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Basketball Breakdown: No. 9 FSU gets blown out in Charlottesville

Welcome to league play.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State, ranked ninth in the country, traveled to fourth ranked Virginia to open ACC play and got a reminder of what any long-time fan knows—winning on the road in this league is really hard. After a strong opening five minutes, the Seminoles were outclassed in every phase of the game, ultimately losing 65-52.

Games like this are best to just toss out and move on from. There wasn’t a reasonable expectation to beat UVA on the road—the ‘Hoos are a top 3 team in the country and, in my humble opinion, college basketball has the biggest “home field” advantages of any sport in the country. So this won’t be an extended breakdown. However, there are still a few noteworthy items.

Above the Rim:

  • FSU has started poorly a number of times this season, but that wasn’t the case against UVA. In fact, the first five minutes went about as well as could be expected and the Seminoles jumped out to an 8-4 lead. Unfortunately, the next 30 minutes were awful. Couldn’t buy a shot, fouled too much, couldn’t get out in transition (even when they deflected passes or blocked shots, the bounce just didn’t go their way), gave up too many offensive rebounds, and allowed Kyle Guy to get flame thrower hot from beyond the arc.
  • The Seminoles need to realize and adjust to the fact that they won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year. Between the Elite 8 run and the number in front of their name in the paper, opposing teams will be prepared and focused—especially on the road. Last year these ‘Nole players learned how to win. That paid dividends in close games against teams like Purdue and LSU. This year, these guys will have to learn how to win with a target on their back.
  • FSU continued to pass up open shots and it’s continuing to hurt the offense. Don’t let the announcers fool you. Guys like Terance Mann, M.J. Walker, David Nichols, Anthony Polite, and PJ Savoy need to let it fly when they get a good look from the perimeter, especially from the corner. 1) FSU is an elite offensive rebounding team, so a missed shot isn’t necessarily a bad thing; 2) the offense is predicated on it. Not following the rules of the offense screws up the flow for all the other guys who are expecting the rule to be followed, and often leads to a turnover or a worse look.
  • This game was a great example of how not having an elite shot creator like Dwayne Bacon holds this offense back from being elite. Against elite defenses that don’t allow you to execute your bread and butter, it’s critical to have at least one guy who can beat his man one-on-one and go get a bucket late in the clock. Two years ago, FSU was able to spring the upset in Charlottesville because Bake did what NBA players do. This year the Seminoles simply don’t have a guy who can consistently do that. Now if Anthony Edwards is wearing Garnet and Gold next year...

Court Level:

Let’s be honest: most of the team didn’t have their best stuff yesterday. And that’s being generous (a hobbled Terance Mann actually went scoreless for the first time since January 18, 2017). But I’m not here to rip on college kids who are great representatives of their university. So, what actually did go right?

  • Phil Cofer made two threes, giving him at least one made three in his last three games. He’s clearly not yet in game shape after his extended absence, but it’s nice to see that his perimeter shot has picked up where it left off last year.
  • Walker was able to play after missing last game with a knee injury suffered two games ago. Getting him back to full speed will be critical for the ACC grind. (I’d love to see him fully embrace a 3 and D role and stop driving into the teeth of the defense, but I digress).
  • Polite saw extended action and continues to look more comfortable on defense and confident on offense. He even made his first three since December 8th.
  • RaiQuan Gray saw extended action and seems to be gaining awareness on defense, while also making his presence felt on the glass. Offensively, it appears like he’s still figuring out his role and, like Walker, often tries to do a bit too much. Still, experiences like this will pay big dividends in future seasons.
  • Savoy saw the ball go through the hoop, going 2-4 from downtown. After suffering through an 8-38 stretch between November 23 and December 19, the senior has now gone 4-10 over the last three games. On the other side of the ball, Savoy was alert, grabbing 5 steals.
  • Devin Vassell got some late run and, as usual, looked good. I completely understand why the coaching staff wouldn’t want to push a freshman (who’s young for his class) into the fire against the best defense in the country on the road in his first ACC game, so him playing just 6 minutes was expected. That said, this kid just makes plays when he’s on the court and hopefully experiences like this will help him get bumped up to 12-15 minutes of run by mid-February.
  • No existing injuries (Mann, Walker, Cofer, Mfiondu Kabengele) appeared to be exacerbated. No one has anything major, but the team has a lot of bumps and bruises right now and it would be great to get healthy by the end of January.
  • FSU made a late run and trimmed the final margin to 13. In the real world, this doesn’t really matter. A loss is a loss and no one on the committee will dock a team for being blown out at Virginia. However, in the raw efficiency (i.e., not adjusted for competition) world of the NET Rankings, losing by 13 is a heck of a lot better than losing by 25. Basketball analytics guru, John Gasaway probably said it best:

At the Scorer’s Table:

FSU comes back to the friendly confines of the Tucker Center for a two-game home stand against Miami and Duke, starting with the Hurricanes on Wednesday. It’s imperative for FSU to win at least 1 of these games if they want to have a realistic shot at the double bye for the ACC Tournament.

Chris Lykes, Miami’s diminutive point guard, will probably frustrate Seminole fans with his ability to get into the paint off the dribble drive, but this UM basketball team only goes 6 or 7 players deep and are several notches below the product put on the court in Coral Gables the last few years.