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Game Preview: Duke at Florida State

The Seminoles are looking to make a statement in the Tuck on Tuesday night.

This is the biggest game of the year for a lot of fans. Everyone sees the name Duke, buys season tickets once they go on sale, and then only attends the Duke game. It’s one of the premier brands in college basketball while simultaneously being one of the easiest to hate, so everyone wants to go to the game and boo, scream, and yell. 

There are also fewer better measuring sticks for an ACC team than Duke, historically. In years past, if you can beat Duke, you can beat just about anybody. The last two seasons, Duke has fallen off a little bit from their normal standards, but they’re right back at it this season being the clear favorite in the conference with everyone else lagging behind. And with it being Coach K’s last season at the helm, they’re wanting to send him off on a strong note. 

This is only the third true road game of the season for Duke, having lost at Ohio State earlier in the year, before beating Wake Forest last week.

It’s hard to believe, but these two teams haven’t played in almost two full years, with the last game being in February 2020, the game Trent Forrest had 8 steals but Duke came away with the win as FSU shot just 16% from 3. Duke leads the all-time series 39-10 and has won 5 straight in this series. 

This game will be at 9 pm on ESPN, live from the Donald L Tucker Center in Tallahassee, FL.

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#6 Duke Blue Devils (14-2, 4-1) Breakdown

I was slightly surprised to see Duke ranked 6th this week. Usually, losing to Miami at home is a good way to take a drop in the polls, but here they are. As mentioned earlier, this is only the third true road game of the season for Duke. Wake Forest traded blows with them in the first half before Duke blew it open in the second half. And as shown by the game at Ohio State, they can be susceptible to bigger, rowdier crowds. Expect the Tucker Center to come alive in this one, there have been some electric atmospheres in the past couple of years. 

This is a really good team, they excel in many different aspects on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they’re one of the best in the country (8th, to be exact) at protecting the ball… for the most part. Miami turned them over 17 times, easily the most Duke has turned it over this season. Not much of a spoiler, but expect heavy ball pressure from Florida State as they try to replicate that. 

They’re extremely efficient from the floor, shooting 56% on 2s and 36% on 3s. Their 3-point shooting ebbs and flows, like many teams, with 5 games shooting above 40%, and 4 games shooting less than 30% (both of their losses have come while shooting less than 30%). Duke runs a fast tempo, which will be an interesting matchup for an FSU team that has really slowed it down the last few games. Duke has only had three games with season with fewer than 69 possessions, all of the last three games for FSU have been fewer than 69 possessions and they were all wins. 

The only area they “struggle” is getting to the free-throw line, but when you make shots like they have the capability to, it’s not a huge concern. You have to really box out against Mark Williams and Theo John to keep them from getting extra looks, but other than that, Duke isn’t a particularly elite offensive rebounding team. 

Defensively, it’s just hell trying to get to the rim. They post one of the best block rates in the country, are the best team at not letting teams get to the free-throw line (and teams only shoot 65% from the line when they’re there, some Cameron Indoor luck if I’ve ever seen it), and are holding teams to a 46% eFG% and 29.9% from 3. They have a lot of length and athleticism on the roster, and it makes for tough matchups, especially when trying to get downhill. What you can’t do is allow that to get to your head as a ball handler. Keep attacking the paint and getting downhill, cut back door early and often, and keep going at their bigs. They may block some shots, but there may be chances for offensive rebounds. Watch the condensed Miami/Duke game and see how much Miami is cutting backdoor and getting to the rim on drives; even if a lot of it is when Duke’s shot blockers are off the floor. 

