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Game Preview: Round of 64 UNC Greensboro

THIS. IS. MARCH. And we’re going all out on game previews for these next few games, starting with this one against UNC Greensboro. As I mentioned in my Initial Reactions article, this isn’t your typical mid-major or even your typical 13 seed. IF Florida State comes to play, and I do mean if, the Noles have a chance to make a deep run this tournament. I’m keeping my expectations at if they make the second weekend, it’s a success and a massive building block into next season when they should be one of the three best teams in the country. None of these opening draws are teams to sleep on though, and we’ll start it off with the Spartans.

First, a little 4/13 history for you.

In the last 10 tournaments, the 4 seed is 32-8. When the 4 seed is 85+ KenPom spots higher, since 2005, the 4 seed is 12-2, and when the 13 seed is worse than 90th in KenPom, the 4 seed is 17-4 (FSU is 15th, UNCG is 100th). There are a lot of numbers and historical data that back up that Florida State should have a good tune up game in this one, but the last thing they can do is come out sleeping against one of the most explosive players in the country in Isaiah Miller. We’ll get into his impact and what I think FSU will try and do later, but this will be no walk in the park if FSU plays sloppy.

This game will be on Saturday at 12:45pm EST on TruTV live from the Bankers Life Fieldhouse (home of the Pacers) in Indianapolis, IN.

13 seed, 54 Overall: UNC Greensboro Spartans (21-8, 13-5) Breakdown

UNCG is no stranger to this, as they have won 20+ games in five straight seasons after only having 3 in the history of the program before Wes Miller took over. Miller is a former player at North Carolina who walked on before eventually starting 16 games his junior season. He was an assistant at Elon, High Point, and UNCG (all North Carolina schools) before getting the head job at UNCG, and he’ll be looking to throw his name in the UNC Chapel Hill hat whenever Roy Williams decides to step down; Miller won’t be in the mid-major game much longer, in my opinion.

This is not a good offensive team. They only produce about 0.875 points per possession, which is in the bottom 35% nationally. They get most of their shots in spot-ups (22.2% of possessions, 0.814 points per possession), transition (18.5%, 1.087 PPP), and PnR Ball-Handler (15.6%, 0.772 PPP). The transition game is the biggest to watch for, their transition offenses is one of the best in the country, and that’s because they’re so good at forcing live ball turnovers, which we will talk about in a second. They’re also really, really good at crashing the offensive glass, with 12.8 offensive rebounds per game (19th nationally) and an offensive rebounding rate of 31.9%. Florida State is one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country, allowing teams to get an offensive board on 31.4% of chances, so this plays right into the hands of the Spartans.

The 3-ball is a huge difference on both ends for them. When they’ve shot below 25% from 3, they’re 2-5. When their opponent shoots above 33.3% from 3, they’re 4-6. They have guys that take a lot of 3s, but no one that really makes a lot of 3s, which we’ll touch on here in a second.

Where they make their money is on the defensive end. Their 0.847 PPP allowed is in the top 21% nationally, and it starts with turnovers. They force 14.9 turnovers per game, score 15.9 PPG off of turnovers, and force a turnover rate of 18.6% which is 60th nationally, all while holding teams to shoot 41.4% from the floor and 31.9% from 3. If you want to watch a really brutal game, watch their January 9th games against Wofford, when the teams combined to shoot 32.1% from the floor and 20.4% from 3.

Leading the way is Isaiah Miller, who leads the team in points, assists, steals, free throw attempts, and is 2nd in rebounds and blocks. Despite being just 6’0″, he is an EXPLOSIVE athlete that lives above the rim. He’s not your usual mid-major guard that lights teams up from 3, he just violently attacks the rim.

This play is a microcosm of UNCG. Jump the passing lanes, get a bucket on the other end. This team lives off of his energy and his explosiveness. If you can keep from getting these momentum changing plays, you’re going to limit the effectiveness of the whole team. As mentioned earlier, he isn’t going to hit a ton of 3s, he’s only taken 47 all season, and has only made 2 3s in a game twice all season. 53.9% of his shots have come within 8 feet of the rim, and another 26% have come from 8-16 feet. Expect FSU to go under screens, switch under, etc. He is absolutely not afraid to attack the trees, and has taken 26% of the entire team’s shots all season. I expect him to see a lot of Anthony Polite this game.

No other player for them averages double-figure scoring. The closest is Keyshaun Langley who just misses out at 9.9 PPG. He’s one of these groups of guys who takes most of his shots from 3, about 67.3% of his shots have come from 3, yet he only makes them at a 31.1% clip. Langley is a good secondary playmaker and averages over 3 assists a game, he’s just one of those guys that you have to close-out hard on and not allow to get open looks. He’s had 9 games this season with 3+ 3s made.

