Three legitimate reasons why I didn’t find my way around a keyboard this weekend to air my thoughts on Georgia Tech. For the record, I didn’t think Maryland would have any major difficulties with the yellow jackets, and judging by my sporadic gamecast checking, I was correct in that assumption. At 12-4 (2-1), Maryland has picked up the two conference wins that arrive at the door of every ACC team in a gift basket, and now move on to some tougher opponents.
Tonight, they’ll look to pick up a big road win against a Florida State team that just smacked around Roy Williams at home. Gary could’ve stumbled into Tallahassee with a middle of the pack CYO team and a blood alcohol content matching their assist to turnover ratio, and he STILL wouldn’t have lost by 33. This season of the Seminoles looks the same in your program, with the notable absence of Chris Singleton who left the show for more money. Let’s take a walk down the trail of tears.
Trouble in Tallahassee…
When you get outside the state of North Carolina, there aren’t a lot of superlatives thrown around the ACC, but Florida State is definitely deserving of this one: best man to man defense in college basketball. KenPom has the Seminoles ranked as the 4th best adjusted defense in the NCAA this year, after ranking them the best in 2010 and 2011. Hamilton has made it a priority to recruit defense, and then coach it to perfection. Michael Snaer and Deividas Dulkys are two of the best defensive guards in the ACC, and Xavier Gibson and Bernard James each block more than a shot and half a game inside. To sum this up, there isn’t a defensive metric you can find where Florida State isn’t near the top of the list. Alabama’s defense was great and froze the Terps at 42 points earlier this season. FSU has the talent to turn that thermostat even lower.
This is a team that has underperformed its high preseason expectations. A lot of upperclassmen mixed with ironclad man-to-man defense is usually a recipe for success, and the Carolina game may have been just what the Noles need to get cooking. The shooting may not be repeatable, but the effort on the boards (they outrebounded the usually dominant Tar Heels 43-35) certainly is, especially against a smaller, less-talented Maryland team. Tonight's game should prove whether Florida State will live up to their "top 3 in the ACC" preseason billing, or whether they'll spend 2012 as an undercard.
FSU's Donald L. Tucker Center is the most underrated home court advantage in the ACC, and has an argument as the most underrated in the country.The sight of a garnet and gold mob leading Sportscenter becomes less and less jarring every year that Florida State knocks off a top 5 team. Historically, Maryland has fared well against the Noles, but they are an all-together different animal at home with the crowd noise supplementing their dominating defense. It would downright shock me to see Maryland score upwards of 75 points in this game, and I’m expecting below 70.
…But only on one side of the ball:
Florida State’s stage 5 clinger defense is USUALLY supported by as ugly of an offense as you can find in all of college basketball. Discounting the North Carolina game, which in many aspects looks like an aberration (32 points from Dulkys?!), FSU has played down to their reputation several times this year. They’ve scored under 60 three times, including the absolute horror show they put on against Harvard (14 points in the first half). This team has the unsavory ability to miss in bunches, and as long as they don’t get to the stripe where they’re adequate (70.1%), they usually continue to dig the hole deeper with rushed shots and the ever present turnover (18.2 TO/PG, 5th worst in NCAA).
I’ll go out on a limb and say Lithuanian sensation Deividas Dulkys will play closer to his season scoring average (7.7 PPG) than he did against UNC (again, 32 points on a ridiculous 12/14 shooting). Even if he breaks into double digits, the majority of the scoring will be on the shoulders of Michael Snaer and Ian Miller. Snaer is crazy athletic, but all over the map with his shooting game to game. Miller was beginning to look like a consistent scoring option, putting up at least 15 in each of the 4 games prior to UNC. Then in the biggest offensive explosion of the year against the Tar Heels, he managed only 3 points in 14 minutes. Maryland has faced much better scorers than either of those two this season, and should willingly concede outside shots to them. Snaer’s only real danger is his free throw shooting (85.6%)
Even though being smart with the ball is something that should happen every game, it’s especially important in this one. Florida State not only forces a heap of turnovers per game, but uses them to fuel their transition offense where they’re most comfortable. The fewer turnovers Maryland makes, the more times FSU will be forced into half court sets in which they tend to give away plenty turnovers of their own.
Unless it becomes completely necessary, get inside the 3 point line and into the lane. The Seminoles defense guards extremely well against 3 pointers (26.3 %, 5th NCAA), and Maryland doesn’t necessarily stroke the 3 ball in their own right (34.4%, 170th NCAA). What the Terps have been doing better in recent games is getting to the line and converting (72% FT last two games). Instead of throwing up a contested three early in the shot clock, look to make the extra pass, get inside, and draw some fouls. After all, the free throw line is the only place on the court that FSU’s suffocating defense can’t play.
SOMEBODY has to keep Dulkys in check during this game. I don’t think he can go off for another big game, but I’m sure Leonard Hamilton is willing to test that theory. He’ll be getting plenty of screens with a green light waiting at the end of them. Lots of his looks against UNC were uncontested, that cannot be the case in this game. A hot shooting night from him would open up the paint for Bernard James, create wider lanes for Snaer, and turn a subpar offensive team into a suddenly potent one.
Maryland needs a signature road win badly, and this would definitely qualify as one. They’ll have to hope FSU’s domination of a Final Four-caliber UNC team was just a blip on the radar and not a sign of things to come. I think that the latter is more true of this Florida State team, and Maryland doesn’t have enough scorers to keep the defense from keying in on Stoglin. I don’t think an exceptional night from him is out of the question, but no one else on this team can create their own shot off the dribble with any consistency. Barring a major leap forward in productivity by Alex Len, I don’t see a second or third scorer capable of pushing the Terps over 70 on the scoreboard, which is what I think it will take for a win.
Florida State 67 Maryland 60