Spread: Florida State -8.0
7pm Central – Donald L. Tucker Center, Tallahassee, FL
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-7, 2-5)
Mike Brey is at it again. In typical fashion, his team cherishes possessions more than any other team in the nation. The Fighting Irish turn the ball over on just 13.8% of possessions, the best percentage in the country, and they average just 9.7 turnovers per game, second best behind their conference-mates in Virginia Tech. For the fifth time in the past six seasons, Notre Dame ranks in the top 10 in the country in fewest turnovers per possession.
Perhaps it’s because nobody, outside of senior forward John Mooney, operates inside the paint. 40% of Notre Dame’s points come from behind the arc, and the Irish rank in the bottom 50 in the NCAA in both percent of points off 2-pointers and free throws. Senior guard TJ Gibbs, sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb, and sophomore guard Dane Goodwin all launch from deep on a regular basis, with Gibbs and Hubb each averaging 6+ triples attempted each game. And for good reason. Gibbs and Goodwin are each shooting over 40% from long range, while Hubb is shooting 35.9% from three.
On defense, Notre Dame is a middling team, but they excel at not fouling shooters. The Irish commit shooting fouls on just 18.7% of opponents’ shots taken—the lowest foul rate in the country. Not giving Florida State points from the line will be critical if the Irish want to pull off the road upset, especially since the Seminoles are a top-30 FT% team.
Florida State Seminoles (16-2, 6-1)
First of all, FSU is busting out the all-black uniforms for tonight’s blackout game. That’s worth 15 points, at the very least. In his age 71 (!!) year of coaching, Leonard Hamilton might have his most complete team. The Seminoles have a remarkable seven players averaging 6.0 PPG or more. They have the tallest team, on average, in the nation (average height of 6’7″), and their length has posed problems for offenses all season long. The Seminoles are #1 in the country in percent of shots blocked, and they’re #4 in percent of possessions that end in a steal on defense. They’re #2 in percent of opponents’ possessions ending in a turnover, and they force 18.67 turnovers per game.
On offense, Florida State has multiple guards who can break the defense down and beat their man off the dribble. Sophomore Devin Vassell leads FSU’s multi-pronged attack, averaging 13.2 PPG, while senior Trent Forrest and junior M.J. Walker average 11.8 and 11.6 PPG, respectively. Forrest also kicks in 4.0 RPG, 4.1 APG, and 1.7 steals.
The Noles may be without a couple of their big men tonight, however. Freshman center Balsa Koprivica, a 7-footer averaging 6.0 PPG in 12 minutes, is questionable with a back injury, while freshman Patrick Williams, a 6’8″ forward averaging 8.1 PPG in 21 minutes, is doubtful with a toe injury.
This is a classic case of something’s gotta give. Either Notre Dame is going to turn the ball over, or FSU is going to slide in the defensive pressure rankings after tonight’s game. Even if the latter happens because Notre Dame tries to shoot over the FSU defense, I think FSU wins going away. The Seminoles’ length will disrupt Notre Dame’s flow, and I do expect FSU to force more turnovers than the Irish are used to committing. Notre Dame is going to have to hit contested, difficult 3’s all night just to stay in this one. But I think FSU just has too much athleticism, length, and firepower tonight. A strong performance from Florida State at the free throw line will help them pull away late. Take Florida State -8.0