As the Virginia Cavaliers prepare to begin their new year, presumably while staying amidst the top of the Associated Press Top 25, they wait for the opportunity to continue their dominance as the No. 2 ranked team in the country, first facing off against ACC rival Florida State.
Yes, this is yet another early-season succeeding, run of the mill, Tony Bennett-lead Virginia team, with their individualized brand of half-court fundamental offense, their own slowed down version of pace and space ball, with that stifling and abrasive defense to boot. They are second in the country in defensive efficiency, and in this young season, have held opponents to under 50.8 ppg.
With D’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome deciding to continue their stints in the blue and orange, their impact is felt across the board. Scoring wise, they average a little over 36 points a game and defensively, add to a team that holds all opponents to under 40% shooting. Expect that number to improve even more throughout the year.
But Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles won’t go quietly in the night, and no one should predicate them doing so. After a convincing win against Winthrop, and one final tune-up before ACC competition begins, No. 9 Florida State wants to make a statement, one that will shock the college basketball world collectively.
Seminole Forward and leading scorer from last year Phil Cofer scored 14 points off the bench in his 28-minute return from a foot injury. With that, he splashed a couple of long balls on his first game since Dec. 17 in a surprisingly close 87-76 victory. Frontcourt cohort Terrance Mann dropped 22 on 10 of 11 shooting, as FSU improved to 12-1, the program’s best start in 13 years.
That being said, their upcoming battle with UVA may already be transcribed in sportsbooks. The media is going to write off this one as an opportunity for the Hoos to improve their chemistry, or build their record with another win en route to their pivotal matchup against Duke on Saturday, Jan. 19.
But yet, this game against Virginia may just be closer than what people may think, making this a potentially eventful start to each team’s 2019 ACC campaign. Here are three reasons why.
Mann and Cofer can create matchup problems for the Hoos
With a 100% healthy backcourt and frontcourt poised to alarm the country of FSU’s arrival, Terrance Mann and a rejuvenated Phil Cofer can be an issue for any backcourt in the country to guard. The Noles average over 81 points a game and shoot over 47% from the field as a team. Just with Mann alone, the team has had only one slip up (coming at the hands of Villanova) but haven’t slipped up since.
The senior averages over 13 points a game and shoots over 58% from the field, and get this, he only puts up a little under 8 shots a game. They get the sophomore back – who averages about 12 points a game last year and, after one game this year, is shooting over 57% from deep – and Virginia will have to game plan for both guards a little more than we think.
The Cavs’ second unit have their biggest test this year, so far
Starters aside, a pretty revealing stat that could make this matchup interesting is that FSU’s bench scores over 34 points a game, compared to UVA’s bench contributing just about 25 points per game. What will be interesting to see is if Leonard Hamilton’s lineup decisions can disrupt Virginia’s ability to lower that number. Not a lot of teams can do that but in the ACC and in a new year, anything is possible.
Sixth man Braxton Key makes an immediate mark on the court when Tony Bennett calls his number, making his scoring (a little over 6 points a game) and rebounding presence felt. He is a beast on the boards, leading his team in the statistic on average boards a game and total rebounds on the season. On FSU’s side, their leading bench scorer and freshman guard Devin Vassell is scoring just about 8 points a game.
With a win, FSU can erase UVA’s perfect record to start the year
Virginia is off to a hot start, for obvious reasons. Sitting at No. 2 in the nation warrants some respect. They and other thee schools across the country are undefeated. Their first true challenge lies ahead in Charlottesville when going against the Noles. This is the eighth time in program history that Florida State has been a top 10 team while facing off against another top 10 team. FSU has a serious chance to put up a good fight against a team that could widely be considered an equal. Plus, this game is filled with future NBA talent with names like Guy and Mann to attest.
Florida State and Virginia face off on Saturday, Jan. 5th, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN.