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Virginia set to face Florida State, looking to extend seven-game winning streak

Chris Graham
uva basketball
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Florida State was sitting at a meh 6-6 at the turn of the New Year, on the heels of a home loss to Lipscomb, a middle-of-the-pack ASUN team.

The ‘Noles (13-9, 7-4 ACC) then won its next five, with wins over Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Miami in the streak, which, impressive.

FSU has since lost three of its last five, with the nadir being an inexplicable 101-92 loss at Louisville on Feb. 3.

Florida State ranks 36th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.

Louisville: 101 points.

Makes no sense.

A beauty-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder 63-62 win at Boston College on Tuesday got things back on track for the moment.

I still feel bad for Leonard Hamilton that his best-ever FSU team was the ACC champ 2020 group that didn’t get a chance at an NCAA Tournament run because of COVID.

I was among the relative handful in the Greensboro Coliseum when John Swofford handed Hamilton the ACC Tournament trophy as the world was shutting down.

After a Sweet Sixteen run in 2021, the ‘Noles have gone 39-46 over the past two-plus seasons.

Hamilton deserves better.

FSU rotation

As is usual, Hamilton will play as many as 12 guys, depending on the matchup and foul trouble; he throws his guys at you in waves.

Only one of them averages more than 30 minutes a game – 6’5” senior Darin Green (12.0 ppg, 42.5% FG, 39.1% 3FG).

Green is one of three double-digit scorers for FSU.

The point guard, VCU transfer Jamir Watkins (13.7 ppg, 5.8 rebs/g, 2.8 assists/g, 42.0% FG, 31.0% 3FG), a 6’7” junior, has size, and is adept at getting to the free-throw line (5.4 FTA/g, 78.2% shooting).

Georgetown transfer Primo Spears (11.4 ppg, 36.0% FG, 28.6% 3FG) is a 6’3” junior and volume shooter (putting up a team-leading 10.7 FGA/g).

Spears is the only guy under 6’5” who gets minutes in the rotation.

The other starter and regular in the backcourt: 6’7” junior Jalen Warley (7.3 ppg, 41.7% FG, 25.0% 3FG) gets 22.9 minutes per game as the starter at the three spot.

Hamilton, as he has done for years, goes big across the front line.

6’9” sophomore De’Ante Green (5.7 ppg, 51.2% FG) has been getting the starts at the five spot, despite only getting 14.8 minutes per game all told.

After Green, there’s 6’11” sophomore Cam Corhen (8.5 ppg, 3.6 rebs/g, 64.3% FG, 17.9 mins/g) and 6’11” sophomore Baba Miller (7.5 ppg, 5.0 rebs/g, 45.3% FG, 31.0% 3FG, 24.1 mins/g).

And then there’s the two other bigs who get limited, but regular, minutes – 6’11” senior Jaylan Gainey (3.5 ppg, 2.8 rebs/g, 11.8 mins/g), a Brown transfer, and 6’10” freshman Taylor Bol Bowen (3.2 ppg, 2.7 rebs/g, 10.8 mins/g).

How Virginia plays this one

It’s all-hands-on-deck in the frontcourt, where the challenge will be, stay out of foul trouble.

That’s the mission at the five spot for 6’8” grad senior Jordan Minor (8.3 ppg, 5.1 rebs/g, 53.1% FG, 23.1 mins/g as the starter at the five) and his backup, 6’11” freshman Blake Buchanan (3.7 ppg, 3.2 rebs/g, 14.6 mins/g).

Virginia’s other two bigs are both reed-thin – 6’8” sophomore wunderkind Ryan Dunn (9.4 ppg, 7.3 rebs/g, 2.2 blocks/g, 58.4% FG, 24.0% 3FG) and 6’9” grad senior shot wizard Jake Groves (8.0 ppg, 50.8% FG, 50.0% 3FG).

Defensive dynamo Reece Beekman (13.4 ppg, 6.1 assists/g, 2.4 steals/g, 44.7% FG, 31.4% 3FG) gives up four inches to Watkins at the point.

Advantage: actually, Beekman, who I’d expect to be able to get up under Watkins, a la vintage Kihei Clark.

Virginia will need some output from 6’4” shooting guard Isaac McKneely (11.6 ppg, 40.8% FG, 46.6% 3FG), who has, of late, discovered a midrange game (8-of-16 FG on midrange jumpers in his last two games).

The weak spot is the other guard spot, where 6’6” sophomore Andrew Rohde (4.8 ppg, 2.9 assists/g, 31.2% FG, 26.0% 3FG) is still the starter, despite averaging just 2.4 points  and 2.0 assists in 17.6 minutes per game on 22.2 percent shooting over the past five games.

6’5” junior Taine Murray (3.0 ppg, 51.1% FG, 13.0 mins/g) has been averaging 16.8 minutes per game over the past five, with a little more output (4.2 ppg, 2.2 assists/g, 50.0% FG) than we’ve been seeing from Rohde at this spot.

Also expect to see 6’0” junior Dante Harris (2.6 ppg, 1.8 assists/g, 15.8 mins/g) get a few minutes in the backcourt.

Harris returned after missing 10 games with a high ankle sprain on Jan. 17 for the Virginia Tech game, the first win in the ongoing seven-game winning streak, and averaged 16.0 minutes per game off the bench in his first three games back, but his minutes have decreased in his last four (10.5 mins/g).

One of these three guys, at the least, needs to step up for this team to reach its full potential.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].