How To Watch & Listen
ACC/Big Ten Challenge:
Florida State (5-0) At Rutgers (6-0)
Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey
Tip-off: Tuesday, November 28th at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: ESPNU - Will Flemming & Robbie Hummel
Stream: ESPN App
Radio: WCTC 1450 AM & WOR 710 AM, Sirius & XM channel 81 - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #116; Florida State #42
(Note: Rutgers rose 2 spots from their last game)
KenPom Prediction: Florida State 73 Rutgers 69; Rutgers 35% chance to win
Series History: FSU leads 1-0 with a 87-77 win on December 22, 1967.
Florida State SB Nation site: Tomahawk Nation
About Florida State
Head coach Leonard Hamilton is in his 16th season at Florida State and are coming off of a 26 win season in which his team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They lost several starters, including Corey Sanders good friend, guard Dwayne Bacon. However, they still have a deep roster, even with 7'4" center Christ Koumadje out due to injury. Florida State has played a similarly weak non-conference schedule so far and is ranked 325th out of 351 Division I teams. Rutgers has played a non-conference schedule ranked 351st.
Florida State is a big, guard heavy team that plays at a fast pace, as they are scoring an average of 91 points per game. They are shooting 52.9% from the floor and 35.6% from three-point range as a team. The Seminoles have also been playing above average defense, forcing its opponents into low shooting percentages, as well as block and steal the basketball at a high rate. Their biggest weaknesses are turnovers (14 per game, 18.9% rate) and defending against offensive rebounds (allow a rate of 34.3% for 293rd in Division I).
The 5-0 Seminoles are led by Terance Mann, a 6’6’ junior guard who is averaging 17.0 points per game on an incredible 68.5% shooting from the floor. He also adds 5.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.2 steals per contest. He should not be confused with this writer. Mann is the straw that stirs the Seminoles drink and is the key to their team.
The rest of the backcourt includes 6’6” senior Braian Angola (12.4 points, 4.6 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 13-28 for 46.4% from three-point range), 6’5” freshman M.J. Walker (9.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 11-22 for 50% from three-point range) and 6’4” junior P.J. Savoy (7.0 points in just 11.7 minutes per game). Note that M.J. Walker has been dealing with some type of injury and it’s not clear how much he will play tonight. Also in the backcourt are 6’1” sophomore C.J. Walker (8.4 points, 3.0 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals) and 6’5” sophomore Trent Forrest (5.0 points, 5.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals).
The frontcourt is led by 6’8” senior Phil Cofer, who is averaging 13.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and is shooting 64.3% from the floor. Canadian 6’9” freshman Mfiondu Kabengele is contributing 11.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and shooting 65.6% from the floor in just 14.6 minutes per game, although he is playing more now with starting center Christ Koumadje out with an injury. 7-foot freshman Ike Obiagu will probably see more time tonight as well (2.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks).
Keys To Victory
Need Strong Start
Despite obvious improvements during this 6-0 start compared to last season, Rutgers has had the disturbing trend of starting games slow. The first 8-10 minutes have been a struggle to score points and establish a flow on offense. It's an obstacle this team has been able to overcome against inferior competition, but it's not a position they want to be in against a team like Florida State, who can score early and often. Rutgers needs to attack the rim and share the basketball right from the opening tip. Defensively, they need to find their matchups early during each possession and guard the perimeter against a team that averages over 26 attempts a game from three-point range. They can't afford to come out sluggish and fall too far behind early on or there is a chance they'll never recover in this game.
Contest Every Shot
The Seminoles are by far the best shooting team that Rutgers has seen so far. Florida State is shooting 64.2% from two-point range and 35.6% from three-point range. Rutgers must be well organized and challenge every shot they take tonight. Transition defense will be huge as well, as Florida State loves to push the pace and look for open shots behind the arc. Rutgers has to hold their matchups and get back on defense, or it could get ugly. They cannot allow easy baskets and open looks from the perimeter. They need to force Florida State into using the entire possession clock, which is not something they normally need to do. Make them uncomfortable and make them work for every shot.
Slow The Pace Down
Ideally, head coach Steve Pikiell wants Rutgers to be a transition team that pushes the pace and can score out of the break. They have shown flashes of being able to do this, but not as much as they ultimately want to. However, Rutgers cannot get caught up in a track meet with Florida State or they might get run right out of the RAC. Florida State rotates a deep bench and is constantly looking to run, wearing down opponents with their big, athletic guards. However, I do think Rutgers needs to be able to score some in transition in this game and not solely rely on scoring in the halfcourt. They need to be smart and selective in taking those chances, which is why scoring off of turnovers will be key. Rutgers has been forcing its opponents into an average of 17 turnovers a game, while committing just 10 per contest of their own. They'll need to take care of the basketball and handle the FSU press, which they’ll flash at times, but also run when they can off of turnovers.
Second Chance Points
Both teams are two of the best in the country in offensive rebounding rate and this will be a major key to the game for both sides. The difference coming in is that Florida State has struggled with defensive rebounding, while this is an area in which Rutgers has been much improved. The Scarlet Knights need to rebound really well tonight and limit easy putbacks for the Seminoles. On the flip side, Rutgers has to attack the glass on offense and turn initial misses into second chance points. They simply can't run or outshoot Florida State, but they can outscrap them on the boards and it's a must if they want to win this game.
Win Pillow Fight At Free Throw Line
Both teams struggle from the charity stripe (Florida State 62.2% on 92 attempts, Rutgers 57.7% on 137 attempst) and whichever side can have the better night at the line will have a big edge in this game. Geo Baker, Corey Sanders, Mike Williams, and Issa Thiam are all shooting at least 72% from the free throw line, so they need to attack the rim and get to the line in this game. Deshawn Freeman should get his opportunities too, but needs to do better than 5 of 11 that he shot in his last game. This is an area Rutgers must have the upperhand in to win this game.
In The Bonus
A Rockin RAC
Rutgers needs every fan who attends tonight to bring their “A” game because this team will need every ounce of energy the home faithful can provide tonight. Florida State hasn't played a true road game yet and while they have a good amount of juniors and seniors on the roster, a lot of them are in bigger roles than they've ever been in before. This will be the first potential hostile environment most of the Seminole players have had to overcome and the rowdier the RAC can be, the better. The home crowd needs to be loud early, which can help aid the slow starts that Rutgers has had recently. The place has the potential to be electric tonight and while the team needs to hold up their end of the deal, the fans need to as well. I have faith both sides will.
I don’t normally make a prediction but did so for the Q&A with Tomahawk Nation. I think this will be a hard fought contest and one in which there is an interesting contrast of styles, featuring the high powered offense of Florida State and the grind it out, bare knuckle defense of Rutgers. I think playing at home will certainly help the Scarlet Knights in what is a golden opportunity to gain respect by winning this game. I think the fact that Rutgers is a great offensive rebounding team, which Florida State has struggled defending so far this season, will be a major difference maker in this game. Add in the fact that Florida State has struggled from the line as much as Rutgers has and the usual advantage that opponents have against them is voided out. It think it will be a battle the whole way with Rutgers dictating the pace, making this a slugfest and pulling out a 66-64 upset.
Let’s hope I’m right, as this would be a major statement victory for the program.