ACC’s top two teams, Virginia and Florida State set to clash at 7 on little rest

By Jerry Ratcliffe

tony bennett uva nc state

UVA coach Tony Bennett. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Coming off wins on Saturday, both Virginia and Florida State didn’t have much prep time for tonight’s clash between the top two teams in the ACC.

The Cavaliers, ranked No. 7 in the AP Top 25 Poll, takes its 15-3 record (11-1 ACC) to Tallahassee to battle the 16th-ranked Seminoles (11-3/7-2). Tonight’s tipoff is slated for 7 o’clock on ESPN.

FSU returned from a second Covid pause to beat Wake Forest in overtime on Saturday, while Virginia manhandled North Carolina 60-48 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

For the veteran players, like UVA’s Jay Huff, playing in quick turnarounds is nothing new.

“I’ve been around for awhile, so you do a lot of these quick turnarounds,” Huff said. “The first years will have to learn that there’s no breaks in the ACC. You hop on the bus, hop on the plane and go. We don’t have much time to prepare on the court, so a lot of it will be film and strategy discussions.”

FSU forward RaiQuan Gray knows where Huff is coming from.

“It’s just another game,” Gray told the Tallahassee Democrat. “It’s not the last game of the season so it’s just another game. We’re treating it as another game.

“We know that [Virginia] is going to be a great team, they’re going to be ready to come in and play and fight a full 40 minutes. That’s the mentality we’ll have to have.”

Both teams held light practices Sunday, focusing more on the mental aspect of communicating and walking through game plans.

“Virginia is probably one of the best eams in America in terms of executing, offensive and defensive,” said veteran FSU coach Leonard Hamilton. “We’ve got to be aware of what they’re doing. We won’t have the luxury of going out and drilling it so a lot of it is going to have to be mental. Us looking at it, walking through it and trying to retain our gameplan.”

One of the items the Seminoles will have to adjust for is Virginia’s pace of play. The Cavaliers play at the slowest pace in America, averaging 59.7 possessions per game according to analytics.

The Wahoos may be deliberately slow offensively but they operate efficiently, particularly when it comes to shooting the ball. The Cavaliers rank fourth in the nation in 3-point shooting at 39.9 percent.

Virginia’s ability from long range has been a big difference in its past two wins as the Cavaliers have made 22 of 46 3-point attempts in wins over Georgia Tech and Carolina.

Florida State is a solid 3-point shooting team as well, 18th nationally at 38.7 percent. However, the Cavaliers have been successful in defending the 3-point line over the last two games. Georgia Tech and UNC were a combined 6 of 30 from the arc against UVA.

For Virginia, this is a huge stretch that could determine the Cavaliers’ quest for another ACC regular season title. After beating Carolina this past Saturday, UVA faces Florida State tonight and then travels to Duke on Saturday.

That’s one of the reasons star freshman guard Reece Beekman chose UVA.

“Just to play against that kind of talent will be a test to see where we’re at,” Beekman said.

Tony Bennett doesn’t take anything for granted in those games even though UNC and Duke haven’t enjoyed the seasons normally expected. FSU, meanwhile, is right on UVA’s heels in the regular season race.

Winning in Tallahassee is never easy. The Seminoles have lost just once at home this season and are undefeated in all six of its ACC games. Florida State hasn’t lost a home ACC game in two years, a 23-game streak that’s only three short of Duke’s league record set between 1997 and 2000.

“[Florida State] is so big [physically],” Bennett said Saturday night. “They switch all positions, one through five. They’re physical. They get after you. They have terrific talent with size. They’re playing good basketball.

“Coach Hamilton does a great job with their depth. They force you to make some plays off the dribble.”

Hamilton is well aware of what’s coming to Tallahassee this evening.

“They’re exceptional offensively,” the FSU coach said. “They don’t do that much, but what they do, they just do it over and over and over. They say we’re gonna do what we do. If you can stop us, you’re going to win. If you make a mistake, we’re going to score.

“Defensively, they’re not changing. They’re going to be consistent with what they do. You’ve got to execute against their style of defense. They’re going to trap you when the ball goes to the post. They’re going to play a little Pack-Line, not going to come out of their positioning. So you’ve got to hit shots, you’ve got to execute.”



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