For the first time in program history the ESPN Gameday crew is in town. This is great for the University, for the basketball program, and even for the football program which is hosting a huge recruiting weekend.
Florida State (10-6, 1-1) takes on UNC (15-2, 2-0). Last year this game ended with Harrison Barnes knocking down a three in the closing seconds to beat FSU. Michael Snaer has repeatedly said he's thought about that shot every day since it happened. But this is a new team, and a new year. Florida State is still searching for a signature win, and this is the only shot they get at North Carolina.
The Tar Heels come to town winners of 9 straight. All nine of those have been at home. In fact UNC has only played three true road games and lost two. There's a reason big time programs don't go on the road in out of conference play. Still, UNC is the favorite for a reason. On their roster they have eight consensus top-25 recruits. That's as many as the rest of the conference combined. Florida State has had three in the 12 years for which consensus rankings are available. UNC starts the game with that many on the bench. This is arguably the most talented team in the nation. Anything short of the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament, a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and Final Four appearance should be considered a disappointment.
When UNC has the ball it's a matchup of strength on strength. UNC has the 10th best offense* in the nation, and FSU has the 8th best defense. The Tar Heels have the 2nd fastest tempo in the country and their offense is fueled by fast breaks and secondary breaks. If they're shooting before 8 seconds have elapsed off the shot clock then FSU is in trouble. They're not a great shooting team, but they're among the best at creating more possessions than the other team. They don't turn the ball over (10th nationally) and they're relentless on the offensive glass (10th). They have the best frontcourt in the nation. Tyler Zeller and John Henson are both elite rebounders who shoot 54% on their 2s. Harrison Barnes scores mostly off jump shots and has eliminated his weakness from last year (3-pt shooting), and now is shooting 46% from beyond the arc. In the backcourt Kendall Marshall has the 4th best assist rate in the nation, and Dexter Strickland is an All ACC caliber defender. When they go to the bench they bring in Reggie Bullock, PJ Hairston and James McAdoo (sore ankle), all consensus top-15 recruits who present serious matchup problems.
[*note - ESPN and the rest of the media will repeatedly tell you that UNC has the best offense in the nation. But they don't. In basketball you have to correct for tempo. It's not how many points you score, it's how many you score per possession. UNC scores 86.9 a game. Michigan State scores 76.8. If you think that makes UNCs offense better then I have some land to sell you.....and if you think UNCs defense is average because they are 150th in points allowed, then please call me right now about said land....We're not lazy at Tomahawk Nation. We present data that matters.]
When FSU has the ball it's a matchup of strength on weakness. UNC has the 6th best defense in the nation, while FSU's offense is ranked 167th. UNC allows the fewest free throw attempts in the country. They're 20th at preventing offensive boards and their defensive eFG% is 28th. Their weakness is their failure to force turnovers. And they have Kendall Marshall, who any guard in the ACC should be able to attack.
So how can FSU win this game? To start, they have to play inspired defense. Without a great defensive effort this is a game that the Noles simply can't win. That likely means a score somewhere in the neighborhood of last year's game in Tallahassee (72-70). On offense FSU needs to challenge UNCs intimidating front line. They aren't used to being challenged. But this doesn't mean dumping the ball into the post in half court sets. FSU needs to spread the floor, most likely with four players outside the 3-pt line. They need to use ball reversals and screens to be able to penetrate the defense off the dribble. Once the defense is collapsing good things can happen. And FSU simply has to knock down some 3s. The Noles are 289th in the nation. Making 33% or more of their attempts would be considered a success.
The game tips at 2pm on ESPN from the Donald L Tucker Center. Florida State opened an 8-point dog, but the line has since moved to UNC -6.5. Pomeroy has UNC -6.