Virginia Tech at Florida State

Virginia Tech (14-11, 3-7) at Florida State (17-7, 8-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN2/ESPN3

Both Bernard James (left) and Dorian Finney-Smith (right) had nice games when their respective teams faced off last time.

Florida State rebounded nicely from a loss to Boston College by keeping Miami at bay on Saturday. The Seminoles are still in a three-way tie for first place in the league with a head-to-head edge over the other two teams. But their season-ending schedule is not easy: two more home games after tonight with road trips to N.C. State, Miami and Virginia. FSU has to win games like this one. On Sunday night, Virginia Tech took practically the best shot a young and eager Boston College team could possibly throw at them and still won. It says a lot about the Hokies that they’re still fighting for wins, despite how discouraging all of their close losses must be. But Virginia Tech has a brutal season-ending stretch and it starts with this game at FSU. It was reported today that Virginia Tech would likely decline an invitation to the CBI, and so all Seth Greenberg can do at this point is build some positive momentum for next season and hope to make a postseason tournament that doesn’t force a participating school to pay for home games.

Stat to watch: Turnovers/offensive rebounds. This has seemed like the only area Virginia Tech can get points from lately, as their half-court offense often gets bogged down. But when the Hokies can force a turnover or crash the offensive glass, they’ve been able to score a lot more frequently. In ACC play, the Hokies average 1.04 points per possession on offensive rebounds/opponent turnovers and just 0.69 in all other possessions. Florida State gave Virginia Tech 35 such possessions in their first meeting but (the most such possessions Virginia Tech has had in an ACC game this year) but the Hokies turned them into just 28 points, or 0.8 points per possession. It’s their second-fewest in ACC play. Virginia Tech is going to have to capitalize on FSU’s miscues and crash the offensive glass as they did in the first meeting to have a chance.

Florida State has averaged 1.01 points per possession off of turnovers/offensive rebounds and 0.84 on other possessions in ACC play. FSU is still forcing turnovers at a fairly high rate but what doomed them against Boston College was forcing just 10 BC turnovers and pulling down eight offensive rebounds. FSU turned those 18 possessions into just 13 points, but more important for the Seminoles is forcing more such possessions and minimizing the ones they give up. FSU has become a bit turnover-happy again, averaging 15.8 in the last four games compared to 14 in their first six ACC games. Virginia Tech had 16 offensive rebounds against FSU in the first meeting and it was their most in ACC play until they had 18 against Boston College, including an offensive rebound that led to the winning tip-in. FSU has to keep Virginia Tech off the glass and be careful with the ball.

Most important players: Dorian Finney-Smith, Virginia Tech and Bernard James, Florida State. Games like the one Bernard James had against Miami on Saturday show just how dominant the 6-10 senior can be. He had 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting and added six rebounds, two steals and four blocks in 29 minutes against Miami’s bulky center, Reggie Johnson. James hadn’t attempted more than 10 shots in five straight games before Saturday, and that game showed why he needs to attempt more shots. He still hasn’t attempted more than 13 in a game this season and the most combined field goal attempts and free-throw attempts he has had is 21 (against Loyola Marymount). The most he has had in ACC play was against Virginia Tech in the first meeting (12 shots and eight free-throw attempts). He also had 15 rebounds (nine offensive) and three blocks in that game.

Finney-Smith actually had one of his better games in ACC play against FSU the first time around with nine points on 4-of-9 shooting to go with ten rebounds. He proceeded to miss 25 straight shot attempts over the next six games. But in the last three games, the freshman has averaged 11 points on 14-of-24 shooting (3-of-6 from three), adding 8.0 rebounds per game. And he had his best game of his young career against Boston College with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go with eight rebounds (seven offensive) and the game-winning tip-in. Finney-Smith desperately needed to get some confidence, and now he got it. But it would be huge for him to carry it over against a good defensive team like Florida State.

Random stat: Virginia Tech has has won at every ACC school (in both basketball and football) since joining the league in 2005, but the Hokies have never won at Florida State.

Prediction: Florida State 71, Virginia Tech 66

Last week: 7-4

Season: 108-39 (44-20 ACC)

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