Generally, a game between Florida State and Clemson has two things: defense and drama. Neither team likes allowing baskets, and this matchup seems to always result in tense moments down the stretch.
All three meetings last season between the Tigers and the Seminoles were decided by five points or fewer—all victories for the Seminoles. The game will feature the top two field goal percentage defenses in the ACC. I’m ready for an absolute battle for forty minutes.
If you’ve been following the ACC, you know there have been a few surprising teams that have outperformed expectations to this point in their respective schedules. Clemson is one, Wake Forest is another, and a third one is Florida State.
The Seminoles are 9-4 overall with a loss to Virginia at home on Saturday in conference play. They have been tested almost on a nightly basis, as they are already 2-2 against RPI top 50 foes with wins over VCU and Massachusetts, who is responsible for one of Clemson’s three losses this season.
FSU’s losses are to respectable opponents Michigan (neutral), Florida (road), Minnesota (road), and the Cavaliers. This is a team that has played in important games against quality opposition and performed well.
The Seminoles return a lot from last year’s squad, but they lost a monster in guard Michael Snaer. 6’8” forward Okaro White is a veteran who is proficient on both ends of the floor, and 7’3” center Boris Bojanovsky is a menace in the middle.
But Florida State has a strange rotation because a good chunk of its scoring generally comes from the bench. The leading scorer is sixth-man Ian Miller, a volume shooter who leads the team in field goal and three point attempts and averages 13.4 points per game. Fellow guard Aaron Thomas is a sophomore who comes off the bench and brings in 12.6 points per game.
The Seminoles feature length and size, and Leonard Hamilton preaches defense over offense, so the fact that primary scorers don’t start the game isn’t a surprise. He relies on depth and consistent rotations. The FSU bench is deep, as Hamilton will play nine or ten players in a given game. This could potentially negate a big advantage that works in Clemson’s favor on most nights.
Given the length and athleticism of Florida State, one might surmise that rebounding is a strength of the team, particularly given Clemson’s reliance on guards and overall inexperience in the post. But the Tigers rebound the ball at a higher rate on both ends of the floor than the Seminoles.
This could be a product of level of competition, or it could be something else. We’ll find out tonight. For now, it’s an interesting bit of knowledge to take into a game where conventional wisdom has Clemson getting destroyed on the glass.
Also, Florida State is flat out careless with the basketball. The Seminoles turn the ball over 15.8 times per game and have the ACC’s worst assist-to-turnover ratio. Florida State has four players who average at least two turnovers per game, as opposed to Clemson’s one (K.J. McDaniels). Part of this could be a product of possessions, but the Seminoles are more careless (22.2) than the Tigers (17.3) when you break it down as a percentage as well.
The Seminoles are outscoring the Tigers by more than six points per game, but Clemson has the edge in points per possession and offensive efficiency. This indicates the most important swing stat might be pace. FSU wants to clog the lane defensively and trigger transition opportunities, while Clemson will play a much more deliberate style on both ends of the floor.
Another key might be foul shooting. Florida State commits almost 20 fouls per game, but Clemson isn’t very good at drawing fouls. The Tigers are among the nation’s top ten teams from the free throw line, so taking advantage of the Seminoles’ propensity to use their hands on defense might give Clemson a better chance to win.
The Tigers are a slight favorite, predicted to win by two or three points in this game. On a neutral floor, I would probably like Florida State due to the rigorous schedule, fresh scorers on the bench, and general ability to win close games against Clemson. But Brad Brownell’s team has been downright nasty on defense, and that goes to another level at home.
I see Clemson controlling the pace of play and winning by a handful, maybe 61-56, in a game that might be considered a must-win with Duke coming to town in 48 hours and a borderline impossible string of road games looming.