Game Preview: vs Pittsburgh

Florida State is looking for revenge against the Pittsburgh Panthers, as Pitt beat FSU in the first game of the season, and they’re gonna be doing it in style.

Pittsburgh has to win out the rest of their schedule while making noise in the ACC Tournament to have any chance to make the big dance, and FSU officially has a chance to sweep the last leg Pitt is standing on.

With the ‘Noles last win against Syracuse, Leonard Hamilton moved into 5th in all-time ACC wins, while Trent Forrest and the rest of the 2016 Recruiting Class became the winningest player in program history.

This game will be at 8pm on the ACC Network live from the Tucker Center where FSU has won 20 straight, and the ‘Noles will be wearing their Nike N7 uniforms to honor Native American heritage.

Pittsburgh Breakdown 15-11 (6-9)

Pitt has been on a landslide since entering conference play, losing 7 of their last 11 games, which is disappointing, since they sit about 20 spots away from moving into the top-75 for NET rankings, meaning FSU’s opening night loss to them would become a Quad-1 loss. If Pitt can at least give a good showing in a loss here, while winning some games at the end of their schedule, it’d help Florida State out tremendously.

That being said, this team is spectacularly unspectacular at just about everything offensively. They can’t score to save their lives at 65.8 PPG, shooting 40.8% from the floor, 30.0% from 3, and 71.6% from the free-throw line. Pitt is grabbing a fair amount of offensive rebounds with 12.0 ORBs per game, and that can be a bad matchup for a Florida State team that is average at best when it comes to rebounding. They also don’t turn it over a ton, “just” 11.7 TPG.

Defensively is where this team wins games: allowing just 63.9 PPG on 41.9% from the floor, 33.8% from 3, and 70.2% from the free-throw line. They’re forcing 15.3 turnovers per game, only foul 15 times per game, so teams are only shooting 14 free throws per game against them, top 30 nationally.

Leading them in scoring is Justin Champagnie, a freshman out of Brooklyn, who is averaging 12.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, and 1.5 SPG. As most players are on this team, he’s inefficient, shooting 42.9% from the floor, 26.8% from 3, and 77.0% from the FT line. If he wants to shoot, let him; most of his damage is done inside the arc, where he shoots 51.4%. He may have made 2/5 from 3 against FSU in the first matchup, but that’s not his game. Most of his shots (32.7%) come on spot-up opportunities, but are only making them at a 24.7% rate, so eh. He’s really efficient at scoring off of backdoor cuts and on offensive rebounds. Champagnie is also the team’s leading rebounder and offensive rebounder despite being 6’6″.

Tied with Champagnie in scoring is Trey McGowens, the brother of current FSU Hoops commit Bryce. Trey is also scoring 12.5 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, and 1.8 SPG on a 36.7/30.4/75.0 shooting split. He turns it over a lot and can get in foul trouble quickly. More than a third of his shots come out of being the pick and roll ball handler, and he’s making shots out of the P&R at 37.4%.

Their only other scorer in double figures is Xavier Johnson with 11.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 5.1 APG, and 1.4 SPG on a 37.0/33.8/74.4 shooting split. He turns it over the most and fouls the most, but he also has one of the best steal rates on the team. Almost half of his shots come in the pick and roll, but he’s only making them at a 31.1% rate, so eh.

Ryan Murphy is their best shooter at 35.1% from 3, and is scoring 9.8 PPG. 40% of his shots are in spot-up opportunities, so really just don’t let him get easy catch and shoot chances and he won’t hurt you too much.

Some other names to watch out for are Au’Diese Toney (8.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG), Eric Hamilton (5.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG), and Terrell Brown (5.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG). That’s really the end of their depth, Pitt only plays 7 guys consistently.

If Eric Hamilton can’t go, this will really test Pitt’s frontcourt depth, look for Karim Coulibaly to get some of those minutes.

The First Matchup

Pitt won the first game because they dominated the fouls 27-16; 35% of their points came from the free-throw line. Every big for Florida State fouled out, and Dominik Olejniczak wasn’t available as he was hurt, so Pitt was able to get 13 offensive boards as well. When they scored a field goal, it was in in transition or on an offensive rebound. That was really it. Very few baskets came in the flow of the offense, so as long as Florida State can stay out of foul trouble, they should be fine in the second game.

