Last season went sideways when Ian Miller got hurt. Now, with Miller's latest injury, FSU could be in for a repeat. His injury status is still a bit of a mystery at this point, but we do know that he won't be playing tonight. Should his ankle injury be serious enough that he'll miss a serious chunk of time, then I've already stated what I think the season's fate would be, but the reality is that this team is a year older and potentially could play well without him.
The immediate problem is depth. The Noles have three scholarship guards, a situation created when Terry Whisnant transferred because Xavier Rathan-Mayes was about to steal all of his minutes. Things didn't exactly play out that way, and now we have Devon Bookert, Montay Brandon, and Aaron Thomas for the guard position. There's no way to play Leonard Hamilton's defense with only three guards and expect players to remain fresh enough to be competitive. After the loss to Clemson (in which Miller played 7 minutes) Coach Hamilton noted that fatigue played a major role down the stretch.
Before I discuss how to replace Miller, first we need to look at what we're replacing. When he's on the floor Miller uses 26.2% of FSU's possessions. Not only does that lead the team but it's the most for any FSU player since Toney Douglas's senior season five years ago. So it's not just that FSU is replacing its leading scorer, but they're replacing the guy who always has the ball in his hand, and the guy skilled enough to make something good happen late in the shot clock when the offense has stagnated.
To address the lack of depth at the guard position FSU will have to do one of two things (or, most likely, a combination of both). First, FSU could play much more zone defense. Hamilton doesn't like to play zones except in specific situations, but at this point his choices are limited. Zones require much less running on defense because the defense doesn't have to chase players all over the court. This tends to limit fouls as well, which should help FSU stay out of what could be debilitating foul trouble.
The second thing FSU could do is play the walk-ons in meaningful situations. Unfortunately, the two experienced walk-ons - Joell Hopkins and Brandon Allen - are both wings. This leaves the third walk-on: Marquez White.
Marquez White's first love is basketball. But at his size his professional future is highly limited. Which is why he plays football. If he puts on the requisite bulk then he's a good size for an NFL cornerback. However, despite his physical limitations in hoops, he would be a high major basketball player if he'd focused on the sport. So he's not your typical walk-on. But he's only had a month to get into shape and learn the system, so how effective can he be? Or rather, how much can the players around him limit his liability?
I expect that FSU will both play more zone and play the walk-ons. A hidden advantage of playing zone is that man-to-man defenses are highly dependent on individual matchups. Zones, much less so. This means that FSU can more easily exploit their advantage of two 7-footers, because on defense they won't have to guard guys that are too quick for them. They just have to guard the rim. So Bojo or Ojo could theoretically play regardless of the opposition lineup.
The best case scenario for Miller and these changes would be if Miller only misses one game. And if we were to pick a game for him to miss, this would be it.
Virginia Tech (8-13, 1-8) is at the bottom of the ACC. They've lost 10 of 11, and the last three ACC games have been by 20 or more. They have two wins against teams in Pomeroy's top 100 (West Virginia and Miami of Florida), are 0-4 vs teams ranked 100-200, and they lost at home to UNC Greensboro (No. 322).
Virginia Tech has the conference's worst offense, and its 2nd worst defense. There's really not much to analyze. They score a lot from the arc (33% of their points, which is 40th nationally), they have a good, high volume senior in Jarrell Eddie, and I think freshman Ben Emelogu has the potential to be an All ACC player in the future. But for now, they're just not a very good team. With FSU sitting at 4-5 in conference there's really no pulling punches here: FSU absolutely has to find a way to get a win.
The Hokies are one of the worst teams in the nation at forcing turnovers, and their defense packs everything in which often leaves 3-pt shooters open. FSU is currently 2nd in ACC play making 40% of their 3s. The key will be using the bigs inside to set up Aaron Thomas and Devon Bookert from the arc.
Pomeroy, who doesn't factor in injuries, lists FSU as a 17-point favorite. Vegas has FSU -13.5. The game tips at 9pm from the Tuck and will be broadcast on the ACC Network and ESPN3.