There's the perception that the trip to Tallahassee has been a nightmare for #4 Duke (23-4, 10-2) in recent years, but while it is a tough trip the Blue Devils hadn't lost there since 2006 before their 66-61 loss last January. On the line tonight is a share of first place (with North Carolina), a position few expected #16 Florida State (19-7, 10-2) to be in as they were struggling in November and December. FSU won the first meeting this season on a Michael Snaer three as time expired, but the Seminoles' offensive performance in the second half of that game was arguably their best of the season.
Florida State scored 50 points in the second half of the January 21 meeting, shooting 66.7% from the field, 80% from three and assisting on 11 of their 18 made baskets. Leonard Hamilton's team was successful due to their offensive balance and they took care of the basketball, finishing the game with 12 turnovers. On the season however, Florida State turns the ball over an average of 16.7 times per game, a number that remains the worst in the ACC (their assist-to-turnover ratio is also the worst in the conference). Ian Miller's return has improved things offensively in terms of adding a guard who can make plays, but the turnovers have been a concern all season long.
Florida State's lost just once in the seven games since their win at Cameron Indoor Stadium but they've racked up 15 or more turnovers in five of those. This isn't a "vintage" Duke team from a defensive standpoint, especially on the perimeter outside of Tyler Thornton, but they have enough players who can give Florida State some trouble if the Seminoles are careless with the ball. Miller, Snaer, Deividas Dulkys and Luke Loucks all have to make sound decisions with the basketball if Florida State is to feed off of what should be a raucous crowd. Duke's issues in the first meeting (besides Snaer's shot) came inside of the arc offensively, thanks in large part to FSU's defensive prowess.
Mike Krzyzewski's club shot just 37.5% from two in the first meeting, with guard Seth Curry (2-for-8) and Ryan Kelly (1-for-7) being the biggest culprits. The Blue Devils can go blow for blow with anyone in the ACC on the perimeter thanks to Curry, Austin Rivers and sharpshooter Andre Dawkins (Kelly can also step out and knock down shots), but at a certain point tonight they're going to need tough buckets inside from Miles and Mason Plumlee. Mason's been the more productive of the two in both scoring (11.2 ppg) and rebounding (9.7 rpg) but Miles has played well of late, which is a good sign heading into a game against a frontcourt as physical as FSU's.
Xavier Gibson, Bernard James and Okaro White lead the way inside for Florida State and seven-footer Jon Kreft will also see some time, and this group is a big reason why Florida State leads the ACC in both field goal percentage defense (37%) and adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy's stats (85.4; subscription required for link). Duke's biggest issue in the first meeting was the simple act of missing shots, and the fact that they scored 41 points in the second half shows that they're more than capable of navigating the Seminoles' tough defense.
Turnovers are going to be key on both sides of the basketball, especially when Florida State has possession. Live-ball turnovers against Duke, whose shooters are very good when it comes to finding open spots in odd-man situations, are a good way to get beat regardless of the venue. Duke's also done a better job of keeping opponents off the offensive boards than Florida State, owning a slight edge in opponents' offensive rebounding percentage. Duke grabbed 14 offensive rebounds in the first meeting but thanks to Snaer's heroics it didn't burn the Seminoles. FSU may not be as fortunate this time around, especially if they don't keep their turnovers in check.
Also of importance on Thursday night is the second meeting of the season of BYU and Gonzaga, with the winner remaining alive in the race for the WCC title. BYU won the first meeting in Provo as their frontcourt tandem of Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock was too much for Elias Harris and Robert Sacre. But things may change in front of "The Kennel", as both Bulldogs play better at home. The key for BYU will be the decision-making of Matt Carlino at the point as well as getting contributions from a player such as Anson Winder, who scored ten points in the Cougars' win in Provo.
Alabama may or may not have JaMychal Green back in the lineup for their game at Arkansas, but either way this is a critical game for both teams in regards to reaching the NCAA tournament. Mike Anderson's Razorbacks have been brutal on the road this season, which in turn makes the home games they get even more important. B.J. Young has been one of the best freshmen in the SEC, and his performance tonight against Trevor Releford will go a long way in determining the outcome. If the Hogs can turn Alabama over and get some fast-break opportunities they'll have a good chance of picking up another win at Bud Walton Arena.
