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Game Preview: Florida State at Syracuse

The Seminoles are looking for their third straight victory.

Florida State has won two in a row at home, but now has to go back on the road to play a Syracuse team that has already beaten FSU in Tallahassee. Syracuse hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire since then either, losing to Miami, Wake Forest, Virginia, Georgetown, and Villanova since beating FSU and sits just 2-3 in ACC play. 

Both teams need a win in this game, but for much different reasons. A Florida State team that had high expectations coming into the season has won two in a row, but needs to start racking up quality wins for some sort of a tournament resume, while Syracuse needs to prove their win over FSU wasn't a fluke. 

This game will be at 3pm EST on ESPN2, live from the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. 

Syracuse Orange (8-8, 2-3) Breakdown

I generally prefer these kind of previews, where it's a team FSU has played before. It's a lot more fun to react to something we've already seen versus predicting something where we could really expect anything. Granted, anything can happen in this game as well. Here's a reminder of the split box score from the first game. 

fsu cuse split

The story of the game may have been FSU's dismal offense, but Syracuse wasn't firing on all cylinders either. Buddy Boeheim had his worst game of the season against Florida State, so I don't expect much to change for FSU's gameplan defensively. Just rebound a little better, recover out on Joseph Girard faster. 

Credit to Syracuse and coach Jim Boeheim, they gave FSU a much different look defensively, something they're not known to do. 

The biggest reason they did this was to take away the high post. It may look like a 1-3-1, but it still effectively plays as a 2-3. Passing has to be crisp and quick, players have to know what they're doing with the ball before they even catch it. I'd be surprised if Syracuse didn't throw this zone at FSU again, because of how poorly FSU played against it. 

It'll help that Florida State can't be surprised by it anymore, and that they'll have RayQuan Evans in a better headspace. They've probably planned to get weakside lobs and fades to the corner to generate open looks the last few days. I expect Naheem McLeod to have a decent role in this game, since he can hang with Jesse Edwards physically. 

A couple of player trends to note on for Syracuse. 

Buddy Boeheim is coming off of a 24 point, 5/8 3-point showcase against Pitt earlier in the week. Pitt is far from a good team, but he wants to prove his performance against FSU earlier in the season was a fluke. 

Jimmy Boeheim has been in double digits every game, except for two. He's a consistent 12-14 points, and he ate Wyatt Wilkes alive last matchup. 

Joe Girard dealt with foul trouble against Pitt so he didn't play a ton, but did just have 26 points against Miami a little over a week ago. He's only been in double figures two of the last five games. 

Cole Swider was 6/9 from 3 against Miami, but is just 2/8 in the last two games from 3. He sort of made FSU pay in the first matchup, but he really just took a lot of shots. 

Jesse Edwards has fouled out in each of the last 5 games, so I'm expecting FSU to go at him early and often, but he also has 16 blocks in his last 4 games. 

Syracuse is in the bottom-5 nationally in bench minutes and get just 6.5 PPG on average from their bench. If FSU can get a guy or two in foul trouble, their bench is so unproven that it can really only work in the 'Noles' favor. 

Florida State Seminoles (9-5, 3-2) Breakdown

Safe to say, Florida State's struggles in the first game came strictly from the offense. The defense held in as long as they could, and held Buddy Boeheim to a season low in points and shooting percentage. Girard hit timely shots, but it came down to FSU's performance on offense. 

Shooting just 4/30 from 3 is a great way to lose a game, especially for a team like the 'Noles who just aren't a good 3-point shooting team at the moment, even if they're generating open looks. If you need a reminder from how bad the shooting performance was....

Safe to say, not the best performance. Plenty of open looks, just a failure to make shots. FSU has always been better when they're playing off of drive and kick 3s, and because Syracuse was running a different kind of 2-3 zone, it threw FSU for a loop to where they were just passing around the arc before chucking a shot up. 

Granted, every zone defense has gotten FSU out of rhythm. They're scoring just 0.78 points per possession against zone which is in the bottom-15% nationally amongst all teams. They're also shooting just 37.3% from the floor against the zone, which is less than ideal. 

If Syracuse does decide to run that same defense, expect FSU to get the ball to the corners before finding weakside actions like lobs and off-ball screens for open 3s. 

If Syracuse decides to stick with their patented and traditional 2-3 zone, FSU has to get to the middle of the zone. I went through and charted how many times FSU got the ball into the high post in a half court possession. By my count, there were 41 total half court possessions longer than 10 seconds, and FSU only got to the high post on 16 of those chances, scoring on 8 of those chances. The biggest issue is, it took FSU FOREVER to get into the high post. This was the first high post entry pass/action, and look at the time on the clock. 

