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Louisville at Florida State preview: Cards and Seminoles meet for titanic ACC clash

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The ACC regular season title (and more) could come down to Monday night’s game in Tallahassee.

Florida State v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Louisville Cardinals (23-5, 14-3) at Florida State Seminoles (23-4, 13-3)

Game Time: 7:01 p.m.

Location: Donald L. Tucker Center: Tallahassee, Fla.

Television: ESPN

Announcers: Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Jay Bilas (analyst), and Allison Williams (reporter)

Favorite: Florida State by 2.5

Officials: Mike Stephens, Doug Shows, Bert Smith

Series: Louisville leads, 34-13

Last Meeting: Florida State won 78-65 on Jan. 4 in Louisville

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:

Statistics:

Relevant Videos:

About Florida State:

Sitting just a half-game behind Louisville in the ACC standings, Florida State — No. 6 in the newest AP top 25 poll — finds itself battling with the Cardinals for both a regular season conference championship and seeding in the NCAA tournament. This is why a second win for the Seminoles over U of L would be even more important than the first.

To make it happen, Florida State will likely rely on the same game plan it used in January’s 78-65 manhandling of the Cardinals inside the KFC Yum Center. In that game, FSU’s size, length and constant defensive pressure forced Louisville into 16 turnovers and 38.7 percent shooting from the field. The Seminole guards also beat Louisville’s defenders off the bounce all afternoon, creating both easy shots in the lane and space for teammates to knock down shots from the perimeter. FSU shot 55.2 percent from the field and went 11-of-23 from beyond the arc.

If anything, Florida State has only gotten better on defense since that performance. The Seminoles force turnovers on 24.1 percent of their defensive possessions, the ninth-best rate in the country. They also rank second in Division-I in block percentage (16.7 percent) and ninth in steal percentage (12.8 percent). They lead the ACC in all of those categories.

While this is one of the younger teams Leonard Hamilton has fielded in recent years, the theme of that youth being counterbalanced by a veteran presence in the backcourt is present once again. This season it’s 6’4 senior guard Trent Forrest, who does a little bit of everything for FSU.

Nothing Forrest (11.5 ppg, 4.2 apg, 4.3 rpg) does is overly flashy, but he’s as hard-nosed a guard as there is in the ACC, and he always seems to be at his best when the stakes are the highest. Despite being nagged by injuries throughout his time in college, Forrest enters Saturday with a whopping 219 career steals, the third-most in FSU history and the 25th-most in the history of the ACC. He’ll be looking to take advantage of any slip up from David Johnson or whichever Cardinal guard he has in front of him at the time.

Florida State’s best overall player this season, and one of the best players in the ACC, has been 6’6 wing Devin Vassell (12.9 ppg). Making the proverbial sophomore leap, Vassell has been a consistent offensive force who can score from just about any spot on the floor. He’s been in a bit of a shooting slump since knocking down 7-of-7 from beyond the arc against Virginia Tech on Feb. 1, but has still impacted games in a variety of positive ways for FSU, including continuing to be one of the better on-ball defenders in the entire country.

Junior guard M.J. Walker (10.5 ppg) is another rock solid player and the guy who had the biggest impact in round one against Louisville. In that game, Walker — who had been dinged up in the days before — came off the bench to bury 5-of-7 from three and shoot 9-of-13 from the field overall on his way to a season-high 23 points. The 6’5 Walker has not hit the 20-point mark since, and has actually failed to reach double digits in six of FSU’s last 10 games.

The biggest change for Florida State between game one against Louisville and Monday night has been the emergence of freshman Patrick Williams. Much like David Johnson for U of L, Williams has gone from the promising freshman with a world of potential who only showed flashes of brilliance to a consistently reliable player who demands around 30 minutes of court time every night.

Williams, who now finds himself popping up on NBA mock drafts across the internet, has now scored in double figures in five of Florida State’s last six games. The 6’8 forward has limitless potential, and even though Hamilton is still bringing him off the bench, it’s almost a sure thing that Williams is going to have a much larger impact on tonight’s game than he did back on Jan. 4.

