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Game Preview: UCF

Florida State gets ready for their first of two games in three days with a late Saturday night tilt against an in-state opponent in UCF. The Knights have had a busy offseason, and an even busier start to the season given their injuries. Like some recent opponents of FSU, they don’t have a ton of depth and you’ll only see about 6-7 players, depending on who is actually available to play.

UCF got off to a solid start on the season with a win over Auburn, but followed it up by getting train-wrecked by Michigan. They’ll have had almost two weeks to prepare for this game, which means plenty of time for guys to get healthy and prepare for a much better opponent.

This game will tip-off around 9pm EST from the Donald L Tucker Center on the ACC Network, and is technically a part of the annual Orange Bowl Classic, marking the 9th straight appearance in this event, although I don’t know that it’s being advertised as such. Florida State is 9-2 all time in this event, and like the last few appearances will be wearing their turquoise N7 uniforms, honoring Native America heritage.

Central Florida Knights (1-1) Breakdown

I won’t go as in depth as I have for the past few games, breaking down plays and sets. There really isn’t a ton to breakdown. Every so often, they run pin-downs and down screens to get a look at the top of the key, but they don’t have great enough shooters to take advantage of them.

Defensively, they mainly run man, and while in man, they’ll double team the post when a major offensive threat is down there. UCF also ran a little bit of zone in the Michigan game but got shredded, allowing 14 points in 14 possessions. Chaundee Brown, the former Wake Forest Demon Deacon, eviscerated UCF from 3 any time they went zone and scorched them for 18 points on 12 shots. They mostly do this to save some energy.

They have a surprising amount of length, everyone that plays is between 6’3″ and 6’9″, with their average height listed at a little over 6’6″. To confound that, UCF’s only player who is 6’3″ is out for the game, so they have a little more length to match-up with Florida State than we’re used to seeing.

Brandon Mahan has seen a massive improvement from last season, averaging 16.5 points in their short start, a huge jump from his 7.5 PPG last season. He’s mostly been a slasher, to this point in the season. 50% of all of his shots this season have come at the rim, where he is shooting 63.6%. FSU’s length should bother him enough to miss a few shots he normally makes. If he decides he wants to shoot mid-range pull-outs, you live with that. Mahan is the only active player with a positive offensive box plus/minus.

Isaiah Adams is the best shooter on the team with Tony Johnson out. He doesn’t take a ton of 3s, just 5 attempts through two games, but he’s a freshman still figuring out his role. He’s not someone I’d leave open. Adams and Mahan are the two most efficient players on the team, how FSU decides to defend them is something I’m looking for, but wouldn’t be totally surprised if FSU plays UCF how they did GT, just making nothing easy at the rim and letting them get some looks from 3.

Darin Green has been wildly inefficient so far this season, taking 12 shots per game, but just making about 3.5 of them. Two games isn’t a big enough sample size to definitively say he’s going to continue playing this way, so if he makes some tough shots and leads the game in scoring, don’t be surprised. He has only taken a total of six shots (25% of his total shots) inside of 17 feet through two games, so if he’s going to make shots, it’ll be from the perimeter.

Dre Fuller is a talented, do it all guard, who fills up the box score in many ways. He currently leads the team in assists, tied for first in rebounds, and is third in total steals. He also leads the team in total turnovers, so I imagine he’ll be seeing heavy ball pressure all game. UCF has one of the worst press offenses in the county in general, scoring just 9 points in 16 possessions (12th percentile nationally), and turning it over on 31% of those possessions.

CJ Walker, the former 5-star who transferred from Oregon, has been almost non-existent in these two games, continuing his poor play from a season ago. He fouled out in just 13 minutes against Michigan, and against Auburn scored 9 points on 9 shots. He’s a good rebounder, but has yet to find his footing as anything else. With Oregon last season, he had a four game stretch where he averaged 12 PPG, but he’s had more games where he didn’t score a single point (7) than games he’s been in double figures (3). By the end of last season, Walker was only averaging 10 minutes per game, basically out of the rotation.

