Two teams expected to vie for the Atlantic Coast Conference title begin the new year opposing each other as No. 18 Florida State visits No. 7 Louisville on Saturday afternoon at KFC Yum! Center.
The Seminoles (12-2, 2-1 ACC) are coming off Tuesday night’s 70-58 home victory against Georgia Tech. It was FSU’s fifth straight triumph and 12th in 13 games.
The Cardinals (11-2, 2-0) last played Saturday, when they suffered a 78-70 overtime loss at then-No. 19 Kentucky.
Louisville likely will need to shoot better against Florida State than it did at Kentucky, where it shot 40.3 percent overall and sank just 3 of 9 field-goal tries in overtime. The Cardinals sank a putrid 45 percent (9 of 20) from the free-throw line.
Leading scorer Jordan Nwora (20.2 points per game) was held to eight points on 2-of-10 shooting, including one of six 3-pointers.
“I thought he missed some shots that he normally makes,” coach Chris Mack said after the game. “I think he didn’t really get going on the offensive glass until midway through the second half.”
Nwora (46.7 percent overall, 39.5 from behind the arc) and the Cardinals (47.8 and 36.5) normally shoot better than they did vs. the Wildcats.
Louisville also can be encouraged by battling back from a 12-point deficit in the second half to force OT.
Louisville’s veteran starting unit includes three redshirt seniors — forward Dwayne Sutton (9.4 ppg, 8.8 rebounds per game), center Steven Enoch (11.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and guard Ryan McMahon (9.4 ppg, 2.4 assists per game). There’s also Nwora and fellow junior Darius Perry (5.7 ppg, 4.5 apg).
The Cardinals put a lot of emphasis on defense. Entering Thursday they were sixth in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (35.8), and 18th in scoring defense (59.9).
“We don’t change based on who we play,” Mack said recently. “We’re gonna try to keep the ball in front of us and contest shots. Whether you’re 50-percent 3-pointer shooter or a 25-percent shooter, the game, the way we play defensively, is to keep the ball in front of us.”
Florida State also depends greatly on defense. It forced Georgia Tech to miss six of its final seven shots and go without a field goal in the final 2:41.
“That just shows the character that we have on our team, to be able to persevere through the tough times, and the confidence that Coach (Leonard)Hamilton has in us to go out and play to our ability,” guard Devin Vassell said. “We were just relying on each other and making big plays.”
Junior guard M.J. Walker (10.1 ppg) missed the Tech game with a sore hip. Hamilton on Thursday said Walker was probable for Louisville, but 7-foot-1 freshman reserve center Balsa Koprivica (6.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg) was doubtful with a lower-back injury suffered against the Yellow Jackets.
If Walker doesn’t start, the Seminoles likely will go with Anthony Polite (6.6 ppg). He’d be joined by fellow redshirt sophomores RaiQuan Gray (6.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and Malik Osborne (6.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg), true sophomore Vassell, averaging a team-high 11.8 points, and senior guard Trent Forrest (11.5 ppg).
“I’m sure that over the years we have gone into these situations and probably been a little older and more mature, but right now we are who we are,” Hamilton said Thursday. “We’re still growing, we’re still learning, we’re trying to get some consistency with how we play.”
Entering Thursday’s play, Florida State leads the ACC and is 11th in the nation in turnovers forced per game (18.6), 16th in steals (9.7) and 17th in blocked shots (5.6).
Louisville leads the all-time series 34-12 and has won four of the last seven meetings.
–Field Level Media