Kaleb Hunter is another player that is really capable around the rim as a slashing guard. 50 of his total 89 makes this season have come within 8 feet, and he’s only made 20 3s this season despite taking 70. Averages a good number of rebounds for his size.

Angelo Allegri is another guy that just takes an absurd amount of 3s. 65.1% of his shots have come from behind the arc, and he makes them at a 33.3% clip. Like with Langley, if you close out on him hard with high hands, you’ll live with the results. Has 7 games with 3+ 3s made this season.

Hayden Koval is their biggest player, standing at 7’1″, so he’ll have the height to compete with FSU’s bigs, and has dominated smaller opponents this season. Good shot blocker, which you would expect with his size in this conference, but I’m watching to see how he does against more skilled bigs, and I’m also expecting UNCG to start him to match up to FSU’s size. Is able to stretch it out to 3 with 25 made 3s this season, an interesting wrinkle in their offense.

Mohammed Abdulsalam is very unique player in this day and age. He’s a negative offensively, but he’s an absolute monster on the glass, especially the offensive glass; very Dennis Rodman-esque. His 3.0 offensive rebounds per game by far lead the team, and 22.6% of his shot attempts this season have come on put-backs. You live with his post-ups as you want him to generate his own offense based on skill instead of effort.

AJ McGinnis is yet another shot taker, with 78.1% of his shots coming from behind the arc. While he only makes 33.9% of them, he’s still had 14 games with 2+ 3s made in a game. His per 40 minutes numbers look insane, especially with 11+ 3s per 40 minutes. Unreal.

Khyre Thompson is a good rebounder off of the bench, while Kobe Langley is mainly just a body for them to give some of their guards a breather.

Team Stats PPG/RPG (ORBs/DRBs)/APG/SPG/BPG/ToPG/FPG          FG%/3pt%/FT%

UNCG Produces: 73.6/39.4 (12.8/26.6)/12.3/7.5/3.9/11.0/18.1          42.4/30.0/68.3

UNCG Allows: 67.4/36.3 (9.0/36.3)/11.3/4.9/2.7/14.9/15.9           41.4/31.9/70.7

Player Stats

#1 Isaiah Miller 19.3/6.9 (1.6/5.3)/4.0/2.6/0.3/3.0/2.3                              46.6/21.3/63,1

#0 Keyshaun Langley 9.9/1.9 (0.3/1.5)/3.4/1.1/0.1/1.9                                36.8/31.1/75.8

#44 Kaleb Miller 8.7/3.8 (1.4/2.4)/0.8/0.9/0.2/1.1/1.4                               42.4/28.6/74.0

#13 Angelo Allegri 7.9/4.1 (1.2/3.0)/0.4/0.6/0.0/0.8/1.9                            36.7/33.3/69.0

#25 Hayden Koval 7.1/3.8 (1.0/2.8)/0.5/0.3/2.2/0.3/1.9                            48.7/32.5/77.8

#4 Mohammed Abdulsalam 6.8/7.0 (3.0/4.0)/0.7/0.5/0.3/1.1/2.8          51.6/NA/63.0

#2 AJ McGinnis 6.1/1.2 (0.1/1.1)/0.5/0.4/0.0/0.6/1.0                                 39.1/33.9/58.3

#12 Khyre Thompson 3.8/3.3 (1.3/2.0)/0.3/0.3/0.1/0.1/1.3                       36.9/26.2/85.7

#3 Kobe Langley 2.0/1.6 (0.3/1.3)/1.5/0.8/0.0/0.7/1.1                                35.2/31.3/73.3

4 seed, 13 Overall: Florida State Seminoles (16-6, 11-4) Breakdown

The big question for FSU is what is the plan for Scottie Barnes? Are they finally going to start him? I talked about it in my instant reaction to the ACC Championship, but they’re losing too much in the first four minutes of each half with RayQuan Evans starting, and there’s no time for that. Evans was really impressive in early January, but his efficiency has really fallen off since then, and FSU’s best lineup is with Barnes on the floor early and often. Play him.

FSU as a whole is going to have to figure out their turnover issues soon, as they have been way too loose with the ball recently. Georgia Tech is a very opportunistic defense, but 25 turnovers is too many no matter who the team is. Guys like Barnes and RaiQuan Gray are going to get the lion’s share of the ball-handling, but when guys like MJ Walker and Anthony Polite are handling the ball, they have to make smart decisions and not dribble into double or triple teams without a plan. There will need to be quick decision making in this game and the whole tournament.