Jamille Reynolds is a large human being that eats up a lot of space, but doesn’t move his feet well and gets caught in empty space too much. Sean Mobley plays a lot of minutes, but doesn’t actually contribute much; he’s wildly inefficient. If Darius Perry plays, he should be familiar since he transferred in from Louisville. He doesn’t concern me. They also have Moses Bol, cousin of Bol Bol of the Denver Nuggets, and like the rest of his family is an extremely lanky player, but still raw.

For the team, they score 60.5 PPG while allowing 67.5, force 16 turnovers per game, get out-rebounded by 12 rebounds, and have a shooting split of 35.9/30.0/83.3. As long as FSU focuses defensively, they should be fine.

As usual, stats will be listed as PPG/RPG/APG/SPG/BPG/ToPG          FG%/3PT%/FT%

#13 Brandon Mahan 16.5/3.5/1.0/2.0/0.0/1.0                            50.0/33.3/100.0

#3 Isaiah Adams 10.0/3.0/0.0/2.0/0.0/1.5                                  50.0/40.0/0.0

#22 Darin Green 9.5/2.0/1.0/1.o/1.0/0.5                                      29.2/25.0/100.0

#24 Dre Fuller 8.5/5.0/4.0/1.5/0.5/3.0                                         31.3/33.3/75.0

#21 CJ Walker 5.5/5.0/0.5/0.5/0.5/2.0                                         25.0/50.0/100.0

#4 Jamille Reynolds 3.0/1.5/1.0/0.0/0.0/1.5                               50.0/NA/NA

#20 Sean Mobley 2.5/4.0/1.5/1.0/0.0/2.0                                     12.5/16.7/100.0

#2 Darius Perry (’19/’20 UL Stats) 5.2/1.5/2.5/0.5/0.0/1.4       39.1/38.9/75.0

#15 Florida State Seminoles (4-0) Breakdown

Now that we’re 4 games in, we have a pretty good feel on the direction of this team and what they’re going to do well.

The first thing is 3-point shooting. As a team, FSU is shooting 40.2% from 3 on 17 attempts per game; a blistering rate, especially given the past few season. Five players are shooting greater than 36% from 3: MJ Walker (47.1%), Anthony Polite (50%), Sardaar Calhoun (57.1%), Nate Jack (50%), and Wyatt Wilkes (36.4%). Some of these numbers will come back down to earth a little bit, I’m sure, but I also don’t expect Malik Osborne (25%) and RaiQuan Gray (20%) to stay as low as they are right now. If FSU stays above 37% from 3 throughout the whole season, this is a dangerous team come March.

The offensive rebounding has been much better than anticipated. Currently, FSU grabs 12.8 offensive board per game, which is good for 51st in the country, and 7 players are grabbing at least one offensive rebound per game, making it less predictable for opponents; they have to box out everybody. FSU’s offensive rebound rate of 36.4% puts them in an even better light, ranking 33rd nationally.

Forcing turnovers is one thing we all knew FSU would be good at, we just didn’t know how good. In turnovers forced per game, the ‘Noles currently sit at 48th at 17.4 per game (if you take out teams that have only played one game, they move up to 42nd), and in turnover rate, they sit at T-36th, forcing turnovers on 21.8% of possessions. The length and athleticism of this team have been giving teams issues, and it’s not like FSU has played a ton of mid-majors so far.

Florida State has four players averaging double figure scoring: MJ Walker (16.8), Scottie Barnes (12.5), Balsa Koprivica (10.3), and Anthony Polite (10.0). Walker in particular has been really impressive. For reference, if his scoring output were to keep up, it would be the highest since Dwayne Bacon in the ’16/’17 season. Him being consistent going forward is massive for this team. Both Polite’s and Koprivica’s development have been huge for this team. Polite has been the proto-typical 3-and-D guard who can sit in the corners and just cash out, while Koprivica’s natural skill is so, so impressive.

