Storylines, notes and stats as FSU faces Virginia in top-20 showdown

Florida State players were able to get some food and settle in Saturday evening to watch Virginia take on North Carolina. But it was back to work on Sunday as the Seminoles stretched and got treatment for a short turnaround on Monday against the No. 9 Cavaliers.

Virginia has won 11 of its last 12 games, jumping out to a 15-3 mark. Aside from a road loss to rival Virginia Tech on Jan. 30, the Cavaliers have been dominant to start ACC play.

“They have a lot of good players,” FSU forward RaiQuan Gray said. “Their first five, they’re connected. You can tell they move the ball well. Virginia is a good defensive team.”

FSU (11-3, 7-2 ACC) has the comfort of home and what should be a loud albeit smaller crowd at the Donald L. Tucker Center for the 7 p.m. game (ESPN). It’s a short turnaround for both teams as FSU was pushed to the limit in an overtime victory against Wake on Saturday afternoon and the Cavaliers knocked off North Carolina in Charlottesville, Va.

Speaking with reporters after Saturday’s game, coach Leonard Hamilton said the focus would be more on film review and the scouting report on Sunday.

“It won’t be very much physical,” Hamilton said. “It will be more mental, emotional. We’ll walk through our game plan. Virginia is probably one of the best teams in America in terms of executing offense and defense. We have to be aware of what they’re doing. we won’t have the luxury of going out there and drilling it. A lot of it is going to have to mental.”

Few teams are as efficient as Virginia, which shoots 39.9 percent from 3-point range, 55.8 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the free-throw line. The Cavaliers are among Division I’s top-10 teams from beyond the arc and the line, while they are in the top 25 from the floor.

That efficiency will test the Seminoles, who of course emphasize defense under Hamilton but are also coming off a two-week break due to COVID. The defense was out of sorts in the Wake game, partly due to lost practice time but also the absence of Balsa Koprivica (turned ankle pregame). FSU also had a few of its bigs in foul trouble early, and without a rim protector the Demon Deacons were able to get some easy buckets at the rim (as well as knock down 3-pointers).

The Seminoles leaned on Gray, Malik Osborne and others for big minutes. Gray and guard M.J. Walker each logged 37 minutes against the Demon Deacons, with Scottie Barnes and Anthony Polite each surpassing 30 minutes. How much those minutes will wear on the Seminoles against Virginia will be a storyline.

While Koprivica’s status will likely not be known until pregame, the return of Polite is significant. Polite is shooting 51.4 percent from 3-point range and Hamilton considers the redshirt junior guard to be FSU’s best on-ball defender. His return is timely for both the Virginia game and the stretch run.

Stats and notes

FSU enters Monday’s game against Virginia having won 23 consecutive ACC games at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Only Duke from 1997-2000 has won more consecutive ACC home games in the incredible history of the ACC. The Seminoles’ ACC winning streak in their home building began with a 77-68 win over Clemson on Jan. 22, 2019.

FSU has won three of the last four games played against Virginia in Tallahassee.

Gray has been on a tear, scoring in double figures in six straight games as well as recording double-doubles against Miami and Wake. In the last six games, Gray is averaging 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 60.3 from the field and 82.0 from the free-throw line in leading the Seminoles to a 5-1 record. 

RayQuan Evans has started each of the last seven games for the Seminoles and is averaging 9.0 points (63 total points) in that stretch.