With the effects of Tuesday night’s devastating loss to NC State in the rearview mirror, Syracuse now turns its attention to one of the toughest teams it will face all year. The Orange head to Tallahassee, FL for a date with the No. 8 Florida State Seminoles on Saturday.
The ‘Noles are coming off a loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor on Monday night and check in at 20-4 on the season and 10-3 in the ACC with their lone losses coming against the the Blue Devils, Pitt in the season opener and defending national champ Virginia.
This is one of SU’s last chances at securing a marquee win for its tournament resume (the other being Louisville next Wednesday) but with Elijah Hughes’ status for the game still slightly up in the air, this is going to be no easy task, especially because of the serious problems Leonard Hamilton and Co. can present. These are the three things you need to know about FSU.
Home is Where the Wins Are
As amazing of a home venue as the Carrier Dome is, it hasn’t exactly been a friendly place for many wins this season for SU. The Orange are just 10-6 at home this season and just 3-4 in conference games inside the Loud House. Florida State is very much the opposite.
When the Seminoles take the floor at Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in the Sunshine State’s capital city, they’re next to unstoppable. FSU is 12-0 at home this season and has won games at the Tuck by an average of just over 17 points per contest.
This isn’t just a 2019-20 season trend either. Over the last three years (which have included Elite 8 and Sweet 16 appearances), FSU is 50-3 in home games. The one time they actually did lose at home last year was by two points to a Zion Williamson-led Duke team.
Needless to say, it’s really difficult to walk out of the Tuck with a road W with Duke, Louisville and Virginia being the only teams to do it over the last three years. Add that to the fact that the ‘Noles already announced that the game was sold on Sunday and SU has its hands full this weekend.
You Get Minutes and You Get Minutes and You Get Minutes
Coming into the season, we thought that Jim Boeheim had a chance to flash one of his deepest lineups in years, but after an injury to Jalen Carey and a lack of significant development from a few freshmen, Syracuse is back to using a seven-man rotation that really only goes beyond that if there is significant foul trouble. Again, much the way the two teams have differed in home games this season, Florida State presents a stark contrast.
Seven different Seminoles (Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell, M.J. Walker, RaiQuan Gray, Malik Osborne (pictured above), Anthony Polite and Patrick Williams) average at least 20 minutes per game with only one (Forrest) averaging more than 30. To provide some context, Syracuse has just five guys averaging over 20 minutes per game (Hughes, Boeheim, Girard, Dolezaj, Sidibe) and four of them (all but Sidibe) are averaging over 30 minutes per. The ‘Noles even go a bit deeper than that with Balsa Koprivica, Dominik Olejniczak and Rayquan Evans all going for just over 10 minutes per game.
The way Leonard Hamilton has masterfully handled his deep and talented bench this season has been wildly impressive. He knows that he’s got tons of pieces that can help get his starters a breather and can mix and match lineups and players with the best of him. He’s got three guys that handle the basketball at a high level (Forrest, Walker, Polite), a pair of highly efficient and talented wing scorers (Vassell, Williams), two thick, athletic forwards who can score back-to-the-basket or take their defenders off the bounce (Gray, Osborne) and a pair of 7-footers that he can bring off the bench for rim protection.
FSU has an embarrassment of riches at nearly every position and has about as strong a team mentality as one group can have. Nobody’s an out-and-out superstar but every single one of them can make a massive impact on any given night. When it comes down to it, SU needs to figure out a way to contain the ‘Noles multiplicity or things could get bad very quickly.
Part of the beauty of having a consistent ten-man (possibly deeper) rotation is that everybody stays fresh and as much as that’s a huge part of the puzzle piece for Florida State’s offensive success (FSU ranks 3rd in the ACC at 75.1 ppg), where you really see it all come together for the ‘Noles is on the defensive end.
Although a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of scoring defense (65.1 ppg is 6th in the ACC), FSU is absolutely devastating when it comes to taking the ball away. The ‘Noles lead the ACC and are 13th in the country (1st among Power 5 teams) with 17.5 turnovers forced per game. They also lead the league in steals (9.29 – 12th in the country – 1st Power 5) and turnover margin (4.17 – 16th in the country – 2nd Power 5).
FSU is one of, if not the best, on-ball defensive teams in the country and they’re going to come after you with everything they’ve got in the halfcourt and perhaps even beyond that. Just take a look at the Seminoles last game when Trent Forrest came away with a career-high 8 steals against Duke (3rd highest total in a game in FSU history) and you can tell just how high-pressure this defense can be.
SU has done a good job of taking care of the rock this season (3rd fewest turnovers lost in the ACC) but going up against this good of a defense is still a tall task.