The No. 12 Virginia Cavaliers resume their gauntlet schedule as they return to John Paul Jones Arena to face No. 20 Florida State in the Hoos’ ACC home opener. The Seminoles are riding a nine-game winning streak, which includes a win over then-No. 21 Florida, but it hasn’t necessarily been easy.
Down by as many as eight points less than six minutes into the game, Florida State played a too-close-for-comfort game in its last outing, against Wake Forest. Down five points with nine minutes to play in the game, the Seminoles used a 17-0 run to finally break away from the 9-4 Deacons.
Saturday’s contest will be a test for Virginia’s defense. Florida State leads the ACC in field goal shooting percentage at 51.3%. The Noles rank 13th in the country in scoring offense at 88.1 points per game. Among Virginia’s opponents to date, only West Virginia has been more proficient, averaging 91.8 points per game (5th in the country).
Virginia’s defense, of course, is no slouch. Virginia leads the ACC in both field goal shooting percentage defense (34.7%) and scoring defense (47.7 points per game), good for second and first in the country, respectively.
The Noles’ offense is led by 6’7”, 221-pound sophomore Dwayne Bacon, who has scored in double figures in 23 straight games, averaging 17.4 points per game. Bacon is only 211 points away from being only the second sophomore in FSU history to hit 1,000 career points. Last year, Bacon put up 18 points in their 69-62 victory over the Hoos.
They have two other double-digit scorers in freshman Jonathan Isaac (12.8 points per game) and junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes (10.9 points per game). At 6’10” and only 210 pounds, Isaac could stand to eat a cheeseburger or two, but still, he was ESPN’s ninth-ranked player in the class of 2016 and has not disappointed. Meanwhile, Rathan-Mayes, at only 6’4”, is the shortest man on the Seminoles roster, which means that once again, Virginia is facing a big FSU team who may or may not be able to play up to their size. Rathan-Mayes, who along with Bacon had put up 23 points against Wake, will take the opportunity to drive to the basket, which is good for Virginia if the pack line defense does its job and collapses on the lane.
To round off Florida State’s starters, the Noles have 6’6”, 204 lbs. sophomore guard Terrance Mann, who has averaged 12 points per game over the last four games while shooting 70.4% from the field (19 of 27). Lastly, they have graduate student center Michael Ojo, who is a whopping 7’1” and 301 pounds. That’s two inches and 54 pounds over Jack Salt’s listed measurements, so keep an eye out on that battle. Over his first three seasons at FSU, he shot 40.2% from the free throw line — somewhat expected of a big man. So far this season though, he’s shooting an impressive 75%, including a perfect 6 for 6 against Florida.
Florida State’s 13-1 record ties the program’s best 14-game start — their 1988-89 team started 16-1 before dropping another. Virginia will have their hands full with a team that has plenty of size, but that doesn’t always play up to it. If Virginia, coming off its impressive road win over No. 6 Louisville, can protect John Paul Jones Arena, a place where they’ve been 35-1 in ACC play over the last four seasons, then the Hoos will be in good shape for a little reprieve as they’ll travel up to untested Pitt and then host Wake Forest at home.