Harrison Prieto got the first high post touches which is... certainly a strategy. I also charted how many times each player got the ball in the high post and how many times it led to a score. 

Harrison Prieto- 3 actions, 1 score

Matthew Cleveland- 6 actions, 1 score

Malik Osborne- 2 actions, 1 score

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Caleb Mills- 4 actions, 4 scores (sort of, he had one missed shot that led to an offensive rebound putback, so I counted it)

Anthony Polite- 1 action, 1 score

You can probably guess where I'm going with this, when FSU gets into the high post, most of those touches need to go to Caleb Mills. He's a crafty ball-handler, can get to either at the rim, and distribute at a high enough level to make defenses pay when they suck in. He has enough gravity as a player to get a lot of attention, as well as his skillset mentioned earlier. Here's just a little taste of what he can do as a passer, a really underrated part of his game. 

The plan in the first game was to get Matthew Cleveland involved there, but I don't think he's a good enough distributor at this stage in his career, or a big enough threat from the midrange to keep defenses honest. He'll get there, just not there yet. 

Injury Report

Tanor Ngom is out indefinitely with a knee injury. 

Malik Osborne is probably with a turned ankle. 

Cam'Ron Fletcher has been dealing with a wrist injury, which is why his minutes maybe weren't as high last game as some expected. He should still play though. 

Bourama Sidibe is out with a knee injury. 

Projected Starters


G: Joseph Girard

G: Buddy Boeheim

G: Jimmy Boeheim

F: Cole Swider

C: Jesse Edwards

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: Caleb Mills

G: Anthony Polite

F: John Butler

F: Malik Osborne

Keys to the Game

High Post Initiators

For Florida State to have success, they have to attack the middle with every chance possible. It'll lead to one of my later keys, but FSU simply didn't get to the high post enough in the first matchup between these two teams; just 16 high post touches in 41 half-court possessions that lasted more than 10 seconds... and three of those were Harrison Prieto, including the first high post touch of the game. 

Part of getting to the high post is finding the right guy to put there. Guys in the past that excelled in this role have typically been bigger guards that can score and facilitate under pressure, such as Braian Angola and Terance Mann. There was one massive exception in Mfiondu Kabengele as a big, but he's a scorer like we've never seen from a Coach Hamilton big man. To me, Caleb Mills has to be the guy that gets the majority of the high post touches. He only got four in the first game, and all four led to a score one way or another: two for himself, one led to an offensive rebound because his drive pulled Cuse's center, and one kick out for an open 3. 

Matthew Cleveland has potential to run this role well, though just 1 of his 6 high post touches led to scores in the first game. He's such a great scorer around the rim that if he can improve his distributing, it's just someone else that can fit something FSU needs. 

Know Your Personnel

When you play a team twice, you ought to know exactly what every other player wants to do. A couple of players I expect them to key a little more on are Girard, who continuously hit timely shots against Florida State, and Jimmy Boeheim, who was really able to take advantage of certain matchups and has been playing fairly well in conference play. FSU played really well against Buddy Boeheim in the first matchup, so I expect him to have something to prove. 

One other thing I expect them to exploit is Jesse Edwards' foul issues. He's averaging 4 fouls per game, and has fouled out in his last 5 games, as well as in the first game against the 'Noles. FSU really struggled to score when he was on the floor, and once he fouled out, they quickly cut into Cuse's 11-point lead at the end of the first game. I'm expecting FSU's guards to go at him early and often, though his 14.1% block rate makes this easier said than done. 

Play Inside-Out

We talked about getting into the high post earlier, but what this forces FSU to do is play inside-out. Get two feet in the paint before passing out to 3. Because Syracuse changed their zone up in the first game to look more like a 1-3-1 (still played more like a 2-3), it took away the high post and FSU was searching for answers and just passed it around the perimeter until they got a 3. Florida State isn't a team that should be shooting 30 3-pointers; they just haven't shown the capabilities to make that an effective strategy. They have to stay in that 18-22 3PA range, and capitalize on open looks. The more this team gets into the paint, the more it opens shots up for the rest of the offense. 

Game Prediction

Syracuse opened as 2.5-point favorites with an over/under of 149.5. 

Both of these teams have been so up and down the last month, that there are very few results in this game that would surprise me. It could be 89-60 or it could be 51-50, neither would shock me. Florida State has struggled on the road, but Syracuse is 6-2 at home, not like they've lit the world on fire. I'll take Syracuse for now, only because I'd rather be pleasantly surprised than utterly disappointed. 

'Cuse 67-64