On their search for a resume quality out-of-conference win, the Noles nearly upset Iowa on Wednesday night but ended up dropping the game in OT. Now the Seminoles have two more chances. They need to beat VCU or Florida, and take care of business against the rest.
Virginia Commonwealth (5-2) has played well, only dropping two close games to last year's National Final teams Duke and Wisconsin. VCU led Duke with less than 12 minutes to play before the Blue Devils made a late run. Against Wisconsin, the Rams lost in the final seconds.
This is coach Will Wade's first season after taking over for Shaka Smart, and it appears that VCU is in good hands. Wade, the former director of basketball operations at Clemson, was Smart's first hire at VCU, and had recently been the head coach at Chattanooga.
They still press like Shaka's teams, but it's not the all-game 94-feet or bust variety. Now they'll pick their spots to just drop back and defend, mostly into a 1-3-1 matchup zone. Their defense has generated a steal on 16.2% of opponent possessions, which is 2nd best nationally.
It will be a good test for the Noles offense which, to date, has given up fewer steals than any other ACC team.
The amount of turnovers VCU causes fuels a top-25 defense, but if you can break the press then open 3s and alley oops become available. FSU will need to attack quickly, in that brief moment when the press is broken but the defense hasn't had time to reestablish.
On offense they're led by 6-4 senior Melvin Johnson. Johnson will leave VCU as one of their all time scorers, and is averaging 17.6 ppg. Just over half his shot attempts are 3s, and he's made 46%. He's good off the dribble and his go-to is a little floater in the lane.
6-4 senior Korey Billbury is the other double figure scorer, averaging 11.0 per game. They have two stout players down low in JUCO transfer Ahmed Hamdy Mohamed (6-9, 230), and junior Mo Alie-Cox (6-7, 250).
Their offense can bog down in half court sets, and so FSU will have to improve their transition defense which has given up far too many easy buckets this year. Florida State wants a wide open game when the Noles have the ball, and a half-court rock fight when VCU has control.
The game is in Atlanta, but I still expect the crowd to be slightly partisan to VCU, as their fans travel well.
The game tips Sunday at 2 PM from Phillips Arena, and will be broadcast on ESPNU. The Vegas line is a pick 'em, and Pomeroy has the Noles by 1.