UNC basketball (12-2, 1-0 ACC) will face its first ACC road opponent in No. 24 Florida State Wednesday. The No. 12 Tar Heels are coming off a 73-69 home victory over Wake Forest, while the Seminoles (11-2, 0-1 ACC) fell 93-100 on the road to Duke.
About the Seminoles
Florida State lost its top three scorers to the NBA after earning a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Terance Mann, the top returning scorer, is the focal point on offense this year.
The Seminoles had a quiet, but solid, non-conference showing. They beat Florida handily on the road and suffered a lone loss by a point to Oklahoma State. The ‘Noles pushed Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium before falling at the end of their ACC opener.
Players to Watch
Balanced scoring is the ‘Noles key to ranking in the top 25 nationally in scoring with 85.7 points per game (right behind is UNC’s 85.2). Nine Seminoles average five or more points per game, unlike last season’s top-heavy scoring approach.
All three of the Seminoles’ double-digit scorers are upperclassmen, with junior guard Mann leading the charge at 14.6 points per game. Right behind him is senior forward Phil Cofer (14.5 PPG) and senior guard Braian Angola (12.5 PPG).
Much like North Carolina, Florida State plays unselfish basketball. The Heels and Seminoles are tied for 19th in the country with 19.9 assists per game. Sophomore guard Trent Forrest is the main Seminole distributor with 4.4 assists per contest.
On defense, two freshmen – 7-footer Ike Obiagu and 6-8 Mfiondu Kabengele – control the paint. Florida State defends the perimeter well (FSU ranks 9th nationally in 3-point defense), and, with Obiagu’s shot-blocking prowess, the ‘Noles are a hard team to score on. North Carolina’s midrange shooting will be key.
Fourteen games into the year, UNC has yet to face a truly rowdy road atmosphere. They’ll get it in Tallahassee. Playing at Tennessee was a good challenge and Davidson fans showed up at a neutral court in Charlotte, but neither of those games were conference competition.
UNC has historically had trouble playing at the Tucker Civic Center. The 2012 season comes to mind. That year, Deividas Dulkys dropped 32 points and the ‘Noles beat the No. 3 Tar Heels by 33 points. That Carolina team was one of the best in the country, but the Tallahassee crowd made sure it didn’t matter. UNC will need to get off to a good start to prevent a repeat of 2012.
Luke and Length
Luke Maye has been a legitimate All-American candidate halfway through the season, but much of his production has come against smaller, less athletic competition. As a 6-8 forward, Maye is undersized and lacks a dominant post-up game. He’s at his best playing inside-out, but, if opponents don’t respect him in the paint, he can’t knock down 3’s as easily.
This problem was evident against Michigan State, when Maye was held to 8 points and 6 rebounds against the talented Spartan frontcourt. Florida State has the same length to shut him down in the post. Instead of forcing the issue inside, Maye needs to take advantage of his quickness to knock down midrange and outside shots. If he plays through his strengths, Maye is among the most valuable players in the country. But if he tries to play like a traditional forward, Maye’s not nearly as effective. How Luke adjusts to FSU’s size will be key.
UNC got an early Christmas present on Dec. 9 when Boston College knocked off Duke in Chestnut Hill. That Blue Devil loss, which dropped Duke to 0-1 in the ACC, could be crucial in deciding the conference regular-season title down the stretch.
It won’t matter, though, if UNC doesn’t win the winnable ones. Playing in Tallahassee is tough, but winnable. And, with a road trip to Virginia next on the docket, the Heels need to avoid returning to Chapel Hill 1-2 in the league.
UNC looked flat-out bad in its close home win over cellar-dwelling Wake Forest. Florida State is no Wake Forest. Tallahassee is no Chapel Hill. The Seminoles nearly beat Duke in Durham, and I just don’t think UNC is capable of doing that right now. 87-80, FSU.