By: Mac O’Brien
Spread: Florida State -9.5
11am Central – Donald L. Tucker Center, Tallahassee, FL
Syracuse Orange (14–10, 7–6)
Syracuse is fighting for its life on the bubble today, but they’ll likely be doing so without junior Elijah Hughes, the ACC’s second-leading scorer at 18.6 PPG. If he can’t go today, Hughes would leave a gigantic hole in the Orange’s lineup, as he averages 36.8 minutes per game—and that figure includes the most recent game against N.C. State, in which Hughes departed after only three minutes due to a groin injury he suffered during pre-game warmups. Syracuse has the ACC’s fourth most-efficient offense in conference games, according to KenPom, but features a middle-of-the-road defense. Hughes’ absence would serve as a blow to the offense, and the Orange will need significant contributions from sophomore wing Buddy Boeheim and freshman guard Joseph Girard III to stay in today’s game.
The Orange are a bottom-50 team in the NCAA when it comes to giving up offensive rebounds to the opposing team while on defense; they allow an offensive rebound on 31.6% of opponents’ shots. Given Florida State’s length and propensity to crash the offensive boards, the Orange will be tested today and will need to block out effectively, especially when they’re in the patented ‘Cuse 2-3 zone defense.
#8 Florida State Seminoles (20–4, 10–3)
Florida State’s ACC regular season hopes suffered a crippling blow on Monday, as the ‘Noles let one slip away at Duke in a 70-65 loss to the Blue Devils. FSU shot poorly from deep (3-18) in the loss and gave up 70 points, despite turning Duke over 21 times on the night. FSU likely needs to run the table at this point to have a chance of earning the #1 seed in the ACC tournament. That starts with today’s matchup at home against the Orange.
Florida State relies on their defense to make plays that generate instant offense. They’re the #1 team in the nation in shot blocking (in terms of percent of opponents’ shots blocked at 17.3%). FSU consistently affects opponents’ shots with their length; they’re the tallest team in the NCAA with an average height of 6’7″ on their roster. They’re also in the top 10 in the country in steals per opponents’ possessions and turnovers forced per opponents’ possessions.
The Orange have an uphill battle today given Hughes’ uncertain status. Even if he suits up, it’s unclear whether he’ll be 100%. ‘Cuse put up a good fight against N.C. State without Hughes this week, but FSU on the road is a different animal. The ‘Noles struggled to score against Duke this week, but I expect them to find their rhythm at home against Syracuse’s zone, especially given FSU is shooting 39.1% from three during conference games. FSU is also first in the ACC in free throw percentage in conference games at 77.7%; even though Syracuse doesn’t commit too many fouls in their zone defense, Florida State’s ability to make their free throws goes a long way to racking up points late in games. Additionally, Syracuse has hit the over in all six of their road games this season, while Florida State has hit the over in eight of their 12 true home games. Take OVER 147.