A month ago the season looked to be coming off the rails. FSU lost at home to Miami to cap a stretch where they lost five of six games. But senior Ian Miller refused to let the team be relegated so early to a lesser post season tournament. He scored 25 in a big win at Wake Forest (who beat all the North Carolina teams at home). He played great again the next game vs the Tar Heels, but fellow senior Okaro White was in constant foul trouble and FSU dropped a hard fought game.
This left the Seminoles with no margin for error down the stretch. White apologized to fans and teammates, and vowed to do his best to avoid the silly fouls which have plagued his career. Since then, he's been playing his best basketball, and FSU has won three straight to put themselves right back on the bubble.
The bubble has been unusually strong of late, so it looks like FSU will need to beat Syracuse (26-4, 13-4) to get in. A loss and FSU will likely have to make the finals of the ACC tournament.
The Orange are struggling entering today's game. After beginning the season 25-0 they've suddenly lost four of five. Star 6-8 sophomore Jerami Grant injured his back in the second of those losses, and then was ineffective in the next two games. Finally, in their last outing vs Georgia Tech, Grant sat out and Syracuse lost again. Grant himself had replaced DaJuan Coleman in the starting lineup after he was lost for the second straight season with a knee injury, and Grant was far more effective (11.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, vs 4.3 ppg and 4.2 rpg). Of course, this is Syracuse, so when they have "depth issues" they just plug in a consensus top 40 recruit in 6-8 Tyler Roberson who will play today if Grant is unable to go.
The rest of their starters are more familiar. Senior C.J. Fair hasn't been the efficient star that he was in the Big East, but is still averaging 16.7 points and 6.2 rebounds. After making 47% of his 3s last year, he's only making 27% this year. Sophomore guard Trevor Cooney (12.6 per game) is the primary 3-pt shooter, with 72% of his shots coming from the arc. Since their loss to Boston College Cooney has been mired in a terrible slump, making just 19% of his 3s (7-37) and lowering his season average from 43% to 39%. Cooney is joined in the back court by freshman Tyler Ennis and the Canadian has been fantastic. He's averaging 12.3 points and 5.6 assists, and is rocketing up the NBA draft boards. He has the best assist rate in the ACC, and the 2nd lowest turnover rate among conference point guards. The final starter is 6-9 junior center Rakeem Christmas who is ahead of Boris Bojanovsky for the best block% in the conference.
Overall their offense is No. 32 nationally, though they've struggled during the latest losses. Still, they don't turn the ball over (10th in the nation) and are the 19th best offensive rebounding team. It's imperative that all five guys rebound for FSU.
The problem with committing everyone to the boards is that it allows Syracuse to get back on defense and get into their zone. Their defense is ranked 19th nationally and No. 2 in ACC play.Their length in the zone forces a tremendous number of turnovers, and they are the 4th best team in the nation at blocking shots. Like FSU, the 'Cuse focus on shutting down the interior leads to a lot of looks from deep, and so FSU is going to have to shoot the ball well. The Noles are the No. 1 3-point shooting team in the conference, and if they want to close out the careers of the seniors on a high note, they better keep up the good shooting today.
The game tips at 2pm from the Tuck and will be broadcast on the ACC Network and ESPN3. Syracuse is a 2-point favorite.