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GAME PREVIEW: Florida State at Georgia Tech

The 'Noles are trying to hold onto the No. 1 spot in the ACC.

It took every ounce of energy they had to hold off Miami, but Florida State was able to leave Coral Gables with their 9th straight win over Miami, 5th straight ACC win, and a 1st place standing in the ACC. The schedule now eases up a little bit, at least compared to what they just went through. Here is Florida State’s next five games: at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, at Clemson, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh. Those are all really winnable games, but we start it off with Georgia Tech. 

FSU vs Georgia Tech may not hold the same weight it did last season, as GT beat FSU in the ACC Championship for their first ACC title since 1993. It was a game the ‘Noles very well should’ve won, they just shot themselves in the foot a little too much, and going against a fiery and angsty (swarming, if you will) Yellow Jackets team was the perfect storm for a letdown. Now, the ‘Noles are looking for one back. 

Florida State is winning the all-time series 44-31 and has largely dominated since 2007, having won 15 of 19 games since the 07/08 season, though GT has won two straight. 

This game will be at 9 pm on the ACC Network, live from the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, GA.

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Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-10, 1-6) Breakdown

Georgia Tech has not had the greatest defense on an ACC Championship this season. They surprised pretty much everyone by beating Florida State in the ACC Title Game last season, before getting completely screwed by the NCAA Committee and having a first-round NCAA Tournament matchup with Loyola Chicago as an 8/9 pairing. Their title defense has them with a 1-6 start in ACC play, having lost to UNC twice, Duke, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, and Louisville, and their one win coming over Boston College. No bad losses, by any stretch of the imagination, but they've still been failing to make an impact or really only be competitive. Of those 6 losses, only Notre Dame and Louisville were losses by single digits. 

They've also yet to win a conference game at home this season, as the Boston College game was on the road. This will be a hungry and desperate team, and there are few things as dangerous as a team that has nothing to lose. With Georgia Tech, we have to talk about their zone defense. They haven't played it as much this season, only about 31% of possessions in a zone, but they'd be foolish not to play zone in this game. Let's take a look at it real quick. 

This doesn't have the highest quality clips, but he does do a solid job of pointing out what makes GT's zone so unique, while also explaining the looks FSU is trying to get. Hybrid 1-3-1 is a great term for this, as it really plays like a lifted 2-3, but looks like a 1-3-1. You may remember Syracuse giving FSU fits with something similar to this in the game in Tallahassee. It's a tricky zone, but without stalwarts Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright, it doesn't play nearly as efficiently. Getting to go against a below-average zone offense team in FSU may be a good way to get back on track.

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Offensively, they do a decent job of shooting the 3... and that's it. Everywhere else, they're below average. Part of that is because they massively downgraded at point guard going from Alvarado to Kyle Sturdivant, and they also don't have the athleticism down low, as Rodney Howard is unimpressive. 

Everything for them comes down to Jordan Usher and Michael DeVoe. DeVoe in particular had big games against FSU last year, averaging 20 PPG across three games last season. Between these two players, they're averaging 34.7 PPG. The rest of the roster is averaging 35.5 PPG, and no one else averages more than 7.3 PPG. If FSU can find a way to slow one of these two down, it'll go a long way in this game. Usher has made massive improvements as a shooter, going from 28.6% from 3 last season to 36.9% this season. They are also the only two players on the roster that are analytically positives on offense. Everyone else is a negative, 

As mentioned, outside of those two it's not a great team. Sturdivant has also made progression as a shooter, but he's not a great playmaker, with most of those duties falling on the two stars. Dallan Coleman (a guy FSU heavily recruited out of high school) has been a great shooter and is actually shooting much better from 3 than he is from 2. This is a similar case for Tristan Maxwell, who has missed most of the season but has been playing in ACC games recently. 

Khalid Moore and Rodney Howard combine for the worst starting frontcourt in the ACC, who are there to grab rebounds and not much else. Then there's Deivon Smith who is honestly a solid backup guard but doesn't play as much as he should. With this roster, once you get past those first two players, it's bleak and they're fairly easy to scout. 

Florida State Seminoles (13-5, 6-2) Breakdown

I'm sure seeing that the 'Noles have won 15 of the last 19 in this series surprised a lot of people. Atlanta has historically not been a kind city to Florida State University. 

