The ‘Noles are coming off an uncompetitive 21-point loss at UF (hey, we won the 2nd half!!) and need to right the ship. They’re off to the Sunshine Slam for a Monday tilt with UNLV.
1. When you’re young, sports moments have a way of lodging in your brain for life. One of those moments for me is the 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels team – brash, outspoken, dressed in aggressively baggy shorts that soon became standard wear for hoops – that put a beat down on the Kenny Anderson/Dennis Scott Georgia Tech team in the Final Four (while the racist crowd chanted “Hoodlums! Hoodlums!”) and then demolished the Christian Laettner Dukies 103-73. So it still feels shocking to me that UNLV hasn’t won their conference since 2000, and haven’t been to the dance in 10 years. Last season they raised hope with a 10-0 start, but faded in conference play. This year (2-1) they’re projected as an NIT team at best (sound familiar?).
2. This will be a strength-on-strength test for the ‘Noles. Kevin Kruger, son of Hall of Fame coach Lon Kruger, is known for a ball control, slow, tactical style of play, while Leonard Hamilton’s team is built to play in chaotic, fast placed games. UNLV is 331st in tempo, while FSU is 27th. The Rebels are 58th in turnovers, and FSU is 17th at forcing turnovers. Whoever can control the style of play will likely win the game.
3. Great Leonard Hamilton defenses are known for their ability to shut down the lane. He had back-to-back teams that finished 1st and 2nd nationally in defensive 2-pt%, and coached 14 straight teams which held opponents below 49% on 2s. Now teams are shooting greater that 50% for the 3rd straight season, and though it’s early, FSU has allowed opponents to make 55% of their 2s, which is 271st nationally. UNLV’s offense is at 58%, which is top-40 of 362 Division I teams.
4. The game is part of the prestigious* Sunshine Slam tournament. FSU’s off campus game was the win over Central Michigan, and now in Daytona Beach they’ll play UNLV and either Richmond or Colorado. Colorado (23rd) is the only team ranked higher than the ‘Noles on Ken Pom, while FSU, Richmond, and the Rebels are all bunched between 82nd and 107th. Someone is going home 0-2 and it would be a disaster if that someone is Florida State.
5. If you’re wondering why FSU’s defense is so bad despite being somewhat disruptive, the ‘Noles haven’t been able to close out possessions (332nd in defensive rebounding), and drives to the hoops have become foul shots instead of contested shots (350th in FT Rate). Luckily UNLV is an average offensive rebounding team, and rarely get to the line. They do have a relatively small team (average height 231st) which are notoriously tough for Ham’s recent teams to guard. Have fun!