The more I look at FSU’s path, it’s hard to think of a much better path. UNCG is a good test for sure, but I think they’ll be able to get past them. Georgetown snuck into the tournament after getting hot in a bad conference for the tournament championship. Colorado somehow tricked the computers to thinking they’re a 5 seed with 3 Quad 3 losses, including an ugly home loss to 8-20 Cal a month ago. Michigan will likely be without their best player Isaiah Livers, a player they’re 6-7 without in the last two seasons. LSU has a great offense, but can they sustain that enough to get to the second weekend and further?

Also of note, Coach Hamilton ruptured his achilles this week stepping off of the bus in Indy, will we see any Ron Hunter moments?

It’ll be interesting to see if FSU shortens the rotation at all, as March is a time when you rely on the guys you trust. I would actually prefer FSU shortens the rotation to 8 guys playing consistent minutes, but I’m not entirely sure the coaching staff will see it the same way.

When FSU played NC State a few years ago with Dennis Smith, FSU did everything they could to get the ball out of his hands, and he only ended up with single digit points and single digit assists. They forced him to be a playmaker. When they played Murray State in the tournament with Ja Morant, they forced him to become a scorer and take away his passing options. At first, Morant was cooking us and decided to be a really good shooter. As the game progressed, Morant was out of his comfort zone, and the talent around him wasn’t able to step up. I think UNCG would be like if you placed Dennis Smith on that Murray State team, but added a little more size. I’m really curious to see how FSU plays against Isaiah Miller.

Injury Report

Both teams are “healthy,” in terms of everyone should be available to play. At least as of now.

Projected Starters

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: MJ Walker

G: Anthony Polite

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Balsa Koprivica

UNC Greensboro

G: Isaiah Miller

G: KeyShaun Langley

G: Kaleb Hunter

F: Mohammed Abdulsalem

C: Hayden Koval

Keys to the Game

Isaiah Miller’s Impact- What’s the Gameplan?

Florida State has faced these teams in the past. Between the Dennis Smith era at NC State and the Ja Morant era at Murray State, FSU was able to handle both players with relative ease, outside of the first 12 minutes of the Murray State game. How will FSU gameplan Isaiah Miller? He’s not going to be a player that they can completely take away, but if you can take away either his scoring or his playmaking, you’ll stand a chance of winning; UNCG is 3-4 in games where Miller has 5 or more turnovers.

When FSU played NC State years ago, they forced Dennis Smith into becoming a facilitator and it ended in a 24-point win. When FSU played Murray State in the tournament in 2019, they forced Morant to become a scorer (and it wasn’t working for a little), but it ended up being a 28-point win. I think UNCG is very similar to the NC State team, and if you can force him to strictly focus on facilitating, the team won’t be able to feed off of his electric athleticism.

Limit the Turnovers, Especially Live Ball

UNC Greensboro does one thing really well in particular, and that is forcing turnovers. They are 60th in the country in forced turnover rate, forcing a turnover on 18.6% of possessions. FSU has been noticeably loose with the ball recently, with a combined 90 turnovers in their last 5 games, and turning it over on 17.5% of possessions, which is in the bottom half of the country. UNCG gets about 16 PPG off of turnovers, and they are extremely efficient in transition offense, where they score 1.089 points per possession, and that’s caused by 7.5 steals per game.

Limiting the turnovers isn’t just important for the flow of FSU’s offense, but also for momentum. If you allow UNCG to hang around, they’re a team that thrives on confidence and momentum. Isaiah Miller getting a steal and going the other way for a SportsCenter moment is not what can happen if FSU wants to win this game the way they should. Then on the other end, if you limit UNCG’s transition opportunities, they’re not great in any other facet on offense, and FSU’s length should be able to slow a lot of their team down.

Rebounding

UNCG crashes the glass HARD, especially the offensive glass. They’re 19th nationally in offensive rebounds per game, and 60th in offensive rebound rate. Between Miller flying in to clean up his own misses, and Mohammed Abdulsalam is a beast on the glass averaging 3 offensive rebounds per game. Players are going to have to be aware when they switch onto him, because he can change a game with his second chance points. This is especially concerning since FSU allows an offensive rebounding rate of 31.9%, which is 42nd worst in the country. They will have to be locked in on the glass, especially the guards.

Game Prediction

Florida State opened as a 12-point favorite, before the line dropped to about 10.5, with an over/under of 145.

I think this is a good matchup for FSU. It wouldn’t surprise me at if this ended up like the Murray State game a few seasons ago where their lead guard comes out on fire to start before Hamilton adjusts and the game starts to separate. I just think FSU has too much talent in this game and they’ll be able to overwhelm UNCG.

Give me the ‘Noles 82-65.


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