‘Hoos previews: Cavaliers face Florida State in ACC Tournament semifinal

bear creek 2019 ACC TournamentFresh off a 76-56 win over NC State on Thursday, the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers will face Florida State on Friday night in the ACC Tournament semifinals in Charlotte.

The Seminoles, seeded fourth in the tournament, pulled off a thrilling 65-63 win in overtime against fifth-seeded Virginia Tech on Thursday after earning a double bye. Down three with just seconds remaining in regulation, Devin Vassell hit a tightly contested corner triple to send the game to overtime. In the extra session, Terance Mann hit an off-balance baseline runner with just over one second left, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s desperation heave was off the mark.

Vassell led the way with 14 points on the strength of four three-pointers, and Mann joined him in double digits with 10. The Seminoles held Virginia Tech to just 44.1 percent shooting and just 21.1 percent shooting from deep but committed 17 turnovers, which kept the game close throughout.

Florida State is an exceptionally long team — 12th-tallest in the nation, per KenPom — and has outstanding depth: Leonard Hamilton used 10 different players against the Hokies.

Virginia won the lone regular-season meeting between the two teams by a score of 65-52 in Charlottesville in early January. Florida State used a late-game 16-0 run against the Cavalier reserves to make the score much closer than the game actually was. That game was part of a rough start to ACC play for the Seminoles, who lost four of their first five conference games. Since, though, they have won 13 of 14 and five in a row.

Three-point shooting will be the key for the Cavaliers. Florida State finished first in ACC play in two-point defense but just 12th (out of 15 teams) in three-point defense. Virginia knocked down 10 of 21 three-pointers against NC State and, complemented by a career game from Jack Salt (18 points, six rebounds), beat the Wolfpack easily after a slow start.

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Three Cavaliers to watch

Kyle Guy. Coming off a monster 29-point outing Thursday against NC State, Guy will again be a key part of Virginia’s attack on Friday night. He had 21 points in the regular-season game between these two teams, knocking down five of six three-pointers in the process. Given Florida State’s struggles defending the three, Guy should have some opportunities to make the Seminoles pay again.

Ty Jerome. Jerome was not his usual self on Thursday, going just 1 of 11 from the floor and missing all six of his three-point attempts. He also wasn’t his usual self when these two teams first met — he went just 2 of 11 and missed all four threes he took that time out. Still, Jerome can be a crucial factor in this matchup. At 6-foot-5, Jerome has the height to guard the Seminoles and can shoot over and pass around them. Jerome almost never plays two poor games in a row. If Virginia wants to advance to the tournament final, that trend needs to hold true.

Braxton Key. In the first game between these teams, Key exploded for 20 points. He hasn’t scored more than 11 since. But the Alabama transfer could play a big role Friday night because his versatility and length are especially important against the athletic Seminoles. Key can guard multiple positions, and when he’s hitting shots, he makes Virginia’s offense all the more difficult to guard. Key scored just one point on Thursday but was a plus-14 in 20 minutes.

Three Seminoles to watch

Terance Mann. One of several seniors on the Florida State roster, Mann, who hit the game-winner against the Hokies, didn’t score once against Virginia in the regular season, something that hadn’t happened since his sophomore year. Mann averages over 11 points and over six rebounds per game and, at 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, could match up with De’Andre Hunter quite often Friday. He had nine rebounds to go along with his 10 points Thursday.

Mfiondu Kabengele. Listed at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, Kabengele is arguably Florida State’s best pro prospect, even though he usually comes in off the bench to replace behemoth 7-foot-4 starter Christ Koumadje. Kabengele leads the team at 13.1 points per game and also yanks down nearly six rebounds per contest. Even after struggled against Virginia Tech, he’ll be a stern test for Virginia’s front line.

David Vassell. Though Vassell doesn’t play much, he makes the most of his minutes. In 16 minutes against the Hokies on Thursday, he had a team-high 14 points. The last time he played at least 16 minutes, he hit five of six shots against Notre Dame a few weeks ago. Vassell, a freshman, shoots over 41 percent from three on the season. He’s averaging just 9.5 minutes per game, but his heroics Thursday might have earned him more playing time moving forward.

KenPom says: Virginia, 68-59 (81 percent chance of victory)

Final notes:

  • Florida State has just one player under 6-foot-4 in its rotation, David Nichols. This might not be a game well-suited for Kihei Clark.
  • Virginia owns a 25-24 all-time series lead over Florida State and has won two straight over the Seminoles.
  • The last time Virginia and Florida State played in the ACC Tournament, Virginia won 58-44 in the 2015 quarterfinals.
  • One Florida State player, walk-on Travis Light, hails from Virginia (Vienna). No Virginia players are from Florida.

Preview by Zach Pereles

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.

The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
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