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THE BIG PREVIEW: No. 2 Virginia aims to keep winning ways going at Florida State

The Hoos head to the Sunshine State for a tough road game to try and stay perfect in league play.

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

With seven conference games remaining, Virginia is three games up on the nearest competition for the regular season crown, and owns the tiebreakers against those teams. The Cavaliers’ unblemished record will be tested over the next week as they’ll face both Florida teams on the road. Those games bookend a nationally televised game against Virginia Tech which will include the ESPN College GameDay crew in Charlottesville.

A year ago, the Seminoles came into Charlottesville and knocked off the Hoos 60-58. FSU’s Dwayne Bacon scored 26 of his 29 points in the second half, including a game winning three with just four seconds remaining. Bacon went pro early last year, as did junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes and freshman Jonathan Isaac. In total, FSU lost over 49 points from last year’s team (which averaged 82 per game). None of the thre have done much in the NBA, though Isaac is hurt.

The Noles have a high powered offense, led by a trio of big wings. Junior Terrence Mann (15.5 ppg) is the leading scorer with seniors Braian Angola (14) and Phil Cofer (13) not far behind him. Mann also leads the team in rebounds, and is an outstanding offensive rebounder for a guy his size. Mann was the third recruit in the same class as Bacon and Malik Beasley, another NBA early entry who hasn’t done much in the league.

At 6’6, 204, Mann is a very physical player and very athletic. He excels in transition, he can score inside, and he can get to the rim. But, he can’t shoot. He’s just 27% from downtown on about 1.5 attempts per game and just 70% from the stripe. He’s almost 60% from the field overall because he’s so physical. Problem is, going up against Devon Hall or DeAndre Hunter, he may be at a physical disadvantage. Mann missed FSU’s double overtime home win over Syracuse, which helps explain why it took 2OT to knock off the Orange.

Angola, a JUCO transfer, is a shooter. He’s physical and can finish in transition, but well over half his shots have come from behind the arc. He’s made 41% of them. Angola is also a strong defender, though Kyle Guy’s quickness could cause him problems. He’ll try to be physical with Guy, keeping him off his game. If Guy can keep Angola moving on defense, maybe it’ll hurt his offense.

The third of the trio is Phil Cofer, the biggest of the group at 6’8, 218. Cofer is 39% from 3 on almost 4 attempts per game. That means Wilkins will have to extend his defense out to the 3 point line. It also means we may see more of Hunter, who has more versatility on the defense end.

If Hunter is in to handle Cofer, then Wilkins may find himself on the bench. The reason for this is 7’4 Christ Koumadje. He missed about half the season with a “lower extremity” injury, and he’s averaged just nine points and six in about 20 minutes per game since his return. Still, he’s very good on the offensive glass and he’s an elite shot blocker. He finishes inside, but doesn’t have much offensive game. He’s also just a 55% FT shooter, but, because of his height and athleticism, he’s tough to handle inside. But he’s still rail thin and can be pushed around by bigger guys. The biggest guy we’ve got is Jack Salt, so figure to see Salt in the game when Koumadje is. Koumadje has a tendency to get into foul trouble, which is part of why his minutes are so low. He’s also close to a zero on offense, and against a defense as good as Virginia’s having a non-contributor hurts.

So if Koumadje is on the bench and Leonard Hamilton goes small, look for Cofer down low with Trent Forrest on the wing. Forrest could also run some point guard, with freshman MJ Walker on the wing. Forrest actually leads the team in assists (ahead of starting PG C.J. Walker, who is more of a combo guard) and at 6’5 215 is a big physical guy who uses his size to slash to the rim and finish through contact.

Speaking of defense, FSU mostly plays a pretty standard man-to-man. They may extend the defense a bit to speed up the game, but they aren’t a press team, per se. They also, to my knowledge, do not play any zone. They have a few solid individual defenders, which makes their half-court defense pretty solid. Because they like to play fast, they tend to get into up-and-down battles, which leads to fast-break opportunities for their opponents. That isn’t as likely against Virginia, though the Hoos should certainly look to run when the opportunity presents itself. In the half court, the presence of Koudmadje helps erase perimeter mistakes. It makes his teammates more likely to gamble for turnovers, knowing there’s a human eraser behind them. Koumadje also explains why their two point defense is ranked 35th in the nation, but their three point defense is 82nd.

Three point shooting is likely to determine the game. FSU has shooters, they have size, and they have athletic slashers who can get to the rim and/or draw fouls. No doubt the Cavalier defense is up to the task and will keep FSU far below their 85 points per game, but they Hoos will still need to score enough points to win, and against this team, that’ll mean knocking down some threes. If they make their threes (40% or higher), they’ll come away with a W. If they struggle from outside, it’ll be a tough game to win on the road.

Tip off is at 7pm on Regional Sports Networks and ACC Network Extra.