As with any conversation about Duke’s players, it’s gonna start with potential #1 pick Paolo Banchero. To me, he’s very similar to Anthony Davis, but more in terms of impact than play style. At 6’10, 250 pounds, he should be able to bully just about any other forward. He just seems to rely on his jump shot a little TOO much. He can make it, so credit to him. He’s shooting about 34% on 3s. I just think for him to realize his immense potential, he has to dive into more of a Giannis Antetokounmpo player who wants to destroy everything in his path. He’ll have a chance against Florida State who switches everything, so he’s going to get plenty of chances being guarded by guys like Jalen Warley and Caleb Mills. Ohio State held him to 3/11 inside the arc, and FSU is going to need a similar type of performance there to come out on top. I’m talking about this guy like he’s not averaging 17.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 2.3 APG on shooting splits of 50.5/34.0/76.1. It just shows you how absurdly talented this dude is,

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Wendell Moore is going to be on a lot of people’s lists for ACC's Most Improved Player. He went from just a solid player to a guy who’s a major X-Factor. He’s averaging 15.4 PPG on great efficiency: 55% from the floor, 37.7% from 3, and an insane 62.9% from 2. He’s also spent time at point guard, averaging a career-high 4.8 assists per game while not up-ticking his turnovers. He’s top-100 nationally amongst all players in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. Safe to say, he’s efficient. Here’s a little bit of trivia for you though, he has only had three games this season where he attempted a 3 and didn’t make one. In those games, Duke is 1-2. 

Trevor Keels is an interesting case for this team. He leads the team in 3PA, but is only making them at about a 31% rate and has only had one game all season with fewer than 4 attempts from 3. He started off the season incredibly strong against Kentucky with 25 points, but otherwise, he’s been a consistent 9-14 points almost every game, which makes sense given his 12.1 PPG average. He’s posting one of the best steal rates in the country though and had had five games with 3 or more steals.

Mark Williams really came into his own down the stretch last year for Duke and has grown into an impressive player. He only plays about 20 minutes per game, but in those 20 minutes, he’s a shot-blocking animal. Williams is 4th nationally amongst all players in block rate. That’s incredibly impressive. He’s also scoring 9.3 PPG all while shooting 66.7% from the floor in just 6 attempts per game. It’ll be interesting to see how he does when smaller defenders are switched into him. 

Jeremy Roach and AJ Griffin are both really talented shooters that can’t be left open from deep. Roach starts at the point guard spot, but Moore is more of the offensive initiator than Roach is. Both of these guys only take about 3 shots per game though, they’re not main contributors yet. 

Joey Baker and Theo John are the other rotational pieces to keep an eye out for. Baker is more of a shooter, shooting about 40% from distance, but only plays about 15 minutes per game. John is the backup big and does a great job of crashing the glass, but he’s nowhere near the shot-blocking threats that Williams and Banchero are. 

Florida State Seminoles (10-5, 4-2) Breakdown

It’s tough to call a game in mid-January a must-win, but you can absolutely make that case for Florida State. Because they stumbled through non-conference play and the ACC isn’t the best, there are very few chances to gain Q1 wins. Just basing it off of today’s NET rankings, Florida State only has 4 Q1 chances left on the season: 2 games against Duke, at UNC, and at Clemson (50/50 this will be a Q1 chance by the end of the year. They just lost to Boston College at home). FSU has to get quality wins somewhere; no better chance than tonight. 

The big question on everyone’s mind is whether or not Malik Osborne will play. He missed the last game against Syracuse after being limited every since the end of the NC State game with a turned ankle. If I know anything about Malik, he’s going to try everything possible to play in this game. And FSU needs him. He’s such a respected 3-point shooter that he can draw Mark Williams away from the basket and it can open up driving lanes for FSU’s guards. 

If Osborne plays, him, John Butler, Cam’Ron Fletcher, Naheem McLeod, and whoever else gets a lot of time down low is going to have their hands full with Banchero. It’ll be interesting to see how Banchero reacts to being fronted any time he’s in the post. Same for Williams. 

Florida State is coming off of one of their best offensive performances against Syracuse on Saturday, where they shot a blistering 60% from 3. I’m fairly confident in saying they won’t touch that kind of number again this season, but at least they showed they can do it. We know they have the ability to shoot the ball. 

