Florida State at Virginia Tech
Florida State (9-6, 0-1) at Virginia Tech (11-4, 0-1), 7:00 PM, ESPNU
It’s a battle between two teams whose head coaches were both disappointed in their efforts in their respective ACC openers. No one wants to start 0-2 in the ACC, and both teams will be desperate. But considering FSU was slaughtered 82-64 at Florida in a rivalry game (Florida has lost at Tennessee and Rutgers since), and followed that up with a triple overtime loss to Princeton, the Seminoles don’t seem to respond well in must-win situations. Virginia Tech bounced back from back-to-back close losses to Minnesota and Kansas State with six straight wins, including at Oklahoma State. The Hokies have fought hard all season, which makes the egg they laid at Wake Forest that much more puzzling.
Stat to watch: Which team makes the most of its possessions? Virginia Tech lost a low-possession affair to Wake Forest; the Hokies are 10-1 this season when getting 75 or more possessions and just 1-3 when they have fewer than 75. But FSU is not going to slow down the tempo. The Seminoles are second in the ACC in possessions per game (85.1) but 11th in scoring (0.83 points per possession). That is a colossal waste. Three of the other top four teams are the top three teams in points per possession. FSU had nine more possessions than Clemson but scored 20 fewer points, averaging a paltry 0.69 per possession.
But at least Clemson’s defense has been good: Virginia Tech had the 13th-worst offensive performance against Wake this year (per Ken Pomeroy) and allowed a struggling Wake defense to have the second-best performance a Hokie opponent has had all year. It was Virginia Tech’s third-worst offensive performance of the year in terms of points per possession, but their previous two came against Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The question will be how much the Hokies can capitalize on FSU mistakes, and how much the FSU defense can limit Virginia Tech.
Most important players: Bernard James, FSU and Erick Green, Virginia Tech. James has averaged 10.5 points on 7-of-8 shooting in two games against Virginia Tech, though he had six turnovers in the ACC Tournament loss last year to the Hokies. But this year, Virginia Tech doesn’t have a legitimate big man and James could really exploit FSU’s size advantage. But he has hit double figures in scoring just once in FSU’s last four games (ten points against Clemson) and is shooting just 42% from the foul line this year, including 7-of-25 (28%) in the last six games.
Erick Green has been steady for the Hokies, scoring double figures in every game and averaging 15.7 points on 49.4% shooting. He accounted for most of Virginia Tech’s offense against Wake Forest with 19 of the team’s 50 points on 9-of-18 shooting (his teammates shot 14-of-40). But Green has not shot well in three career games against the Seminoles (4-of-23, 0-of-7 from three), but he has gotten to the foul line quite a bit; he attempted 13 free throws in two games against FSU last year. He’ll need to get back to form and play like Clemson’s Andre Young, who had 18 points and hit 10-of-12 foul shots against FSU.
Random Stat: Virginia Tech is 1-7 in ACC openers and has lost four straight. However, the Hokies have won their second ACC game four straight years and to be fair, five of their openers have been against Carolina or Duke. Last season most closely parallels this year’s scenario: Virginia Tech lost at home to Virginia, 57-54, then won at home over Florida State, 71-59. FSU is 2-6 in ACC openers since ’05 and hasn’t won its second game ACC game since 2009.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 74, FSU 62
Last week: 6-3 (4-2)
Season: 65-21 (4-2)