I went back and watched the first game a few times (it was as miserable as you could imagine) to see if there was something FSU could’ve done better defensively. Not really. Just box out and don’t foul.

Four players were in double figures for the Panthers in game 1: Xavier Johnson, Terrell Brown, and Ryan Murphy all finished with 13, while Trey McGowens had 10. Brown was the only one that did it efficiently at all, everyone else was just putting up a lot of shots.

FSU was able to get a lot of open shots, especially on kick-outs, they just weren’t hitting them. They had 23 spot-up chances, and only made 4 shots on those chances. That can’t happen again if Florida State wants to win again.

Florida State Breakdown

The big mystery with FSU is whether Devin Vassell will be back or not. Vassell sat out against Syracuse for unknown reasons, and Coach Hamilton made it clear he wasn’t happy with him.

If he’s not available to go, their depth will be tested again. Players like RayQuan Evans and MJ Walker were able to pick up the slack last time, other players like Anthony Polite and Wyatt Wilkes might also have to have big games to help the offense out while spreading the floor.

Their rebounding has been a lot better recently, with three straight games of 15+ offensive rebounds. Their defensive rebounding is still not where it needs to be, but if they can do a little better than normal on that end against Pitt, they’ll be able to stop a good majority of Pitt’s offense. Champagnie specifically will have to kept off of the glass, but FSU has the size to matchup up with him.

Florida State usually wins games by forcing turnovers, which is something Pitt doesn’t do a lot of. This could be another opportunity where FSU breaks the mold on how to beat a team, but FSU is just gonna have to make open shots in this game.

Injury Report

Florida State

Devin Vassell is questionable for whatever he sat out for Syracuse with.

MJ Walker busted his lip against Syracuse, but still finished the game. I’d expect him to play tonight.


Eric Hamilton is questionable with an ankle injury.

Onyebuchi Ezeakudo is out with an ankle injury.

Ithiel Horton is out for the season for an eligibility issue.

Kene Chukwuka is out for the season with a hip injury.

Projected Starting Lineups

Florida State

G: Trent Forrest

G: MJ Walker

G: Devin Vassell/Anthony Polite

F: RaiQuan Gray

F: Malik Osborne


G: Xavier Johnson

G: Trey McGowens

G: Au’Diese Toney

G: Justin Champagnie

F: Terrell Brown/Eric Hamilton

Keys to the Game

Stay Out of Foul Trouble

Pittsburgh makes games ugly, and some of the things they’re good at matchup poorly with Florida State. That being said, as long as Florida State’s bigs stay out of foul trouble, they really shouldn’t have an issue with this game. Pitt’s guards kind of just hurl themselves into the paint to draw fouls, and it works a lot. FSU’s bigs haven’t been spectacular this season, but their size should deter some easier shots.

Make Open Shots

Florida State was generating good looks in the first game, but not knocking them down. They’re a much better shooting team now than they were at the beginning of the season, so as long as they’re still generating the same looks, they should be hitting them. They’ll also get the benefit of playing at home, where weird things ALWAYS happen.

Control the Glass

Florida State has had some really great performances on the glass recently, including 20 offensive rebounds against Syracuse on Saturday. There were still times where their effort on the defensive glass was lackluster, and FSU will have to keep guys like Champagnie and Eric Hamilton (if he plays) off of the offensive glass. If they stay steady on the glass, again they shouldn’t have many issues.


FSU opened as 11.5-point favorites with the o/u set at 135.5, which with the Devin Vassell situation still in the air, those both seem really high to me. The ‘Noles should still win handily as long as they’re making their shots and not fouling.

The ‘Noles will come in focused and ready to bounce back after that opening night loss and will want to beat these guys by 20. If Vassell plays and has practiced, I’d think FSU could get there. Pitt is always a bad matchup though, so I think it’s going to be just under that 11.5 number. I think Florida State will win 67-58.


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