FSU has also been purposefully slowing games down. After losing spectacularly against Wake Forest in a fast-paced 78 possession game, the last three games against Louisville, Miami, and Syracuse have all been below 69 possessions, bottoming out at 62 possessions against Miami. Notice how all three have been wins. I wouldn’t be surprised to see FSU stick with a similar formula here. 

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I’m going to be watching Matthew Cleveland closely in this game. I mentioned on the Syracuse podcast “The Ostrom Avenue Podcast” that he’s starting to find his groove and he knows he can perform athletically at this level.

I mentioned at the top how Duke is always a good test for teams to see how they stack up against the cream of the crop in the conference. It’s also a great measuring stick for young players to go up against other 5-stars in their recruiting class. I think Cleveland believes he knows he’s just as athletic as anyone else on the floor tonight. Now it’s time for him to show it. I would not be surprised at all if he’s the leading scorer for Florida State tonight. 

Injury Report

Tanor Ngom is out indefinitely for FSU with a knee injury. 

Malik Osborne is questionable for FSU with an ankle sprain (Coach Hamilton said after Saturday’s game that he doubts Malik will be ready, but I’m a little more optimistic on this).  

Cam’Ron Fletcher is probable for FSU with a wrist injury. 

Coach K had missed a couple of games with an illness, but he returned the other night against NC State. 

Projected Starters

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: Caleb Mills

G: Anthony Polite

F: John Butler

F: Malik Osborne (if he’s unavailable, Naheem McLeod will get the nod)


G: Jeremy Roach

G: Trevor Keels

G: Wendell Moore

F: Paolo Banchero

C: Mark Williams

Keys to the Game

Turnover Disparity

Duke has done an incredible job of taking care of the ball all season, save for the 17 turnovers against Miami, which led to a Miami win. It’s as simple of an explanation as this, if FSU is turning it over, Duke can’t take (and therefore make) as many shots as they would like. They’re an efficient basketball team, so you can’t let them get to their spots and get shots off. Florida State is top-10 nationally in steal rate; that theme is going to have to continue in this game for the ‘Noles to have success. 


Because FSU switches every action defensively, there’s going to be a lot of times when someone like RayQuan Evans is matched on Paolo Banchero in the post. They just won’t be able to allow Duke to push them around and get close within the basket. In transition, the stand-up man has to keep Duke’s bigs from getting within five feet of the basket. On offense, FSU has to be tough with the ball and go up strong at the basket. No soft layups, FSU needs 5 or 6 dunks in this game. Get the home crowd riled up, get some adrenaline going in the veins, and it’ll lead to being tougher on defense as well. 

Return of Jurassic Park

The biggest thing for FSU is the junkyard defense has to be alive and well in this game, or as Coach CY calls it “Jurassic Park.” Active hands, scrambling out to shooters, playing in passing lanes, blocking shots from the weak side… FSU needs to cause as much defensive chaos as possible. Their performance defensively hasn’t been the best this year. They’re 35th in defensive efficiency, which is fine, but they need to play at an elite level in this game defensively. I mentioned earlier how Banchero was just 3/11 from 2 against Ohio State and it was a big reason why they lost that game. They’re going to throw every possible option at Banchero to see how he responds, and I think they’ll be ready for the challenge. 

Game Prediction

Duke opened as 4-point favorites with an over/under of 144.5. 

FSU owes Duke one. I’m still not over the Cam Reddish buzzer-beater in 2019, which is the last time these two teams played in Tallahassee. There’s probably still a camera angle out there where you can see me under the basket that Reddish made the shot on and you see my shoulders drop 4 inches.

This is always a game people are excited for. FSU wants to prove that the early part of the season was just a fluke and that they’re turning a corner in ACC play. They’re going to have to play strong for 40 minutes. In the last couple of games, Duke has been in a dogfight for the first half before blowing the gates open in the second half. 

I so badly want to take Florida State in this. A win for them would mean a ton. But sometimes it’s better to be pleasantly surprised than greatly disappointed. Going to guess some ACC Official will make a game-changing call at the end that hurts FSU and Duke comes out on top at the end of it. 

Duke 71-68

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