Florida State has often gone small to win games this season. Expect that trend to continue for the near future.
Coach Leonard Hamilton said that freshman center Balsa Koprivica will be “out for a while” with a back injury. Koprivica injured his back in the Dec. 31 win over Georgia Tech, playing just two minutes. He has since missed road wins over Louisville and Wake Forest.
“We have a game plan that we are consistent with,” Hamilton said. “Someone just has to step up. Our guys have answered the bell.”
Dominik Olejniczak will likely be the starter for FSU but that is more of a formality as he has averaged 10.2 minutes per game. The Ole Miss grad transfer played 15 minutes against Georgia Tech on Dec. 31 and 16 minutes vs. North Florida on Dec. 17, but he has otherwise seen sporadic playing time in December and January.
It’s more likely that No. 9 FSU (14-2, 4-1 ACC) will emphasize forwards like 6-foot-9 Malik Osborne (6.4 points, 5.2 rebounds) and 6-8 RaiQuan Gray (6.1 points, 3.6 rebounds) to defend opposing centers. The Seminoles could feature a guard-heavy lineup of Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell and M.J. Walker as well as blending in forwards like Patrick Williams, Osborne and Gray.
The bench, of course, is deep – especially at guard. FSU could also utilize junior forward Harrison Prieto, who had four points, two rebounds and a block in 10 minutes at Wake. Prieto was valuable that night as Olejniczak was in early foul trouble.
The Seminoles now prepare for a contrast in styles against Virginia (11-4, 3-2), which has one of the nation’s top defenses. The Cavaliers hold opponents to just 27.6 percent from the floor on 3-pointers and 40.9 percent from inside the arc. Virginia has held four opponents to 40 or fewer points, including Syracuse and Virginia Tech.
FSU loves to push the ball – and is efficient on the offensive end while averaging 76.4 points per game – but that often is slowed down dramatically against Virginia, which is the defending national champion but is replacing big pieces of last season’s team like Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome.
Hamilton says FSU will change little based on Virginia’s style or which players are back for the Cavaliers.
“We just try to execute,” Hamilton said. “Virginia has a patient pack-line defense where they don’t like to give up anything in the lane. We like to spread the floor, move the ball, make the extra pass … We will be consistent with our offensive approach.”
Virginia is coming off back-to-back losses at Boston College and in overtime to Syracuse. The Cavaliers are led by 6-9 forward Mamadi Diakite (12.9 points, 6.9 rebounds) as well as 7-1 center Jay Huff (8.9 points, 6.1 rebounds) and 5-9 guard Kihei Clark (10.1 points, 5.9 assists).
“They probably don’t have the big names like they usually have,” Forrest said. “They’re kind of like us where they have to win by committee. They still have some key pieces returning with Diakite and Clark. They still have some veteran guys. But they just don’t have the superstars that they have the last couple years.”
Wednesday’s game will tip at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. Student tickets have sold out.
Leonard Hamilton’s weekly show
The first Leonard Hamilton Call-In Show of the 2019-20 season will be held on Thursday at 7 p.m. at 51 on Madison in CollegeTown. The show features Hamilton and Gene Deckerhoff talking with fans, touching on game insights, trivia and random Seminole banter.
Fans can ask Hamilton questions and take part in interactive trivia games and contests. Members of the live audience will have the opportunity to win great prizes, including tickets, autographed memorabilia and more.