Virginia at Florida State
No. 16/18 Virginia (18-3, 5-2) at No. 21/24 Florida State (15-6, 5-1), 1:00 PM, ACC Network split/ESPN3
This matchup is easily the highlight of Saturday’s slate. Despite the perception that Florida State’s schedule is “easy” down the stretch, this is one of six losable games it has left. Since the Seminoles still have to travel to Virginia, they’d like to at least get the split, if not a sweep. Plus, they don’t want to slow their own momentum: they have never won seven straight ACC games and they’ve won six straight entering this game. On the other side, Virginia has already dropped two ACC games and has to face Florida State one more time and North Carolina twice in their final nine games. If they want to stay in contention for the league title, the Cavaliers need this one.
Stat to watch: Florida State’s three-point percentage. Virginia’s defense has been good, but the Cavaliers would much rather allow a lightly-contested three-point attempt than a wide-open lay-up. The pack line defense is designed to stop drives and double-team the post, so teams can generally make three’s against them. But that hasn’t been the case this year: Virginia is sixth nationally in three-point defense (allowing 27%). To be fair, Virginia has faced just four opponents all year that rank in the top 100 in three-point shooting. But all average 36% or better and Virginia Tech held them to a combined 18-of-71 (25.4%).
Virginia will be on the road facing a hot-shooting Florida State team, but the Cavaliers have allowed just 8-of-50 shooting from three (16%!!) in three ACC road games compared to 25-of-71 (35.2%) allowed in four ACC home games. Florida State has shot 45.6% from three in ACC home games compared to 38.7% on the road. The Rush the Court blog took a look at FSU’s offensive surge and they think it’s sustainable. I tend to agree at this point. But this will be a big test.
Florida State has really caught fire from the three-point line, and that – plus a decrease in turnovers – has made their offense come together. In the last five games, the Seminoles have made 47.1% of their three’s and average 8.2 made three’s per game (on 17.4 attempts). In the 16 games before that, they shot 30.2% from three and averaged 5.4 made three’s (on 17.8 attempts). Maybe it’s because of FSU’s early opponents that they struggled from three: Florida State has played one team ranked higher than Virginia in three-point defense, and that’s Virginia Tech (allowing 25.9%). But the Seminoles have played ten games against the top 100 teams in three-point defense, including four ACC opponents (Virginia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina and Duke), against which they shot a combined 43.3%. All four teams allow 32.6% or less on the year.
Most important players: Michael Snaer, Florida State and Mike Scott, Virginia. In a game like this, it only makes sense that it comes down to what each teams’ best player can do. Michael Snaer is on a real tear for Florida State, hitting double figures in five straight games and making 11-of-14 three’s over the last three games. Going back to the closing seconds of the first half at Duke, he’s now made 11 of his last 13 tries and didn’t miss one over three halves of basketball (including the Wake win). He started a new streak by making four straight three’s in the second half against Georgia Tech. In the non-conference, 47% of his field goal attempts were three’s. In conference, that dropped to 37.7%, and it has helped his all-around game. He’s averaging more assists, more steals and has cut way down on his turnovers while improving his field goal percentage dramatically (40.9% out of league to 52% in league). His three-point percentage has been a factor in FSU’s wins and losses: in six losses, he has shot 7-of-27 (25.9%) and in 15 wins, he has made 32-of-69 (46.4%). And that includes a 1-of-5 outing against North Carolina. He has averaged 10 points on 44% shooting (2-of-7 from three) in two games against Virginia in his career.
Mike Scott continues to be brilliant in ACC play, now averaging 19 points a game – something that is practically unthinkable in Virginia’s slow-paced offense – on 53% shooting. There’s no understanding how important he is to the team: in the three occasions in league play that he has shot less than 50% from the floor, Virginia has two one-point wins (Miami and N.C. State) and a two-point loss (Virginia Tech). The assumption has been that Scott will have problems with Florida State’s length, and he very well might. But he has played against long teams before, like Duke, and he was 10-of-19 from the floor in that game for 23 points. But Scott has struggled against the Seminoles in his career, averaging 6.7 points on 8-of-19 shooting. But he has improved every year he’s faced them: he didn’t play last year (he was out with an injury) but as a sophomore, he had 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting in 33 minutes. Particularly with Assane Sene in to help out down low, it will be Scott’s toughest challenge to date.
Random stat: Virginia has won some close games – seemingly every game comes down to the final few minutes – but the Cavaliers are 4-3 in games decided by five points or less and 3-0 in games decided by 5-9 points. Virginia was 2-3 in games decided by five or less but has won two straight by that margin (by one at N.C. State last Saturday and by four over Clemson at home on Wednesday).
Prediction: Florida State 64, Virginia 61
Last week: 12-0
Season: 96-31 (32-12 ACC)