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Game Preview: Florida State at Miami

The 'Noles are fighting for the top of the ACC.

It's a battle for first in the ACC between long-time rivals, and it's a highly anticipated matchup. Just, not in the ways some people might think. Yes, this is Florida State and Miami playing a game for 1st in the ACC standings. In basketball. And it's not Duke and North Carolina. Florida State has won four straight conference games in a row, while Miami absolutely walloped North Carolina at home earlier in the week. 

These two teams are fresh off of playing each other not that long ago, as FSU beat Miami for the 8th consecutive time, winning 65-64 in Tallahassee. That loss gave Miami their first and only conference loss thus far. While the game may have about 11 games, these two have had vastly different weeks. FSU has played 3 games since then, having played at Syracuse, then home against Duke and UNF, all in the last 8 days. Miami has only played UNC and that was on Tuesday, so safe to say Miami will be the far more rested team of the two. 

FSU is looking for their 9th straight win in the series and their 6th straight win in 2022, while a win for either team would temporarily put them in 1st place in the ACC. The last win in the series for Miami did come at home in January 2018, so there's a reason to be hopeful for them. 

This game will be at 2pm on ESPN, live from the WATSCO Center in Coral Gables, FL. 

Miami Hurricanes (14-4, 6-1) Breakdown

As stated in my second Syracuse preview, these kind of previews where FSU has already played this opponent is more about what happened in the first game (what went well, what didn't go well, etc), what has happened since, and what we might expect. No point in going over information we've already covered. (For a refresher on Miami, here's a link back to the ORIGINAL GAME PREVIEW, and the recap with the 3 GAME-CHANGING PLAYS

So what went well for Miami in the first game? Charlie Moore went well. 20 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals on 8/12 shooting and 4/5 from 3. He's a threat to pull up from anywhere, but he's quick and shifty enough to get inside and finish at the basket. I imagine FSU has a slightly different gameplan to try and get the ball out of his hands. 

The danger of doing that means Isaiah Wong or Kameron McGusty get the ball more. McGusty has been one of the most reliable 15-18 points this season. He had 17 against FSU earlier, and is coming off of 20 points against UNC. He's a guy that simply knows how to fill it up. And while Wong didn't have the greatest game against FSU, he did just have 25 points against UNC to remind everyone what he can do. 

They were also able to turn FSU over 15 times, something that FSU has to tone down in this one. If you let Miami get out and run, that's how the danger sneaks up. Miami turned it over 11 times themselves, a little abnormal considering Miami is one of the 5-best team in the country at taking care of the ball. 

What didn't work well in the first game? Well, we've already mentioned that they turned it over more than normal, but the biggest thing was they couldn't keep FSU off the offensive glass. Florida State collected 14 boards on 33 missed shots, which gave them an incredible offensive rebound rate of 42.4%, and that led to 17 second chance points for the 'Noles. That was really the biggest difference in the game, since FSU didn't really shoot the ball well from 3. 

What has happened since these teams met? Only Miami beating North Carolina by what felt like 50. The final score ended up being 85-57, but UNC quit early in the game and never got into it. Miami was a blistering 13/28 from 3, won the turnover battle 14-4, and shot 22 free throws compared to UNC's 11. Sam Waardenburg being able to stretch the floor and get UNC's bigs away from the basket opened up so much for the offense and himself, as he finished with a career high 21 points (his first game ever with 20 or more points), while knocking down 5/6 3s. His ability to stretch the floor is huge, but it also doesn't scare me in this kind of matchup because FSU switches everything and doesn't allow for him to be left alone. 

What can we expect from Miami in this game? I have a very weird feeling they're going to throw a zone at FSU at some point in this game. Jim Larranaga has run zone in the past at Miami (it's good for team with limited depth, like they've had in recent history) and they've seen FSU really struggle against the zone at the end of the Duke game. They have only run 14 total possessions of zone defense all season according to Synergy Sports, so I don't really have anything to support my claim, just a gut feeling. I'm also expecting a Miami team that is ready to get one back against FSU. They're going to be refreshed, motivated, and ready to prove they belong at the top of the ACC. It's a very experienced group, and those are usually really tough teams in college basketball. 

Florida State Seminoles (12-5, 5-2) Breakdown

FSU is coming into this game absolutely exhausted. Let's take a look at their schedule in the last 8 days:

January 15: tip-off at Syracuse around 3pm, and ending around 5:45. They then have to fly back to Tallahassee, about a 1,000 mile flight. 

January 18: tip-off in Tallahassee against #6 Duke at around 9pm, game goes into overtime and doesn't end until around 11:30. They probably don't leave the arena until 12:30am on January 19. 

January 20: tip-off against North Florida at noon, less than 36 hours after leaving the gym after the Duke game. Game ends around 2pm. Their flight for Miami departs around 7pm. 

They will now have to play a 4th game in 8 days at 2pm against the top team in the ACC. All while still going to classes, doing homework, going to tutoring, getting treatment, going to practice (more of walkthroughs/low movement practices), watching film... it's been an incredibly busy week for these student-athletes, and they've done everything as well as they possible could've up to this point. 

