for an interesting showdown.

The Donald L Tucker Center is sold out, they are advertising heavily for fans to wear black, the coaching staff is hosting two big-time 2021 prospects, and an ACC foe is entering the arena for a primetime 8 pm matchup on… the ACC Network.



Notre Dame Breakdown

The Fighting Irish enter the game at 11-7 (2-5), having lost three of their last four and four of their last seven. They’re an incredibly disciplined team, as they always are under Mike Brey, but aren’t superb defensively. Notre Dame is a good offensive team and one that lives and dies by the 3. These teams couldn’t be more stylistically different, so this should be an extremely interesting game. They only play 7 players consistently, so their depth is going to play a key role in this game.

Not only are they 2nd in fewest turnovers, but they’re 3rd nationally in fouls committed as well. For such a disciplined team defensively, they also give up a good number of baskets, especially in the paint. In conference play, teams are shooting 50.2% inside the arc, so this plays right into Florida State’s strengths.

The Irish are led by John Mooney, who would be in the conversation for national player of the year if his team was performing better. Mooney is currently averaging 15.7 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, and 1.2 SPG on a 45.5/30.8/56.5 shooting split. He is one of the best players in the conference and is going to find a way to impact this game one way or another. I can almost guarantee he’ll hit at least one shot where you have no idea how he got it off, Mooney’s just one of those players.

Next on the scoring list is TJ Gibbs, who is averaging 13.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.4 APG, and 1.0 SPG on a 41.1/40.7/88.4 split. Gibbs does a fair share of playmaking, but he is not their main ball-handler. This is not a team where Florida State is just going to try and force it out of one person’s hands. He takes the most 3s per game of anyone on the team at 6.0 attempts per game.

Prentiss Hubb is averaging 12.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 5.0 APG, and is apparently the only person on the roster who knows how to turn a ball over with 2.5 TPG. This is their leading ball-handler, and I think FSU might actually prefer the ball stays in his hands. His shooting split sits at 40.5/35.9/62.5.

Their last scorer in double figures is Dane Goodwin, who usually comes off of the bench. Goodwin is averaging 11.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and 1.5 APG on a 45.0/41.7/86.2 shooting split. Another lethal distance shooter, he takes 4.7 3-pointers per game.

Some other names to watch out for are starters Rex Pflueger (5th-year senior, great glue guy) and Juwan Durham (their center, second on the team in rebounds, inefficient, doesn’t play a ton), and bench player Nate Laszewski (doesn’t really specialize in anything, but has a good +/-). That is everyone you’ll see receiving significant minutes for Notre Dame, their depth was shortened after Robby Carmody was lost for the season in December.

Offensively, they live and die by the 3 as they are top-35 in both 3-pointers attempted and made. When they’re not making their 3s, they lose. Of their 7 losses, only one of them came when they shot better than 33.3% from 3. In those losses, they have shot 59/196 from 3, good enough for a 30.1%. Compare that to their wins where they are 122/327, a much higher 37.3%, and you really get a sense of what this team wants to do.

When either Gibbs or Hubb drives to the rim, a lot of times it’s to suck in the defense so they can kick out to an open shooter. I’m expecting a game plan where Florida State will be a little more attached to shooters than usual, and depend on their length to chase down layups from behind.

Defensively, the Irish are basically turnstiles. They have good athletes in the backcourt, but they still let offensive players do what they want. Hubb, Goodwin, and Gibbs are all in the negative when it comes to defensive box +/-. The Irish’s defense isn’t exactly predicated on help defense either- there are a lot of drives to the rim and Durham will just watch and stay attached to his man.

Florida State Breakdown

Offensively, the ‘Noles should be able to do what they want and get to the rim at ease. I expect big numbers from Trent Forrest and Devin Vassell, as they seem to excel at getting to the basket. Notre Dame does run a slower pace, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if FSU rushed into a few shots just to try and speed ND up. FSU won’t be able to get to the free-throw line nearly as much as they would like, though, and it’ll be interesting to see how the offense performs without those free throw numbers. Getting to the line is a huge part of Coach Hamilton wants to do on offense.

Vassell has been on a tear recently, as he was named co-ACC player of the week for his performances against Virginia and Miami, games where he set his career-high, then set it again the next game. He’s starting to blossom into a truly great ACC player.

Defensively, their usual principles counteract what ND is good at, so I’m expecting a fairly major philosophy shift for this game- help off of Durham and maybe Pflueger (although he could get hot in a hurry) and that’s it. Don’t let Notre Dame get those 3s up that they so desperately want. The Irish will still get them up, teams that shoot a lot of threes will always find ways to get them up, but limiting good looks as much as possible is going to be extremely important.

Injury Report

Florida State

Balsa Koprivica is still expected to be out with his back injury. Still not much clarification on the situation.

Notre Dame

As mentioned earlier, Robby Carmody is out for the season with a torn ACL.

Projected Starters

Florida State

G: Trent Forrest

G: MJ Walker

G: Devin Vassell

F: RaiQuan Gray

F: Malik Osborne

Notre Dame

G: Prentiss Hubb

G: TJ Gibbs

G: Rex Pflueger

F: John Mooney

F: Juwan Durham

Keys to the Game

Limit Notre Dame’s Looks From 3

As mentioned ad nauseum, Notre Dame likes shooting from 3. If Florida State can keep those open opportunities down for the Irish, they improve their chances of winning drastically. If Boston College and North Carolina can do it, so can FSU.

Focus

This has been a key a few times this season, but it needs to be pointed out. These are expectations Florida State has never dealt with. There will be a few casual fans who are almost expecting to be let down, but Notre Dame is a quality team who plays everyone tough. Notre Dame only lost to Louisville by 3 and NC State by 5; this is not a team to take lightly.

Create Chaos

There will be palpable energy in the crowd, and trying to feed off of that is going to be something the players want to do. Notre Dame isn’t likely to cough up turnovers, but if they do, Florida State needs to get out in transition to capitalize. We’ve seen them have offensive struggles in the past few games, so any extra chances they can get is needed. Plus, as disciplined as Notre Dame is, they aren’t used to anarchy and chaos. Force them into that chaos.

Prediction

Notre Dame will not shy away and let Florida State stomp all over them. They want to spoil the party that is FSU being in the Top 5. The ‘Noles opened as 8 point favorites, but I like Notre Dame ATS; they just play teams too closely for me to think otherwise.

If you think I’m picking anyone to win in the Tuck that isn’t FSU though… you’re mistaken. There’s a reason FSU has been so good the last few seasons, and it’s because they’ve been so dominant at home. Florida State will win, but just by a little closer than most people would expect- I’m thinking somewhere around a 70-65 score.


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