For the first time since the 2016-17 season, Virginia dropped two straight games this past week, falling to ACC foes Boston College and Syracuse. Nevertheless, the unforgiving nature of the ACC schedule now pits the Cavaliers (11-4, 3-2 ACC) against No. 9 Florida State Wednesday night in Tallahassee. The Seminoles (14-2, 4-1 ACC) have been outstanding this season, rattling off seven straight wins including a resounding 78-65 victory over then-No. 10 Louisville.
Just as Virginia lost its “Big Three” in guards Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter last year, Florida State came into its 2019-20 campaign having lost four of its six top scorers from last year’s team — which notably upset the Cavaliers in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament.
However, the teams have responded to this change differently. Virginia started the season strong with a win over Syracuse in the raucous Carrier Dome, while the Seminoles fell to a Pittsburgh team that wasn’t highly lauded coming into the season. Nevertheless, as Florida State began to mesh under long-time Coach Leonard Hamilton — excluding a blowout against Indiana at Assembly Hall — the Cavaliers have somewhat sputtered their way to an 11-4 record.
Despite this, it would be naive to count Virginia out, as Coach Tony Bennett has more than proved his coaching ability throughout his 10-plus seasons in Charlottesville. Although the Cavaliers find themselves unranked for the first time since 2017 — and facing a top-10 ACC foe — this game is sure to be an exciting one for both teams.
Players to Watch
Virginia — Sophomore guard Kihei Clark
Throughout the season, Clark has been an offensive workhorse for the Cavaliers, averaging 9.9 points and 5.9 assists per game as Virginia’s main ball-handler. However, given that Clark is one of the few bright spots in a struggling Cavalier offense, opposing defenses have targeted Clark more and more. In the last six games — four of which came against Power 5 opponents — Clark has committed an average of 4.2 turnovers per game, including seven in the loss to South Carolina.
For Virginia to pull off the upset against a Florida State team ranked 17th in KenPom for adjusted defense, Clark will have to be able to distribute the ball effectively while limiting his turnovers. Furthermore, if Clark is able to sink his three-pointers — the Woodland Hills, Calif., native has been hitting them at a 40 percent clip this season — he’ll be able to open up the paint for senior forward Mamadi Diakite and junior forward Jay Huff.
Florida State — Senior guard Trent Forrest
Forrest is the veteran of this Seminole squad, having started 54 career games over four years at Florida State. The former top-100 recruit has been outstanding for the Seminoles this season, averaging 12.2 points and 3.9 rebounds, while shooting 46.8 percent from the field. In fact, against Louisville at the KFC YUM! Center, Forrest had one of his most complete games of the season, scoring 20 points and grabbing three rebounds.
Although Forrest stands a full six inches taller than Clark, Clark will have to guard the Chipley, Fla., native given the length of Hamilton’s squad. If Forrest wants to have a big night — which would ensure a Seminole victory — he will have to match Clark’s speed and use his size advantage to finish over Clark at the basket.
Virginia’s Keys to the Game
Convert shots from the arc
It is no secret that the Cavaliers have struggled from deep this season — shooting an abysmal 26.8 percent — which ranks bottom-10 in the country. In fact, in Virginia’s four losses this season, the Cavaliers have shot a combined 22 percent from behind the arc, as players like junior guard Tomas Woldetensae have failed to materialize. To upset a dynamic Florida State team that looks to be a Final Four contender, Virginia will need its sharpshooters to be on point from deep.
Lock down Forrest and sophomore guard Devin Vassell
Forrest and Vassell have been two of Florida State’s main offensive playmakers this season and will be a handful for an inexperienced Virginia team that has yet to see a team as dynamic as the Seminoles. The two have been lethal from three-point range but have also used their size to have their way around the basket. Virginia will have to find a balance between respecting their three-point ability while also preventing easy drives and second chances off of offensive rebounds.
Tipoff is set for 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.