Guys like Matthew Cleveland and Caleb Mills may be a little more tired after leading the team in minutes Thursday against UNF with 27 minutes apiece. If you just go back in the last week, Mills has played 94 minutes and Cleveland has played 69. RayQuan Evans has played 79. Guys have a lot of miles on them this week alone and there's still another game to play. Fatigue is going to have a MASSIVE impact on this game. 

They're going to have to dig deep in the fuel reserve for this game. Everyone knows what's at stake in this game: a battle for 1st in the ACC. If you told people that following the game at Wake Forest, FSU would be fighting for 1st in the ACC less than three weeks later, no one would've believed you. Not even the team themselves. They've been able to take care of business up to this point following the WF game, and now they're looking for one more stamp on the resume. 

Because Miami has played so well, they've elevated themselves to the point where this is now a Q1 chance for FSU, with this game being on the road. You can't overstate the impact of having two Q1 wins in the same week, if FSU were to get this win. After today, there are only two more Q1 chances left for the 'Noles as of now: at Duke and at UNC. This would've absolutely been a must win had FSU not beaten Duke. 

Malik Osborne and what FSU can get out of him will be on everyone's mind, but we'll talk about that in a second. No matter what, FSU is going to have to get production out of Tanor Ngom and Nahee McLeod. Ngom is coming off of a career high 13 points against UNF after missing a good chunk of the non-conference slate with a knee injury. If those two could have a big impact, especially protecting the rim, it's just one more thing Miami has to worry about. 

For even more coverage on this game, I hopped on Tuck Talk, featured by The Osceola, to talk about this week for FSU. You can listen to it below. 

You can also listen more about FSU Basketball in the last 25 minutes or so on our own podcast, Hear the Spear, which can be watched below. 

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Injury Report

The biggest question on everyone's mind is what happens with Malik Osborne? He sat out against UNF and Syracuse, but played against Duke. He's probably going to be listed as questionable with his ankle injury, but I'd be surprised if he didn't play in this one. The schedule eases up after this, so he can steal some rest here and there, and he's one of those guys that wants to play in moments like these. 

Rodney Miller saw his first minutes in a month or so against UNC, so looks like he'll be able to play if needed. 

Harlond Beverly is out for the season with a back injury. 

Projected Starters

Miami

G: Charlie Moore

G: Isaiah Wong

G: Kameron McGusty

F: Jordan Miller

F: Sam Waardenburg

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: Caleb Mills

G: Anthony Polite

F: John Butler

C: Naheem McLeod

Keys to the Game

Guard Play

Miami goes as their guards go. Charlie Moore was fantastic against the 'Noles last week with 20 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals, including 4/5 from downtown. Isaiah Wong struggled in the first game with just 10 points on 2/7 shooting (got to the free throw line), but Kameron McGusty was his usual self with 17 points and 7 rebounds. If FSU wants to have as much success as possible, they're going to have to limit this group somehow. Maybe turn them over, maybe send them a little extra pressure, if they can find the energy to do it. 

On the flip side, RayQuan Evans, Caleb Mills, Anthony Polite, Jalen Warley and whoever else you want to throw at guard is going to have to take care of the basketball. When Miami is getting steals and live-ball turnovers, that's when they're most dangerous. It may not even be that bold of a claim to say that whichever team finishes with more steals wins the game. 

Limit Possessions

Miami has failed to score 80 points in an ACC only twice this season: at Duke and at FSU. One was a loss, one was a win; the loss just happened to be the one that had fewer than 70 possessions. It's not the end all, be all, as their UNC game was a 69 possession game and they walloped the Tar Heels 85-57. When FSU is limiting possessions though, it's because they're locking in on the defensive side of the ball, forcing teams to score against them in the half court, and they're also working on the offensive end of the ball to get the best shot possible, not firing something up 12 seconds into the shot clock. 

In recent memory, FSU has been a team that wants to pick up the tempo, but that hasn't been the case this year. I think they realized after the Wake Forest drubbing that they're not a team that can consistently play 74 possession-games at a high level. 

Digging Deep

Fatigue is going to be the biggest storyline in this game. Florida State very well knows what's at stake, and sweeping Miami would look really good for their NCAA Tournament resume. They're going to have to dig deep, though, Deep into the fuel reserves, deep into the bench, finding whatever kind of juice they can to get energy and play hard. Miami wants to run when possible, so guys are going to have to find a way to match that intensity. 

Bench guys that haven't had the best production this season are going to have to step up. Guys like Jalen Warley, Naheem McLeod, Wyatt Wilkes, Cam'Ron Fletcher... guys that don't normally see a ton of minutes may be asked to make a big play. Question is... will they make they play when needed?

Game Prediction

Miami sits as a 3-point favorite, with an over/under of 147. 

If FSU is keeping this a close game, it won't even come close to the over/under. The last game between these two teams was a 65-64 slugfest that only had 62 total possessions, the lowest for either team this season. It was purposeful for Florida State though, they've really been trying to limit possessions and keep teams from getting out and running. 

I just think the 'Noles are going to run out of gas near the end. As mentioned earlier, this is the last of 4 games in 8 days, and the players are already tired. Miami has only played one other game since playing FSU on January 11. It's only natural that Miami is going to be fresher, and chomping at the bit to get back at FSU. 

I'll take the 'Canes 70-66.