(Them? We're playing them? Yeah we got this)
Wake Forest will take the floor looking to win back-to-back games in the conference for the first time since early February of 2010. Unfortunately (or opportunistically) the Deacons are tasked with taking on the Florida State Seminoles, arguably one of the nation's hottest teams. The Seminoles enter the game with a four game winning streak, including wins against North Carolina (by 33) and Duke (in Cameron).
Florida State sits atop the conference standings at 4-1 alongside Duke, and N.C. State. Wake is currently jammed in the middle of the standings in a four-way tie for 7th place.
Location: Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Winston-Salem, NC
Information: 7 P.M., RSN, ESPN3.com
Click through for statistical analysis, discussions about the matchup, and game predictions
Florida State comes into Winston-Salem riding one of the most impressive streaks of the year. After dropping the conference opener by 20 to Clemson, a team who proceeded to go to Chestnut Hill and lose to Boston College in their next game, the Seminoles rattled off four wins against one of the tougher ACC conference schedules up to this point. They held on after a cold start for both teams to beat Virginia Tech on the road before returning home to beat the 3rd ranked North Carolina Tar Heels 90-57, Roy Williams largest defeat as the UNC head coach. Next, they managed to avoid a trap game against Maryland and summarily dismissed the Terps by double-digits and then snapped Duke's second-longest home winning streak in the program's history on a dramatic buzzer beater from Michael Snaer in Cameron on Saturday.
Wake Forest on the other hand enters the game coming off Jeff Bzdelik's fourth largest victory as head coach of the Demon Deacons, and his first conference road win with a 71-56 beatdown of the Boston College Eagles. Travis McKie recorded his third double-double of the year with 20 points and 10 boards, leaving him with an impressive average statline of 15.2 points and 9.0 rebounds so far in conference play.
Let's take a quick look at Florida State as a whole and get an overview of where they stand, what they do well, and how that will matchup with this Wake Forest team as the game progresses (courtesy of KenPom.com).
The first thing that comes to mind when you talk about this year's Florida State team is how good they are defensively. This passes the eye test as the Seminoles will aggressively get after the ball in a zone, as well as statistically as they rate as the 5th best defense in the country according to KenPom.
For the better part of the previous two or three years, the Seminoles have used a variety of what some might consider "junk zones" to utilize their athleticism and force turnovers from teams who are not used to playing against these defenses. Last year there was a lot of 1-2-2 thrown in with a more conventional 2-3 and 3-2, as well as a 1-3-1 used from time to time. This has not changed too much this year, but Hamilton will throw in man-to-man from time to time as well if the matchups call for the situation.
A typical problem for teams that sit in the zone on defense is the ability to grab rebounds. As most basketball fanatics are aware, a zone provides issues with boxing out since there is no one specific man for interior players to cover and make sure they don't make weak-side cuts to the glass to grab the ball. Florida State is no different in this aspect, at least statistically. The Seminoles do a great job of rebounding the basketball on the offensive side of things (ranked 22nd in the country), but on the defensive side are not so hot (223rd in the country). Either way, this doesn't expect to be too much of an issue tonight insofar as Wake is pretty terrible at rebounding.
Since the return of Ty Walker, the Deacs have been improving on the glass, but remain one of the worst teams in the country at rebounding on the offensive side of the ball (323rd in the country) while they are slightly above the Seminoles at getting defensive boards (208th in the country).
One thing the Deacons can look to exploit is Florida State's proclivity to turn the ball over, which they do on roughly a quarter of their possessions. Look for Wake to come out in a zone and try to get pressure out on the ball, forcing the Seminoles to shoot contested threes (which they have been shooting well over their current four-game winning streak). If the shots aren't dropping for the Seminoles and Wake can crash the glass with conviction, the Deacons can look to stick around and stay in the game.
FSU brings a lot of height to the table with all five starters coming in at 6'5" or taller. It will be interesting to see who matches up with Dulkys, Loucks, and Snaer when the Seminoles are on offense since they bring both height and the ability to shoot the three ball to the table. This is a definite advantage to the FSU offense.
One major question I have had when watching Florida State this year is what sparks their consistency and what is the one factor which considerably correlates with their winning games. FSU has definitely been inconsistent throughout the year with two losses coming to Ivy League schools (although the Harvard loss wasn't "bad" per say, the game was absolutely horrible) and a blowout loss at a mediocre Clemson team. They have also been spectacular with two marquee wins over top 10 opponents and already two road conference wins.
After a small amount of research and game-watching though, it was pretty obvious what sparked FSU's success, or denied it: offensive output. This seems like a very easy answer, but Hamilton has the Noles playing the best on the offensive end that they have all year.
In the previous three games Florida State has had offensive efficiencies of 118.5 (against UNC), 125.6 (against Maryland), and 113 (against Duke). In other words, the Seminoles have averaged well over a point per possession, where a rating of 100 would mean a team scored exactly one point per possession. This is a stark departure from the Seminoles losses, and previous stretch of games in general. In fact the previous three games account for three of the best six games they have played on offense all year.
The major difference in these games has been improved shooting from the field, particularly from beyond the arc. If the Seminoles are clicking on all cylinders and hitting contested shots, it's going to be a long night for the Deacs, but if they miss a few early and get down on themselves Wake has a clear shot. The key for Wake tonight: force early misses and cut off passing lanes creating some turnovers.
KenPom: FSU 72-61
Vegas: FSU (-8), O/U 137.....FSU 73-65
My Prediction: FSU 71-54
I really hope Wake comes home and plays with fire to grab a second straight win, but I don't see how Wake is going to be able to navigate the FSU zone with any regularity. Wake has consistently struggled against athletic teams who throw a zone at them and there will be plenty of that tonight. Without the ability of many players on the team to create an open shot and with FSU's height and athleticism both on the perimeter and inside the paint, I don't like Wake's chances to get the ball inside either (not that we do that with any regularity in the first place). Look for FSU to get off to a fast start and a quick double-digit lead which Wake can't break down the rest of the game.
If you're in town get out and support the Deacs tonight as they take on a nationally-ranked opponent. This is a great opportunity to see Wake play a very good team. As always, go Deacs! Any comments, questions, corrections, or concerns are welcome as always.