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No. 24 FSU women’s basketball faces No. 7 Notre Dame in major test

The Seminoles have an opportunity for a statement win.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 04 Women’s UConn at Notre Dame Photo by Marcus Snowden/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Florida State (18-4, 7-2 ACC) will travel to South Bend, IN to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16-2, 7-1 ACC) on Thursday at 8pm. FSU is third in the ACC while ND is tied for first. This game is a prime opportunity for a resume enhancing victory. Not only are the Irish ranked sixth in the NET (FSU is 15th) but the game is in South Bend so if Florida State could get a positive result it would be doubly impressive to the committee.

Notre Dame overview

Notre Dame is a balanced team that does many things well. The Irish lead the ACC in FG% (.478) and are second in FG% defense (.349). FSU is sixth (.440) and fourth (.358) respectively. ND has such a high percentage offensively mainly because they are so good at getting great shots. The Irish are adept in the open court and they are very good at crashing the offensive glass for easy putbacks.

ND is also very efficient in the half court due primarily to the brilliance of their sophomore point guard Olivia Miles (15.6pts, 7.3reb, 7.2 ast). As you can see, Miles is capable of filling the stat sheet. She has the inside track to ACC Player of the Year honors. Miles is very good at setting her teammates up for layups even in the half court offense. She is also a terror in transition.

Notre Dame also features impressive size in the frontcourt. The Irish can rotate 6’4 Kylee Watson, 6’4 Lauren Ebo, 6’3 Maddy Westbeld and 6’5 Natalija Marshall. If ND can translate this size advantage into easy shots in the post or into second chance opportunities it may be a long night for the Seminoles.

However, while the Irish have many strengths no team is perfect. Notre Dame has been blessed to be able to field the same five starters for all 18 games that they have played this year. Unfortunately, that streak will end on Thursday as graduate student Dara Mabrey announced that the ACL injury that she suffered against Virginia on Sunday will end her season and career at Notre Dame.

Of course we never root for injury and we wish Mabrey nothing but the best in her recovery. Nevertheless, her absence will have a big effect on the court. Mabrey started all 18 games this year. Even before this injury ND was a thin team. Now that weakness is even more pronounced. With Mabrey available head coach Niele Ivey basically used a seven player rotation. With her gone the team will have to integrate a much less experienced player into the rotation. Freshman guard KK Bransford will likely step into the starting lineup. Bransford offers more size on the wing than Mabrey and profiles as a better defensive player. However, ND will lose a lot of offense with Mabrey’s absence. Mabrey has taken 112 of Notre Dame’s 269 total threes on the year. No other Irish player has taken more than 50 threes this year.

Keys to the Game

As discussed earlier, the Irish are accomplished at generating good shots. They do this through fast breaks, putbacks and the impressive passing of Miles in the half court. Florida State must keep the Irish layups to a minimum. If ND wins this game because they hit a lot of jumpers (like Louisville did) either in the midrange or from behind the arc then you just have to tip your cap. Therefore, the Noles must put a premium on defensive rebounding and minimize any live ball turnovers.

Notre Dame must be able to defend without fouling. Florida State is third nationally in free throws made per game. Getting to the line is a big part of the Seminole offense. ND cannot afford to foul because the Seminoles are so good at the line and because the Irish are so thin especially with Mabrey unavailable.

It will be interesting to discover how ND will deal with Mabrey’s absence. They did just fine against Virginia last week. However, UVA is not as good as FSU and one of Virginia’s best players (Sam Brunelle) didn’t play due to being suspended a game for her altercation with Sara Bejedi late in UVA’s loss to Florida State last week. Spacing will be an issue as FSU will not have to respect many other shooters. Sonia Citron is 24-40 from deep this year and Westbeld is 14-37 but no other Notre Dame player should concern FSU from beyond the arc.

Bottom Line

These next two games (Duke visits Tallahassee on Sunday) are huge for Florida State. If the Noles win either they will likely move up a seed line. If they can somehow take both the Seminoles could move up two seed lines. ESPN’s Charlie Creme currently has FSU on the five line. If they can move up to a top four seed the Seminoles will be hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Therefore, the importance of these next two games cannot be overstated.

The game will tip on Thursday at 8pm and will be broadcast on Bally Sports.