A disappointing close loss to Duke leaves the Virginia Cavaliers out of the top-4 of the ACC this season, but has not closed the door on NCAA at-large bid. There’s still a considerable amount of work to be done, work that begins with finishing out the regular season with a pair of wins over disappointing ACC squads, FSU and Louisville.
Both expected to be better this year than they are. Louisville has had all sorts of issues, which we won’t get into now, but FSU had tied Virginia for the conference regular season title, and (like the Wahoos) earned a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament and (unlike the Wahoos) reached the Sweet 16. They lost a lot from that team and this year’s team has not reached those lofty heights.
One reason for the struggles is injuries to the few veterans who remain from last season. Third leading scorer Malik Osborne is out for the season with an ankle injury. Fourth leading scorer Anthony Polite is also out after having surgery on his wrist in early February. Those two pretty much make up the veteran portion of the team, along with senior RayQuan Evans (who himself missed the Duke game last Saturday with a knee injury). Another starter, 7-4 big man Naheem McLeod is also out for the season with an injury. And finally, leading scorer and Houston transfer Caleb Mills has missed the past three games with an ankle injury.
Evans played on Monday in the loss to Boston College, though Mills did not. Since FSU has had a full five day break, Tony Bennett and the Wahoos will likely be preparing as if both will play.
Evans as been force to be the go-to guy, a role that doesn’t exactly suit him.
He really isn’t an iso guy, and isn’t much of an outside shooter. But this was a tremendous play to score the tying and winning points over Clemson last week. That is their only win since January 22th as the injuries have piled up.
Those injuries have Leonard Hamilton now starting a pair of freshmen in Matthew Cleveland and John Butler, along with Gray and a pair of seniors with limited floor experience in Wyatt Wilkes and Tanor Ngom. One interesting thing about this lineup is that Butler and Ngom are both seven-footers, giving FSU a ton of height. Cleveland and Butler (and fellow freshman John Warley) were top-100 recruits and have played about as well as could be expected.
This is Butler knocking down a trey. He’s made 38%, and taken more than half his shots from downtown. Eventually, you’d like to see him more comfortable down low. But he needs to add muscle, as he’s just 190 pounds at 7’1”. That’s very thin.
Cleveland is a big wing who is best off the bounce or in transition. That also describes Kentucky transfer Cam’ron Fletcher. Fletcher is bigger, stronger and a better shooter. But Cleveland is their second leading scorer. Warley is shooting 36% from three point range, which is good. But he’s shooting 33% from two point range, which is not good. He also turns it over too much for the PG role he’s been thrust into.
Neither Ngom nor Wilkes bring much offensively, though both are solid defenders. At 7’2”, Ngom has size, and that’s a weapon in the post by itself. Ngom also knocked down a three against Duke (1-6 on the season).
Wilkes is 6’8” and can knock down an open 3 (32% from downtown, where three-quarters of his shots come). Wilkes is 29% from two point range.
This comes off a broken play, and Wilkes ends up along at the three point line with the ball. You might notice the score is 11-0 heading into that play. This was the Noles last game, on Monday, and they started off with four straight turnovers and BC took advantage. The game was never close after that.
With Osborne out, the Noles are struggling on the defensive glass. This is actually a strength of Virginia this year, as compared to previous seasons. Last year’s Wahoo team finished 308th nationally in offensive rebounding rate. This year’s team ranks 153rd. The trio of Gardner, Shedrick and Caffaro have all been very successful hitting the glass, and despite FSU’s twin-towers lineup, this is a place Virginia could hurt the Noles. Hopefully, we see a follow slam or two from Shedrick.
This FSU team is very big. They may not play a single player under 6’4”. They will play pressure defense and try to force turnovers. But they’ll also give up easy buckets and too many offensive rebounds. When healthy, they were a good team, dangerous enough to knock off Duke and sweep Miami back in January. Right now, the team is too injured and too young. Hopefully, Virginia can take advantage and send Kihei off as a winner on his senior day.