Less than 24 hours after being blown out by Providence, the Seminoles (1-2) have to regroup and face a talented UMass team. The Minutemen (3-1) aren't deep, but they are talented. They won their first three games (Siena, BC, Manhattan) before falling to Notre Dame yesterday.
It starts up front with 6-10 senior Cady Lalanne, who is one of the most athletic centers FSU will face this year. In their win against Manhattan Lalanne went off for 23 points and 16 boards, and he averaging a double-double on the year with 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds. His athleticism presents a big problem, and unfortunately for FSU his running mate in the post is another athletic freak. Senior Maxie Esho, a 6-8 forward, is averaging 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds. Both players get to the line a lot and UMass has attempted the 4th most free throws in the nation.
The back court is led by Derrick Gordon. Gordon became a national name in April when he came out and became the first openly gay player in major college basketball. He says that the overwhelmingly positive response he's received has allowed him to relax and player better basketball. And now, as a junior, the consensus top-50 recruit is having his best season. He's averaging 15.5 points and has raised his free throw % more than 20 points from his career average, which is important because he lives at the line. Gordon is nearly impossible to keep out of the lane, and is drawing 8 fouls per 40 minutes.
For FSU, the key will be handling a team that plays a lot like itself. UMass likes to run, they like to get to the rim, and they pressure you on defense. The other team's length will bother both offenses.
With the Noles struggling in the early going, it's time for the juniors to step up. Montay Brandon has been fantastic, but Aaron Thomas and Devon Bookert have struggled. AT hasn't played with the consistent focus that he needs, and Bookert has been too passive trying to get the new players involved. AT and Book have both been passing up scoring opportunities. If those three combine for 40+ shots today you won't hear any complaints from me.
The game tips at noon on ESPNU. UMass is favored by 1 point.