The two things that concern me are depth and free throw shooting. The past few years have been built on 10 guys that can provide consistent minutes, but so far, that hasn’t been the case. FSU only has 7 guys averaging more than 15 minutes per game. They haven’t been able to rely on many bench guys, which to me is a concern going forward. They obviously haven’t had a lot of practice time or warm-up games, but I still expected at least Sardaar Calhoun to be playing more than 10 minutes per game.

Free throw shooting was a major advantage for FSU last season, when they shot 75% from the free throw line, top-50 nationally. Now they sit at 69.3%. There are too many good shooters on this team to be shooting this poorly from the free throw line, but it’s also FSU’s non-shooters who are getting to the free throw line the most, like Scottie Barnes and Balsa Koprivica. Those two, plus MJ Walker, account for 67% of all free throws taken on the team. Walker has been fantastic, shooting 28/29 so far; just need the other two to step up.

Injury Report

RayQuan Evans and Tanor Ngom were out Tuesday night against Georgia Tech. All reports are they will play against UCF.

UCF is dealing with a slew of injuries. Louisville transfer Darius Perry has yet to play, and is listed as a a game-time decision. Moses Bol is listed as a game-time decision. If he were to play, he’d give them much needed size down low. Tony Johnson is out, as is Colin Smith.

Projected Starters

Florida State

G: Scottie Barnes

G: MJ Walker

G: Anthony Polite

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Balsa Koprivica

UCF

G: Dre Fuller Jr

G: Darin Green

G: Brandon Mahan

F: CJ Walker

F: Jamille Reynolds

Keys to the Game

Take Care of the Ball

UCF has forced 31 turnovers in their first two games, including forcing Auburn into 21. Michigan only coughed it up 10 times, a major reason why they were able to win the game. When UCF isn’t forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, they have a hard time getting any offense going. A few players for the ‘Noles have had some sloppy moments with the ball to start the season, and will have to get under control against UCF.

Play Inside-Out

Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, a player FSU was after and disappointed they didn’t land, tore UCF apart in the middle of the floor. When UCF went man, he ate on the low block using an array of moves, and passing out of the double teams that came. When UCF went 2-3, he was able to move up to the high post and show good fakes and ball skills. FSU has some talented bigs of their own in Balsa Koprivica, Tanor Ngom, and Malik Osborne. When UCF goes to double in the post, FSU will be able to kick to open shooters, and should get around 18-22 3PA this game.

Use Depth as Much as Possible

Because Florida State has to turn around and play Garnder-Webb on Monday, FSU will want to take advantage of their depth to save some legs for Monday. Obviously, UCF is a better opponent, and they’ll value getting the win any way possible, I just wouldn’t expect FSU to run their main guys into the ground if they’re up 15-20. Let guys like Quincy Ballard, Nate Jack, Sardaar Calhoun, Tanor Ngom etc. get some run and some experience. FSU will need some of these guys to step up in conference play because their depth has been unusually suspect so far. Getting run in games like these matters.

This is also good preparation for not only conference play, but the NCAA Tournament as well. In ACC play, FSU has two instances of playing Saturday and Monday; first with UNC and Louisville on January 16th and 18th, then Wake Forest and Virginia on February 13th and 15th. Getting experience with this kind of format is vital come March (or whenever the tournament ends up being played). Letting guys figure out how to play hard in these scenarios is really going to pay off, even if this first scenario isn’t a massive test. Still much rather have this be your first game/off-day/game scenario instead of UNC and Louisville.

Prediction

Florida State opened as 12.5-point favorites (line is already up to 13.5), with the o/u set at 134.5.

I think the over is easy money. I’m expecting FSU to get around 75-80 points by themselves, so you’d think UCF might be able to scrape out at least 60. A few people not connected with Florida State said FSU should be able to win handily, one even said by 50. I’m nowhere near bold enough to expect that, but I do think FSU will be able to cover its tracks. Because I’m expecting them to use more of their depth, I think the final result ends up a little closer around the spread than they would otherwise.

FSU wins 79-62, and says thank you for McKenzie Milton.


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