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THE BIG PREVIEW: Virginia vs. Florida State

Virginia is on a two-game skid and head to Tallahassee to take on the No. 9 Noles.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not news to anyone that the Virginia Basketball team is struggling right now. They’ve lost two in a row and now must head on the road to face one of the hottest teams in the country: the No. 9 FSU Seminoles.

The Noles are 14-2, and have won seven in a row, including a road win against Louisville. They’re second in the ACC right now, ranked 14th on KenPom and ninth in both polls. This is a very tough matchup, probably the toughest game so far for the Hoos. The Noles are good.

One of the Noles’ biggest strengths is its depth. Seven guys average at least 20 minutes per game, with only one over 30. Eight guys average at least six points per game, with nobody over 12. Nine guys average at least two rebounds per game, with nobody over five.

Leading the team in minutes is senior PG Trent Forrest. He’s also second in scoring, first in assists, third in rebounds, and a good defender. As a 6’4, 210 pound PG, he’s very good at using his body and his strength to get into the lane and either finish or draw contact. He’s not a good shooter, but he’s made himself into a passable option from downtown over the year. He’s made 10-of-30, which is higher than his 25% career percentage and his ten made threes is already a career high for him.

In the regular season matchup between Virginia and FSU last year, Forrest had just one point on two shots. In the rematch in the ACC Tournament (which Virginia lost), Forrest had ten points on seven shots. Kihei Clark’s ability to keep Forrest out of the paint and off the scoreboard may determine the outcome of this game.

The leading scorer for the Seminoles is sophomore Devin Vassell. He’s a 6’7 wing who weighs just 194 lbs, which nearly mirrors the listed size of Kody Stattmann. They’ll probably get to know each other pretty well in this one. He’s making 37% of his threes (after 42% from the shorter distance a year ago). But he isn’t a shooter. He’s a scorer.

He’s also second on the team in rebounds, plus first in steals and blocks. He’s got more of an inside game than Stattmann. If Stattmann can’t check Vassell, Braxton Key may get a shot at him.

And then there’s M.J. Walker, a former five-star recruit. He hasn’t really panned out as a star, but he’s been solid enough that he isn’t a bust either. He’s an incredible athlete, but spends too much time shooting outside jumpers. He’s at 34% for his career and up to 36% this year, but he’s also made 8-for-15 over his past two games. That’s likely not sustainable.

That’s really where Walker is successful, in transition. That play is typical of what FSU wants to do. They like to get out and run, and often have four ball-handlers on the floor. This is what they’re capable of in transition:

FSU doesn’t have 7’4 Christ Koumadje anymore, but they’re still a very big team. Nobody is under 6’4 and there are regularly three guys on the floor over 6’6. They also have a pair of seven footers, though neither gets more than about 10 minutes per game. One of those is freshman Balsa Koprivica, a four-star recruit ranked 51st in the country in the nation by ESPN. The big man has been dealing with a back injury and has missed the last two games. No update has been given, so his status is unknown for this game.

He’s not even the top recruit in his class. That would be 6’8 Patrick Williams, a wing who can run the floor, block shots, and shoot it a little bit. He’s fourth on the team in scoring and minutes and is a possible one-and-done for FSU. For all that height, the Seminoles aren’t very good on the glass. They are just 314th in defensive rebounding, which is an area that the Hoos can, perhaps, steal some points. They generally dominate inside, but this is largely a team of athletic wings and not a lot of true “bigs”. This might be a game where Francisco Caffaro gets back into the rotation. His size and interior game could pose problems for FSU. Virginia is going to need some points and Caffaro has shown an ability to finish inside.

Unlike the last two teams Virginia has faced, FSU doesn’t really have any great shooters. Yes, they have a couple of guys putting up decent numbers, but this is not a particularly good outside shooting team. That’s a good thing for Virginia, since (as we know) the Hoos can’t shoot. The ‘Noles won on the road against Wake Forest last week with relative ease, despite making just 6-for-23 from downtown.

Virginia has the size and depth to hang with the Noles inside. If FSU struggles from outside, Virginia has a chance in this game. If they let FSU get going from deep, it could be a long night.