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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Tomahawk Nation

Can the Hoos open ACC play with a top 10 win? We chat with Matt Minnick to find out.

NCAA Basketball: Winthrop at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

In just a few hours, the No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers kick off their ACC season with a visit from the No. 9 Florida State Seminoles. We reached out to our friends at Tomahawk Nation (@Tomahawknation) and had a chance to chat with Matt Minnick about the matchup.

Tip off is at 3pm, and the game will be televised on ESPN2.

You can read my answers to his questions here.

Streaking the Lawn: FSU is off to a great start this season. Has this been a surprise at all...maybe at least to the extent of seeing that No. 10 next to y’all’s name?

Tomahawk Nation: Before we get to the basketball game, let me express heart-felt sympathies from ‘Nole Nation at the passing of George Welsh. Welsh was a true legend of the game and an iconic figure in ACC history. We’ll always remember the showdowns he had with Bobby Bowden, particularly one crazy night in 1995.

Prior to Phil Cofer getting injured in fall practice, I think most of the fan base would have been cautiously optimistic about a 12-1/11-2 start. FSU returned so many pieces off a team that really started to “get it” the final month of the 2018 season, playing Michigan with a Final Four berth on the line provided plenty of motivation for offseason workouts, and the new pieces and/or redshirts from last year all seemed to fit what Leonard Hamilton wants to do. However, after Cofer went down, there was a sense of “FSU Hoops just can’t ever catch a break” around the fanbase. So in that context, I do believe navigating a non-con schedule that included Villanova, Purdue, UF, LSU, and UConn with just one loss has been a bit of a pleasant surprise. Is FSU the 9th best team in the country? Probably not yet. But the Seminoles have played like a top 15 team all while last year’s leading scorer was hurt, so that in and of itself has to be at least a little surprising.

STL: The FSU defense forces a bunch of turnovers, but the Hoos don’t really turn it over. On the flip side, the Noles can be a little careless with the ball (21% turnover rate). How big of an impact do you see turnovers being?

TN: Huge. YUGE. Seriously, turnovers (and 3-point shooting) will probably determine the outcome. With shot-blocking extraordinaire Ike Obiagu transferred to Seton Hall, FSU isn’t protecting the rim quite as ferociously as years past. But their making up for it by turning teams over on 24% of possessions--the highest rate for the Seminoles since 2006. There’s a wave of long, athletic guards who are capable of pressuring the basketball well beyond the three-point line, with the leader being Trent Forrest who often looks like he’d be the best defensive back in Tallahassee with his ability to jump passing lanes. Conversely, FSU’s own turnover rate is also its highest in several years--though it should be noted that Phil Cofer turned the ball over less than any ‘Nole last season, so having him back should help. Some of it has been guys being sloppy and some has been guys just trying to do too much. What has been noticeable is that two of the last three games has seen FSU turn it over fewer than 15% of possessions. Can that trend continue on the road against an elite defense? I’m not so sure.

STL: Terance Mann has had a great start to the year and is personally one of my favorite players in the ACC. What do you like about his game, and what would you like to see more of from him?

TN: Terance is one of those guys who just does a little bit of everything, which isn’t surprising considering his mother is the women’s basketball head coach at URI. He’s always had a knack for being around the ball on the offensive glass, he is a good slasher who draws a lot of fouls, he can defend multiple positions, and he almost always takes shots within the flow of the offense. I say ”almost always” because where his coaches, teammates, and fans would like to see him continue to improve is just his confidence and willingness to take open threes. Early in his career, he didn’t really have a perimeter shot in his game. But he’s worked hard during his four years and actually is a capable shooter from deep this year--he just doesn’t fully believe it yet. And he’ll often pass up shots that the offensive system dictates he take, which of course disrupts the flow and quite often results in a turnover or bad shot.

STL: Virginia’s three-headed monster of Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter, and Kyle Guy are all averaging over 14 points per game and shooting 42% or better from three on the season. What can FSU do to slow them down?

TN: Get lucky? With how much has been written about the 3-point lottery, that just might be FSU’s best hope. Last game out against Winthrop (the 29th best 3-point shooting team in the country), FSU came out determined to extend pressure 24+ feet out and disrupt the Eagles’ shooters before they received the pass. And it worked, as Winthrop went 6-23 from downtown, including just 1-11 in the first half. Unfortunately, the Seminole defenders were repeatedly beat off the dribble and allowed 23-36 (.639) from two. Now, I’d rather give up twos than threes, but 64%!? In this game, FSU will have to find a way to use their length to disrupt Guy and Jerome before they catch and release the ball, while also maintaining enough gap discipline to not give up free trips down the lane.

STL: Who is a player for FSU not named Mann or Cofer that Virginia fans need to know about?

TN: Just one? Lacking sure-fire first round NBA talent, FSU is the ultimate “win by committee” team. It’s something the team has embraced, with 10 guys playing at least 20% of the possible minutes this year--and that does not yet include Phil Cofer (compare that to just 7 players over 20% for UVA). So allow me some leeway to touch on three:

1) Trent Forrest. I mentioned his defense earlier, but this guy is the engine of the FSU offense. When he’s playing downhill, but still under control, he becomes virtually impossible to keep from him from getting to his spots, or setting up others for theirs. However, sometimes he can disappear and defer too much to others.

2) Mfiondu Kabengele. If there is an NBA first rounder on the roster, it’s this guy. His ceiling is incredible, but he’s still growing into his body (he’s grown from 6’6 to 6’10 since arriving on campus and redshirting two years ago). He can hit the baseline turnaround J, he can drive to the basket and finish at the rim, and can defend 3 or 4 positions, and he has the highest usage rate on the team. Foul trouble has been a bugaboo, but if he can stay on the court he could be the difference in the game.

3) David Nichols. A grad transfer from Albany, Nichols is the back-up point guard to Trent Forrest and they often play at the same time. But he’s also shooting 42% from three on the season--and that’s despite starting 0-10 from deep in the first 6 games. I don’t need to tell UVA fans how important it is to make threes against the PackLine.

STL: Ok, who wins this one?

TN: What a fun way to tip-off league play, huh? If this game were in Tallahassee, I’d go with FSU. But winning on the road against an elite team with a chip on their shoulder seems like just a bit too tall of a task for the Seminoles, especially considering Cofer is still working himself back into game shape. Both teams make their runs, but in the end it’s UVA 69-63.

Huge thanks to Matt for taking the time to chat...and the kind words about George Welsh.