When these two teams met just after the New Year the Hoos were coming off a 35-point beatdown at the hands of Tennessee. But they handled FSU easily, and offered the first sign that their lofty preseason expectations weren't a fantasy. In a scheduling quirk the two teams met again just two weeks later, and Virginia won by the exact margin as the first meeting: 12 points. For Virginia that 2nd game was the beginning of a 13 game winning streak which didn't end until their season finale vs Maryland. FSU went the other direction, struggling through the middle reaches of ACC play before righting the ship near the end.
Those games vs Virginia exposed serious flaws in FSU's attack. They turned out to be FSU's worst and 3rd worst ACC games in terms of TO%. FSU repeatedly tried to attack the teeth of UVA's pack-line defense, and repeatedly turned the ball over. The Noles were one of five ACC opponents to score a point per possession vs UVA (in the 2nd game) but they lost because they turned it over on 27% of their possessions.
So now the two meet again, and FSU's tourney hopes may be at stake.
Struggling against the Virginia defense is nothing to be ashamed of. The difference between UVA and the No. 2 ACC defense (Syracuse) is the same as the difference between Syracuse and the No. 12 ACC defense. UVA's defense is just at a different level than anyone else FSU plays.
So how to beat them?
First, FSU is going to have to stay out of foul trouble. Against Maryland the Noles played two walk-ons in the first half thanks to foul trouble on Okaro White and Aaron Thomas, and that can't happen against UVA. The Noles are already facing an uphill battle with only 9 scholarship players, and they need to face it with a full roster.
Second, the Seminoles need to win the 3-point lottery. FSU is the best 3-point shooting team in the conference and the Hoos have the best 3-point defense in the conference, as well as the best 2-point defense. The pack-line is exceptional at taking away anything on the inside, and the Noles need to emulate Duke's recipe for beating Virginia, which was making 10-22 3s.
Lastly, FSU has to play a great defensive game. The Cavaliers have the No. 25 offense in the county, and FSU won't win a shootout with UVA (a pace adjusted first-to-70 type shootout, of course, as Virginia is has the 343rd tempo in the nation). The Noles held them to below a point per possession in the first game, and are one of two ACC teams who can make that claim.
Stay out of foul trouble, knock down a healthy amount of 3s, and hold UVA below a point per possession. If those three things happen then the Noles should have the inside track on their 5th NCAA tournament in six years.
The game tips at noon on ESPN2, and Virginia is a 7-point favorite.