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Basketball Observations: FSU earns a massive road victory over Louisville

The Seminoles beat the Cardinals in Louisville for the first time since 1989.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball is a high variance sport. This is even more true in college basketball, when you’re dealing with 20 year olds and a much closer three-point line. So perhaps this result shouldn’t feel as surprising as it does? Regardless, just three days after playing a collectively awful game against Wake Forrest, the Seminoles summoned a tremendous effort to upset a powerhouse program in their own building, 80-76.

Above the Rim:

  • FSU is the more athletic team in most games they play. But this is rarely the case when Florida State and Louisville matchup and this year is no exception. Louisville is FSU with higher ranked recruits. They have long athletes all over the court, they excel in transition, and they protect the rim with ferocity. To open the game, Florida State guards were aggressive, but tried to avoid contact as they went to the basket. This simply doesn’t work against Louisville’s athletes. However, for the last 25 minutes the Seminoles drove right into the chest of the Cardinals shot blockers. This accomplished two things: 1) The ‘Noles started getting shots to fall—52% in the second half vs just 40% in the first. 2) They started drawing fouls—attempting 23 free throws in the second half vs just 8 in the first.
  • For the second game in a row, the Seminoles failed to make a three pointer after halftime. But unlike the Wake game, FSU was able to scratch out a win. How? For starters, did you read the previous bullet? 23 free throw attempts in the second half alone...that’s going to win you a bunch of games. However, the ‘Noles did something else they haven’t done in a while—they defended. Wake Forest was able to score nearly at will in the second half, largely because of undisciplined and slow rotating defense. Conversely, FSU held Louisville to 36% shooting in the second half, including zero fastbreak points.
  • While the defense was markedly better, FSU’s guards must stop going for so many pump fakes on the perimeter. Teams are starting to recognize that guys like CJ Walker, M.J. Walker, and Braian Angola go for the pump fake nearly every time and are taking advantage. The result is either a foul or a wide open driving lane that forces a different defender to get out of position and/or foul.
  • We have harped on FSU’s poor defensive rebounding all season. Actually, since before the season even began. But against Louisville, the Seminoles turned in a fantastic effort on the defensive glass. Led by Christ Koumadje’s seven defensive rebounds, Florida State grabbed over 82% of Louisville’s misses, holding the Cardinals to nearly half their average performance.

Court Level:

  • Trent Forrest was spectacular. With CJ Walker on the bench with foul trouble for much of the second half, the sophomore from Chipley played 31 minutes off the bench and quite frankly stole the show. Forrest, the KenPom MVP of the game, confidently directed the offense, played high-level defense, and led FSU in rebounding. 10 points, 9 rebounds (3 offensive), 5 assists, a steal, and only 2 turnovers against the vaunted Cardinal press? Yeah, that’ll do.
  • Braian Angola found his stroke in the first half and FSU needed it. Coming off a 1-8 performance against Wake, Angola nailed three first half three-balls, keeping FSU within striking distance. The senior got into foul trouble early in the second, playing just 6 minutes after halftime, but his two free throws with less than minute to go were obviously huge.
  • Phil Cofer continued his sensational senior season. Time and time again when the Seminoles needed a bucket, Phil came through. He finished as FSU’s leading scorer for the second straight game, including a three ball late in the first half that sent the Seminoles into the locker room with the lead and a beautiful show and go, dipsy doo layup that should make most of the highlight reels.
  • M.J. Walker grew up a bit more in this game. Nearly all freshman are inconsistent and Walker is no exception. But he continues to show off pieces of a game that is slowly but surely becoming well-rounded. Forced to play 17 second half minutes due to the foul trouble, Walker made contributions on the scoreboard, the glass, and on defense. Yes, he still had a few moments to learn from, but FSU doesn’t get this win without his steady play. The highlight of his performance was his nifty lob in traffic to Koumadje for a monster ally oop that allowed FSU to regain the lead with just under 10 minutes to play in the game.
  • Terance Mann came into the game with only 4 blocks on the season, but his 5th was enormous. After missing two potentially game saving free throws with under 20 seconds left, it would have been easy for Mann to hang his head or make a dumb decision. Instead, the junior calmly sized up 5-star V.J. King, moved his feet, and exploded for a game saving—and maybe even season saving—block. Buzzer beaters are always memorable, but Mann’s block might have a bigger impact on FSU’s Selection Sunday outcome than Dwayne Bacon’s sizzling three to beat UVA in Charlottesville last season.

Looking Ahead:

Speaking of UVA, the Cavaliers come to Tallahassee on Wednesday, February 7th. 22-1 on the season, there’s a strong argument for Virginia to be the number 1 team in the country. FSU is 7-5 against UVA since Tony Bennett took over as Virginia’s head coach nearly nine years ago, but it is likely to take a phenomenal effort to make it 8-5.