There are two ways of looking at this game. In the first, this is the most anticipated regular season matchup for FSU since February 1993. Then it was #6 FSU vs #3 UNC. Today it's #15 FSU vs #5 Duke. The Tucker Center will be sold out and rocking, the most hated team in the conference (if not the country) will be on FSU's home floor, and the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament is on the line. Fans are pumped. Players are pumped. The game is on the mothership of sports channels. Everyone is paying attention.
The second way of looking at this - we'll call it Ham's way - is that this is just one more game for him to gauge his team. It's the same as Boston College. It's the same as Georgia Tech.
Of course fans and the media will be throwing that second-way out the window. But coach Hamilton is right. Win or lose, this is just another game. FSU will be the exact same team regardless. All of the preparation that has occurred since FSU lost to Virginia Commonwealth in the Sweet 16 has been geared toward winning this March. Today is just a snapshot into how well those preparations are paying off.
This isn't to diminish the atmosphere, or the gravity, or the excitement of this game. This is the type of game that fans live for. And rightfully so. So for the next few hours feel free to kick reality to the curb. This is the only game that matters. Beat Duke.
The Blue Devils enter Tallahassee as the only ACC team which hasn't lost on the road. FSU is the only ACC team that hasn't lost at home. One of those things has to change. Duke has the best offense in the conference. They do everything well. No ACC team has turned the ball over less in conference play, and they're 2nd in eFG%, offensive rebounding and getting to the line. Austin Rivers, Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins all shoot at least 40% from beyond the arc. Miles and Mason Plumlee are among the top-7 players in the conference at grabbing offensive boards. Their one weakness is that Austin Rivers is the only player who can break a defense down off the dribble. This isn't that big of a liability though, because he plays over 80% of Duke's minutes and there's not a player in the country that can consistently stop him. Since the Clemson game, no team has scored more per possession vs Florida State than Duke (1.09).
So if their offense is so special, why aren't they in the conversation with Kentucky, Syracuse, UNC and the others as National Title favorites? Well, unfortunately for Duke, they also have to play defense. Coach K is known as one of the best teachers of defense in ACC history. Florida State had the best defense in the nation each of the past two years. But not come conference time. In the ACC Duke had the best defense. Just like they had for the each of the past five years. But this year they're 6th. They have the best 3-pt defense in the ACC, but beyond that they're not very good. They're 9th at forcing turnovers. 9th at keeping teams off the offensive glass. And they put more players on the line than every ACC team but FSU. The reason is that their perimeter defense is porous. Austin Rivers is their best perimeter defender and on FSU's squad he'd probably rank about 4th. Quin Cook shows promise, but the rest are just poor defenders. For FSU to win they have to take advantage of this. Whenever you see FSU penetrating on the dribble, that's a good sign regardless of how the rest of the play unfolds. If FSU settles for swinging the ball on the perimeter and only attacking with passes, expect lots of turnovers and ugly possessions. The Seminoles were able to execute their gameplan in the 1st game. And while Coach Krzyzewski is a great planner, even he can't force good defense out of Duke's guards. With consistent penetration FSU will get the shots they want. From there, it's just a matter of whether they knock them down.
The game tips at 7pm from a sold out Tucker Center and will be broadcast on ESPN. In Vegas the game opened as a pick 'em but has since moved to Duke -1.5, while Pomeroy has FSU -1.