After a big road win at Syracuse, the ‘Noles return home for a Saturday afternoon tip (2 PM, ESPN) against the ACC leading Tar Heels.
1. When we last saw North Carolina, Florida State had just come off blowing a lead against Georgia that came so fast that it could only be compared to Mike Norvell’s squad getting beat by Jacksonville State on the final play. Then FSU bounced back and built up a sizable lead against the Tar Heels, though blowing that one felt inevitable, as the refs awarded UNC 31 free throws to FSU’s 8. The final was 78-70. Since then the Heels have won seven straight in ACC play (and nine overall), and none of those have been by single digits. The Heels are rolling. RJ Davis is averaging 21 a game, is shooting 45% from deep, and is a shoe-in for 1st or 2nd Team All American.
2. Thirteen of fifteen ACC teams already have three losses in conference play. The Heels are 8-0, while FSU (6-2) and Duke (5-2) are their closest competition. This is a must win if Florida State has any hope of winning the regular season title, and yes, just typing that sentence compared where this season began seems bananas. I should also point out that this is the 4th time in five years that Florida State has begun ACC play at least 6-2.
3. The key to UNC is the inside-out combo of Armando Bacot and RJ Davis, with the swiss army knife Harrison Ingram mixed in. It probably doesn’t hurt that four of their five starters range in age from 21-25, all are blue chips, and the one young player (Elliot Cadeau) was the 2nd rated point guard recruit in the nation. In short, it would be a massive red flag if Coach Davis can’t win at least the ACC regular season and then make a deep run in March. This team is built to be the last one standing.
4. UNC’s defense hasn’t surrendered more than a point per possession to an ACC team this year. The lead the conference in defensive efficiency, eFG%, defensive rebounding, and defensive 3-pt%. The only area they don’t excel is forcing turnovers (15th). FSU’s offense has been better than average at taking care of the ball (5th), but considering the Heels rebounding and the trend of refs not whistling fouls on the better team, it’s essential that the ‘Noles take care of the ball and get good shots. There won’t be many 2nd shots. There won’t be many free throws. Somebody has to get cooking.
5. Aside from hosting Duke at home, Florida State isn’t scheduled to face a single KenPom top-30 team the rest of the way. The good news? Lots of opportunities to win. The bad news? Those wins won’t mean a lot to the resume. Florida State needs lots of wins, and and in the world of the NET the winning margins matter. A 9-3 record the rest of the way is the minimum the ‘Noles need if they want to think about dancing. A few blowouts would help the cause.