The 3rd ranked Virginia Cavaliers open ACC play on Saturday by hosting the Florida State Seminoles. Tipoff is scheduled for 2:00 PM Eastern at John Paul Jones Arena, televised on ESPN2.
About Florida State
The Seminoles enter with a disappointing 1-8 record. Head Coach Leonard Hamilton has his two top scorers back from last season, but he’s had to replace the majority of his rotation. They were handed some tough blows before the season started, losing Brown transfer Jaylan Gainey to injury and prized freshman Baba Miller to suspension. Both of them were expected to be key contributors.
FSU’s only win was over Mercer. There’s been head-scratching losses to Stetson, Troy, and Siena mixed in. They’re coming off probably their best outing though, a 79-69 loss to fifth-ranked Purdue. The Seminoles only trailed by two at halftime. So while the resume is undeniably ugly, there are signs of them starting to right the ship.
Florida State’s Personnel
Their three starting guards have the potential to be as good as any backcourt in the ACC. Senior Caleb Mills (12.3 PPG) has struggled with his three-point shot so far this year, but he’s a bucket-getter who can create on his own at any time. Central Florida transfer Darin Green (12.7 PPG) is their best shooter at 42% on triples. And sophomore Matthew Cleveland (12.3 PPG) is a matchup nightmare at 6’7″. Green and Cleveland are coming in hot after combining for 43 points against Purdue.
Junior forward Cam’Ron Fletcher (11.8 PPG) has stepped up his production this year. A high-level athlete, he’s also one of their best three-point shooters. And of course FSU always has a goliath to protect the rim. 7’4” junior Naheem McLeod (3.4 PPG) fits the bill.
There are two notable reserves. Sophomore Jalen Warley (4.4 PPG) is the only true point guard in the rotation. Despite offensive struggles, he’s continued to get heavy minutes. And they’ll trade defense for offense when freshman big man Cameron Corhen (6.4 PPG) comes in for McLeod. Hamilton has been using 10 players in most games, but it’s not the same quality of depth recent FSU teams have had.
FSU didn’t go 1-8 without having some very real problems. It’s not a good shooting team. They’re at 31.7% from three-point range overall. And in four games against power conference opponents, that sinks to 24%. Even one of the things they do well, drawing fouls, is somewhat negated by only hitting 69% from the charity stripe.
Their biggest issue, however, is on the boards. They’ve been one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. On both ends of the floor. That’s partially attributable to the players they’re missing for sure. The remaining frontline is very athletic, but not the most rugged group.
Matching Up With Cleveland
Florida State always has a big and athletic team that presents matchup problems. Sophomore Matthew Cleveland was a headache for Virginia in their meeting last season, going for 20 points. He’s a unique player. A big guard at 6’7”, they mostly use him in the 3-spot. He’s really good at scoring off the bounce or drawing fouls. It’s a tough assignment.
It’ll be interesting to see what UVA has planned. Armaan Franklin will likely start off guarding him. Beekman and Ryan Dunn should get their turns as well. But I’ll be curious if Bennett goes jumbo again. Against Michigan with their somewhat similar big guard Jett Howard, UVA used it as an opportunity to play Jayden Gardner, Ben Vander Plas, and Kadin Shedrick all together for the first time. It created a mismatch in the post for Vander Plas or Gardner to exploit.
FSU has won six of the last nine in this series. Leonard Hamilton’s teams have been a thorn in UVA’s side. They do such a great job of being disruptive defensively within the halfcourt. And then they always have guys capable of making great individual offensive plays. This year’s Seminoles might not be Hamilton’s best, but they still have some really gifted players.
There’s no chance of Virginia taking this game lightly after FSU shocked them at JPJ last year. And as long as they put in a focused 40 minute effort, Wahoo fans should have a happy evening. But all of us who’ve followed this series know it’s not a gimme
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