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The Big Preview: UVA basketball opens ACC play at home against FSU

Florida State v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers open ACC play after a 6-0 start in out-of-conference play. They have three more OOC games before ACC play begins in earnest, but play the first game of their ACC schedule against the Florida State Seminoles Saturday at 2:00 PM.

Virginia has had some trouble against FSU in recent years, with the Noles winning three of the last four games, including a 64-63 win last year at JPJ on a buzzer beater three from Matthew Cleveland.

That was a frustrating game to lose as the Wahoos led by ten inside four minutes remaining. It took a couple of missed free throws, a couple of turnovers, and a miracle shot. But it was a bad loss which may have kept Virginia out of the NCAA Tournament.

Cleveland is still around, and he’s one of four players averaging double figures for a Seminoles team that is 1-7 with losses to Stetson (KenPom 245) and Siena (201). Their lone win came over Mercer (184). They did play a very good Purdue team tight on Wednesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but Purdue ended up with a double-digit win.

The Noles can’t shoot (31% from three as a team), can’t rebound (266th in offensive rebounding and 346th in defensive rebounding), and they turn the ball over too much (186th nationally). They also aren’t defending very well (173rd in defensive efficiency).

That is 7’4” Naheem McLeod getting beaten back door. Here’s another play.

This comes off an inbounds play, and Nebraska big man Derrick Walker is all alone in the middle of the paint. Again, McLeod is defending. In this case, he’s not strong enough to prevent an easy bucket.

What the Noles do have is size. This is nothing new. This program always has size and athleticism and it isn’t just McLeod. There isn’t a single player in the rotation under 6’5” which makes them tough to defend. It also makes you wonder how they could be so bad on the glass.

One reason is that this is mostly a team of wings. Cam’Ron Fletcher leads the team in rebounds and rebound rate, but at 6’7” 215, he is a primarily perimeter player and not a big man. FSU will play four wings most of the time. Fortunately, Virginia can match that with Ben Vander Plas at the PF spot/

One benefit of all those wings is that FSU switches a TON defensively. Here is an example from their game against Stanford.

The switch isn’t the problem here. The problem is Caleb Mills standing around in no-man’s land and giving up an open baseline three.

Mills transferred from Houston prior to last season, and promptly led the team in scoring. He shot 35% from downtown last year, but has made just 3/18 (17%) this year. He’s good off the bounce, but he’s not good enough to make up for shooting 17% from deep. Especially since the Noles already have multiple wings who can’t shoot.

Cleveland can’t shoot (<20% career) while Jalen Warley can’t shoot either (26%). Cam’Ron Fletcher (35%) and UCF transfer Darin Green (39%) can shoot the ball some. But, that leaves three non-shooters on the floor at all times, including two wings. Virginia fans have learned the hard way that this will mess up your spacing and make it very difficult to score, particularly against the Pack Line defense.

Green, by the way, is the team’s leading scorer right now. He has taken 60% of his shots from downtown, actually a little below his career rate. Last time out, we saw Reece Beekman guarding 6’8” Jett Howard. This was because Howard mostly hangs out on the perimeter and wasn’t likely to punish Beekman on the inside. Might we see Beekman on Green (6’5” 195), in an effort to shut down FSU’s best player?

By the way, remember when Reece completely took over the Michigan game? He had 14 points in the first half alone, when Virginia was struggling to stay in the game. Single-handedly kept Virginia within striking distance.

Did you know he could do that?

In the second half, especially following his ankle injury, Beekman deferred more. He scored just one point, but picked up four assists. That ankle injury is the biggest unknown about this game. If Reece is less than 100%, Virginia could be in trouble. FSU, with their athleticism, is not a good opponent to play with a gimpy ankle.

This is FSU’s game. They want to play fast. It’s Mills scoring on an isolation without a single pass in the front-court. Tony Bennett would bench you so quickly if you did that.

FSU wants to speed the game up, so their length and athleticism can really come into play. In a slower, half-court oriented game, the athleticism doesn’t show out quite as much. The problem, in past years, was when the Noles had size, athleticism and shooting. That’s not really the case this year. Thus, the ‘Hoos should be able to take care of business on Saturday, especially at home.