Through three games, FSU has handled every test. They easily dispatched two teams who they overmatched, and they went to Orlando as a 1.5-point dog and beat UCF by 12. The formula has been getting defensive stops and turning those opportunities into offense.
But now the competition raises several notches. FSU is in Puerto Rico for the PR Tip-Off, and they open against No. 10 Virginia Commonwealth.
Since this is the first game against a name opponent, there will be lots of Noles watching their first game of the season. For those, here's a video I posted after the UCF game which demonstrates how much FSU is trying to get out in transition.
Tonight's opponent presents a unique challenge as VCU has led the nation in steal% in each of the past two seasons, and is first again this year. They force turnovers on 29% of opponent possessions, and FSU hasn't exactly been taking care of the ball (335th nationally in TO%). VCU's strategy is to pressure the ball handler at all times, and have secondary defenders ready to jump the passing lanes. The Noles are going to turn the ball over, there's no doubt of that. The key is what happens when FSU handles the pressure. If they are converting those opportunities into easy buckets and open 3s, then they might be able to pull the upset.
FSU's defense has been no slouch, either. The Noles are the 4th best team in the nation at forcing turnovers (27.3% of opponent possessions) and VCU has been uncharacteristically loose with the ball this year (203rd). This is due to the loss of Darius Theus, who was the definition of a "glue" guy. They also lost Troy Daniels, who was their best 3-pt shooter.
But Shaka Smart has turned this team into one that just reloads. They have athletes all over the floor. 6-6 Treveon Graham is leading the team in scoring and rebounding and he's likely on his way to 1st Team All-Conference in the Atlantic 10. They also have three other guys averaging at least 9.7 per game. Still, their offense is well behind their defense. They rely on easy buckets off of turnovers and can have trouble in half court sets. When FSU does turn the ball over they need to be of the dead-ball variety so that the defense can be set.
There will also be a familiar face playing for the Rams tonight, as FSU transfer Terrance Shannon is finishing his career at VCU. So far he's averaging 7.0 points and 2.7 rebounds.
The winner of this game goes on to face the winner of Michigan vs Long Beach State. On the other side of the bracket, Charlotte upset Kansas State, which is good for FSU. Not only does FSU play Charlotte in December, but should the Noles end up in the loser's bracket it gives them a shot at another solid opponent. Of course, the 2nd game added another quality opponent to the wrong bracket as Georgetown was upset by Northeastern. Win or lose, FSU will play three games in this tourney.
The game tips at ~730 on ESPNU. Both Vegas and Pomeroy have VCU favored by 8 (77% chance of winning).