Starting forwards RaiQuan Gray and Malik Osborne are also both solid players, although Gray has seen his role diminish slightly with the recent emergence of Williams. Osborne is a good offensive player who can knock down the three-point shot with a fair degree of consistency. Gray, despite being an inch shorter at 6’8, is known more for his defensive prowess.

Though he’s trimmed down his primary rotation to seven guys, Hamilton still likes to utilize his depth to come at opponents in waves. In their Saturday win at NC State, the Seminoles had 11 different players see the court for at least four minutes. Seven-footers Dominik Olejniczak and Balsa Koprivica (a name that should be familiar to Louisville fans), don’t get as much run as some of the past monsters in the middle we’ve seen for FSU, but Hamilton will pick and choose his spots and play both.

The recipe for Louisville to be better against FSU than they were eight weeks ago is fairly straightforward: Hope that the emergence of David Johnson means everyone will handle the Seminoles’ defensive pressure better, do a better job of keeping their guards out of the lane, and do a better job of not over-helping and creating wide open shots on the perimeter.

This should be a street fight.

Notable:

—Louisville is 20-0 when leading at halftime this season, and 3-5 when trailing at the break.

—Florida State has won 21 consecutive home games and 15 consecutive ACC home games. The Seminoles are 14-0 inside the Tucker Center this season.

—Since Feb. 27, 2016, Florida State is 63-3 in games played inside the Tucker Center. One of those three setbacks was a 73-68 loss to Louisville on Jan. 10, 2018.

—Louisville enters Wednesday night ranked 7th in the NCAA’s NET Rankings. Florida State is No. 12.

—Louisville’s 14-3 ACC start is its best in its six years in the conference and its best in any league since the Cardinals won the 2014 American Athletic Conference title with a 15-3 record.

—Florida State is one win away from reaching 14 ACC wins for the first time in program history.

—A win on Monday would also give Florida State 24 or more wins in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history.

—Louisville is 6-4 all-time in games against Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton. The Cards are 4-4 against Hamilton at FSU, and went 2-0 against him during his time at Oklahoma State.

—Louisville is 6-2 in ACC road games this season, but has lost two in a row.

—Florida State’s defense has forced opponents to turn the ball over on 24.3 percent of their possessions, the 15th-best turnover rate among Division-I teams.

—Louisville has made as many as nine three-pointers in a game on 17 occasions this season, including in seven of its last nine games.

—Florida State has not defeated Louisville twice in the same season since the 1977-78 season, when both programs were members of the Metro Conference.

—Louisville last defeated Florida State multiple times in the same season back in 2017-18, knocking off the Seminoles in Tallahassee and then again in the second round of the ACC tournament.

—Florida State has won 26 consecutive games played in the state of Florida.

—Louisville is 10th in the nation in three-point field goal percentage (38.4 percent).

—Florida State is 39‐8 in games decided by three points or less or in overtime since a 79‐76 win over Duke on January 21, 2012.

—Louisville enters Monday night ranked 13th in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.385), 19th in rebound margin (+6.7), 16th in scoring margin (+11.6) and 37th in scoring defense (63.7).

—Louisville is 16-11 all-time in games played on Feb. 24, winning its last four on that date. The Cards have played Florida State just once on Feb. 24, winning an 83-75 decision in Tallahassee in 1980.

—Louisville head coach Chris Mack is 1-3 all-time in games against Florida State, and 0-2 as U of L’s head coach. Mack faced the Seminoles in the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons during his time at Xavier. In 2017, his 11th-seeded Musketeers stunned 3-seed Florida State in the second round, 91-66. A year later the 9th-seeded Seminoles returned the favor with a 75-70 second round upset of No. 1 seed Xavier in what would ultimately be Mack’s final game with the program.

—Florida State has won nine consecutive overtime games, and 10 consecutive overtime ACC games. Included in both those stretches is a 80-75 OT win over Louisville in Tallahassee last season.

—Louisville is 17-1 this season when holding opponents to 68 points or fewer, and 6-4 on the year when teams score more than 68.

—The Cardinals are 18-0 this season when scoring at least 71 points, and just 5-5 when failing to hit that mark.

—Louisville has won 161 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.

—Louisville has won 154 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.

—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 18 seasons. Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas are the others.

Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Florida State 70, Louisville 69