FSU was finally able to get some rest after a week that had very little. 4 games in 8 days is rough, but now the 'Noles are back to a normal schedule, playing Tuesday/Wednesday and Saturday pretty much the entire rest of the way (one Boston College sized exception in February). 

The past few days have seen the squad see some national recognition. Leonard Hamilton was named coach of the week by ESPN, they appeared in the "receiving votes" section of the AP Poll, and saw national college writers say "this team has turned around." It's one thing to do it for a week. It's another to not dwell in your own success and go keep winning. 

This is a good test for a young team. You've had a lot of success in the last week, now to test your ego, you go on the road to play a team who is dead last in the conference, and hasn't won an ACC game at home. It's the prototypical trap game. So to see how the team will respond in this kind of game is going to be interesting. 

Caleb Mills is finally starting to look like the guy we all thought he was going to be. In his last three conference games (Syracuse, Duke, Miami), he has been averaging 17.7 PPG on 51.4% shooting from the floor and 100% from the free-throw line. He didn't shoot particularly well against Duke, but the glimpses were still there. He has the ball on such a tight string and can get to his spots whenever he wants. Mills may have had a few too many turnovers against Miami, but I think he's going to learn from them. 

Florida State has struggled with Georgia Tech's zone in the past, but GT doesn't have the same firepower defensively as they did last year. With on-ball pest Jose Alvarado and ACC POTY in Moses Wright gone, it should be a little bit easier to score on this team, the keyword being "should". FSU's zone offense is still unspectacular, as they're only averaging 0.895 PPP against zone defenses, per Synergy sports. and that's really being inflated by the game at Syracuse. 

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Injury Report

Malik Osborne is questionable to play with his ankle injury. I'm not expecting him to play, as he's been in and out of the lineup the last four games. 

GT's Bubba Parham is out for the season after it was announced he'd be having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. 

Projected Starters

Georgia Tech

G: Kyle Sturdivant

G: Michael DeVoe

G: Jordan Usher

F: Khalid Moore

C: Rodney Howard

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: Caleb Mills

G: Anthony Polite

F: John Butler

C: Naheem McLeod

Keys to the Game

3-Point Shooting

If there’s one thing Georgia Tech can do well, it’s shooting the 3. As a team, they shoot about 35% from distance and have four players shooting 36% or better: Jordan Usher (36.9%), Michael DeVoe (39.2%), Dallan Coleman (44.7%), and Tristan Maxwell (40%). FSU has actually been a little below average at defending the 3, currently allowing teams to shoot about 35.6%. If GT can come out and hit 10 3s at an efficient rate, they might make this much closer than expected. 

Penetrating the Zone

Georgia Tech has spent about 31% of their defensive possessions in the zone this season, but any smart coach should be able to see that FSU can falter a little with a lot of ball pressure and against the zone. It stymied the team last season both in Atlanta and in the ACC Championship, and though they don’t have the defensive pests they did last year, it’d still be a mistake to not at least try it. 

Overall, they force turnovers on about 19% of all possessions, which is about the rate FSU gives it up anyways. You really just have to get inside and get to the rim; get the ball to the corner and swing it quick to get looks inside. Rodney Howard isn’t scaring anyone, go at him. 

Don't Get Complacent 

We’ve seen Florida State teams in the past get caught up in their own success. They have an ACC Standings board in their locker room in the practice facility, and it probably feels pretty good seeing their name at the top for the first time this season. They could also see Georgia Tech at the very bottom of that list, and think this is about to be a cakewalk. The last thing they can do is get complacent, or think that any game is easy. It’s arguably why they lost to South Carolina and Syracuse earlier in the year. This is a very young team, and a good mature step would be to beat a bad GT team on the road coming off of a very successful and tiring week. It’s easy to get up for Duke or to get up for Miami for 1st in the ACC. May not be as easy to get up for Georgia Tech. 

Game Prediction

Florida State opened as 4.5-point favorites, with an over/under of 135.5. 

I'm expecting FSU to win this, but how close it will be, who knows. To me, FSU is going to come out motivated and get one back for the ACC Championship. 

'Noles 73-66

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