After back-to-back wins at home, the 13th ranked Virginia Cavaliers will take to the road on Saturday for a rematch with the Florida State Seminoles. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:00 PM Eastern in Tallahassee, televised on ESPN 2.
Virginia won the first meeting 62-57 at home in early December. The Cavaliers come in with a 4-2 ACC record, among five teams tied for 3rd place in the conference standings. The Seminoles are a game behind at 3-3.
About Florida State
Head Coach Leonard Hamilton’s team has dealt with a lot of adversity this season. They’ve lost key players to injury. Brown transfer Jaylan Gainey suffered a torn ACL in the Fall. Then, starting forward Cam’Ron Fletcher was lost for the season after a knee injury during the UVA game. And the NCAA suspended prized freshman Baba Miller for the first 16 games.
The Seminoles enter with a 5-12 overall record, 3-3 in conference play. There are ugly early-season losses to Stetson, Troy, and Siena on the resume. But they’ve shown a lot of improvement of late, winning four out of the last seven. They’re a perfect 3-0 at home in ACC play, although all of those wins came against teams near the bottom of the standings.
Florida State Personnel
Sophomore wing Matthew Cleveland (14.4 PPG) has been the biggest reason for FSU’s improved play of late. Since the loss at UVA, he’s averaging better than 18 points and 11 rebounds. That includes six straight double-doubles. They’re starting off in a smaller lineup now with him in the power forward spot. The adjustment seems to have really sparked his game.
They want the ball in the hands of junior guard Caleb Mills (13.3 PPG) to create offense. After struggling with his shot early in the season, he’s hit 44% from deep over the last seven games. UCF transfer guard Darin Green Jr (14.0 PPG) is their best three-point shooter at 42%, and their only high-volume threat. Sophomore point guard Jalen Warley (5.6 PPG) has moved into the starting lineup since Fletcher’s injury.
They’ve made a change up front as well. Freshman big man Cameron Corhen (7.6 PPG) has started the last four games. He’s more of an offensive-minded player than 7-4 sophomore Naheem McLeod (4.4 PPG), whose minutes are matchup dependent off the bench now.
Freshman forward Baba Miller (4.0 PPG) made his debut in Wednesday’s loss at Wake Forest, logging 17 minutes off the bench. A potential one-and-done talent from Spain, he could be a problem once he finds his footing. And freshman wing Tom House (2.1 PPG) made an impact in the game at UVA, hitting a pair of triples.
Despite the awful start and the injuries FSU has dealt with, you had to know Leonard Hamilton would figure out the formula to improve as the year went along. The lineup changes have helped. And their key players are just playing better. Some of the statistical weaknesses for the full season aren’t really that true anymore.
They’re much harder to defend now that they’re playing more with essentially four guards. Three-point shooting has improved a lot. They’re at 38.6% since the UVA loss, compared to 31.8% before. Their turnover rate has dropped significantly. And after being outrebounded in eight of their first ten games, they’ve flipped that script in four of the last seven.
Hamilton has traded defense for offense with the lineup adjustments. So, the defensive end is a weakness for them. The lack of rim protection when McLeod isn’t in the game is especially problematic. But regardless of the personnel, their aggressive style has usually bothered UVA.
FSU Size Advantage
Even in a smaller lineup, FSU has a size advantage. Their guards are big. All three starting guards are listed at 6-5 or 6-6. Matthew Cleveland at 6-7 still slides out as a guard for part of the game too. Kihei Clark will give up even more size than he’s used to, and all the UVA guards will need to defend bigger players.
The 6-11 Baba Miller introduces a new weapon for the Seminoles. It’ll be interesting to see how much he plays, and how they use him. There’s potential for a jumbo lineup with him alongside Corhen with Cleveland at guard.
Virginia fans understand that this will be a difficult game. FSU is always a tough matchup for the Hoos, even more so in Tallahassee. But in terms of rankings and tournament resume, it’s all downside. FSU is at 226th in the NCAA’s NET rankings. That makes this a Quad-3 game, and only barely above Quad-4 range.
Despite FSU clearly being much better than their overall resume, they still haven’t beaten anyone very good. Their best win is over Georgia Tech, 147th in the NET. It might not be easy, but this is a game UVA needs to win if they’re going to compete for the top spot in the ACC
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