Gameday Preview – Duke at Florida State

NCAA BASKETBALL: FEB 09 North Carolina at DukeDuke travels to Tallahassee for its second straight road game, Saturday at 2pm, hoping to even its ACC road record.

Back when the schedule was announced, this game was circled as one of the most dangerous league games of the season, along with Miami, NC State, and UNC. And while no ACC road game is easy, especially for a team like Duke playing without one of its most important players, Florida State has not lived up to its pre-season billing.

Since the calendar turned to 2013, FSU has two close victories each over Clemson and Maryland and has lost its other four games, including a less-than-impressive stumble against a woeful Auburn team, a 20 point shellacking at Virginia, and a 71-47 loss at Miami for which I refuse to employ any clever adjectives or active verbs because, well glass houses and all that. The Seminoles' overall record is 12-8 and their ACC tally is 4-3.

Unless they've taken some sort of memory erasure therapy, Duke fans probably remember Michael Snaer hitting a buzzer beater to beat Duke at Cameron last season, followed by a similar game-winner against Virginia Tech a few weeks later. Well, Florida State's last two wins were both capped by Snaer last-second game-winning buzzer beaters, at home against Clemson on January 24 and then again at home against Maryland on January 30. Their win before that, all the way back on January 9 and also against Maryland, was secured by a Snaer block with two seconds left.

Snaer doesn't entirely save his heroics for when the game's on the line, however. The 6'5" senior is FSU's leading scorer with 14.2 points per game and also leads the team in minutes played (30.7) and assists (2.5), although his assist to turnover ratio is a paltry 0.86 (48 assists to 56 turnovers).

Turnovers, in fact, are a big weakness for Florida State. They've coughed the ball up this season more than any ACC team except Maryland. (Duke, by comparison has committed the second fewest turnovers in the conference.) The Seminoles have also not been particularly impressive at shooting (44.1%, 7th in the conference) or offensive rebounding (9th in the ACC). Overall, FSU is 10th in the ACC in points per possession.

And the funny thing is, according to Pomeroy the 93rd ranked Seminoles are worse at defense (121st in the country) than they are at offense (85th). They rank dead last in the ACC in defensive rebounds per game. This is not the Florida State to which we've grown accustomed over the past few seasons.

They go 10 deep and play at a pace similar to Duke's. Other than Snaer their most productive player has been 6'8" junior Okaro White, who has scored 12.7 points per game and has been the team's most efficient offensive player, with a 117.5 offensive rating. Other starters include 6'7" freshman wing Montay Brandon, who despite his height is not a great rebounder (2.5 offensive rebounding percentage and 8.3 defensive rebounding percentage) and has been a dreadful offensive player (77.8 oRating). Their other starting wing is 6'3" sophomore Terry Whisnant II, who scores 6.6 ppg with a 108.0 oRating. Their starting center is 7'0 junior Kiel Turpin, son of former Kentucky All American Mel Turpin, who is an adequate but not spectacular rebounder (8.5 off reb pct; 12.3 def reb pct) and only plays 13.2 minutes per game.

The bench is led by 6'8" redshirt junior Terrance Shannon, the team's third-leading scorer with 8.5 ppg (although at an inefficient 89.1 oRating) and a solid rebounder (12.2 off reb pct; 20.2 def reb pct), and 6'3" freshman point guard Devon Bookert, who has a 114.3 oRating, 25.1 assist percentage and a 1.6 a/to ratio. 6'3" junior Ian Miller, expected to be a big contributor this season, has had injury issues and is only scoring 6.3 ppg with a career low 31.1% percentage from three-point range. Other bench players with more than 10 mpg include 6'5" freshman Aaron Thomas and 7'3" 240 pound freshman Boris Bojanovsky. The latter only plays 11.2 mpg and isn't much of a rebounder for his height (8.4 off reb pct; 12.0 def reb pct), perhaps due to his slight frame, but for a freshman big has a serviceable 108.3 oRating.

On the other side, Duke comes in trying to ease the memory of its last trip to Florida. The Devils are coming off a 20 point home win against Maryland and a tough 5 point win at Wake Forest. Still adapting to life without Ryan Kelly, Duke has relied on fellow seniors Mason Plumlee (career high 32 points against Wake) and Seth Curry (second in the ACC with nine 20+ point games this season including a 21 point effort against Wake). Sophomore Quinn Cook added 12 points against Wake (meaning Duke's three top scorers tallied 65 of Duke's 75 points against the Demon Deacons) and, averaging 11.2 points and 6.3 assists per game, is attempting to join Dick Groat (1952), Bobby Hurley (1991, 1992), Jason Williams (2000, 2001) and Chris Duhon (2004) as the only players in Duke history to average at least 10.0 points and 6.0 assists per game.

From a matchup perspective, Duke again should have a big advantage inside with Mason Plumlee. Seth Curry will have his hands full being guarded by 2012 ACC All-Defensive team member Snaer, who is also several inches taller than Curry. If Snaer can contain Curry and FSU doubles Plumlee (as most teams have done recently and Wake didn't to their detriment), it means our supporting cast is going to have to step up for Duke to win the game. Duke's three-headed tandem at power forward (Amile Jefferson, Josh Hairston, and Alex Murphy) will need to keep White and Shannon off the offensive glass and not let FSU's 2nd and 3rd leading scorers go off on career games. Presumably Rasheed Sulaimon will draw the assignment of guarding Snaer, and that will also be a key matchup.

Pomeroy predicts Duke by 12 in this game, but FSU usually plays its absolute best against Duke. I expect them to hang tough early. Ultimately, their defense probably isn't tough enough to contain Duke for the full 40 minutes and their offense isn't strong enough to win a high-octane shootout. Florida State's hope is to keep the game tight until the end and hope for more Snaer heroics. Duke obviously would like a decent working margin going into the last few minutes.