And Thursday night is a big one on the bubble as Cincinnati and Colorado host key league games. The Bearcats will look to knock off #17 Louisville in a game they really need to boost their resume. The big problem for Cincinnati has been that weak non-conference slate, which includes losses to Presbyterian and a Marshall team that hasn't played as well in Conference USA as many expected them to. Cashmere Wright (UC) and Peyton Siva (Louisville) will be the most important players on the floor; whichever point guard plays better will end up leading the winning team.
Colorado kicks off a big weekend with a matchup against Stanford, who is also hoping to fight their way into the bubble conversation. Tad Boyle's Buffaloes are 13-1 at home this season and a sweep of Stanford and Cal would go a long way when it comes to getting into the bubble conversation. Andre Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie need to have big games if the Buffs are to defend their home floor. Stanford freshman Chasson Randle has been one of the Pac-12's best freshmen (as has Dinwiddie), and his skill gives the Cardinal a good shot at leaving Boulder with a win.
Lastly the Patriot League title will be decided tonight as Bucknell visits American. Dave Paulsen's Bison entered last week's play 10-0 in league play only to drop games to Lehigh and Holy Cross, opening the door for both the Mountain Hawks (10-3) and American (9-3). Led by big man Mike Muscala (21 points, 12 rebounds) the Bison won the first meeting 67-61 as they shot 52% from the field. But the Eagles still had a chance to win thanks to their ability to get to the foul line and rebound, and in Charles Hinkle American has one of the best players in the Patriot League. Two weeks ago Bucknell was a win from locking up the regular season title. A loss tonight and they could find themselves in third place.
Top 25 Games
7:00 PM (4) Duke at (16) Florida State (ESPN)
8:00 PM (12) Murray State at Tennessee State (ESPNU)
9:00 PM (15) Wisconsin at Iowa (ESPN2)
9:00 PM (17) Louisville at Cincinnati (ESPN)
10:00 PM (23) Saint Mary's at Portland (ESPNU)
NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Alabama at Arkansas (ESPN2)
7:00 PM Bucknell at American University (CBS SN)
7:00 PM LIU Brooklyn at Fairleigh Dickinson
7:00 PM Chattanooga at Furman
7:00 PM Detroit at Cleveland State
7:00 PM Belmont at Kennesaw State
7:00 PM Albany at Binghamton (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Mount St. Mary's at Central Connecticut State (MSG+)
7:00 PM Elon at Davidson
7:00 PM Stetson at East Tennessee State
7:00 PM South Alabama at Florida Atlantic
7:00 PM Coastal Carolina at Liberty (ESPN3)
7:00 PM St. Francis (NY) at Monmouth
7:00 PM Gardner-Webb at UNC-Asheville
7:00 PM St. Francis (PA) at Quinnipiac
7:00 PM Presbyterian at Radford
7:00 PM Robert Morris at Sacred Heart
7:00 PM Charleston Southern at VMI
7:00 PM Samford at Western Carolina
7:00 PM Wright State at Youngstown State
7:00 PM Wagner at Bryant
7:30 PM SIU-Edwardsville at Eastern Kentucky
7:30 PM Troy at Florida International
7:30 PM Lipscomb at Mercer
7:30 PM Eastern Illinois at Morehead State
7:30 PM Florida Gulf Coast at USC Upstate
8:00 PM Milwaukee at Illinois-Chicago
8:00 PM Arkansas State at Western Kentucky (FCS)
8:00 PM Oakland at UMKC
8:00 PM Georgia Southern at Charleston (ESPN3)
8:00 PM IPFW at South Dakota
8:00 PM North Texas at Arkansas-Little Rock
8:00 PM San Jose State at Louisiana Tech
8:00 PM Green Bay at Loyola (IL)
8:00 PM IUPUI at North Dakota State
8:00 PM Western Illinois at South Dakota State
8:30 PM UCLA at Arizona State (FSNAZ.com)
8:30 PM USC at Arizona (FSN AZ)
8:30 PM Middle Tennessee at Louisiana-Monroe
8:30 PM Austin Peay at Tennessee-Martin
8:45 PM Southeast Missouri State at Jacksonville State
9:00 PM Northern Arizona at Montana (Altitude)
9:00 PM Hawaii at New Mexico State (ESPN3)
9:00 PM California at Utah
9:00 PM Siena at Marist (ESPN3)
9:05 PM Eastern Washington at Idaho State
9:05 PM Weber State at Northern Colorado
9:05 PM Houston Baptist at Utah Valley
10:00 PM Seattle at Fresno State
10:00 PM Cal State Fullerton at Pacific
10:00 PM San Diego at Loyola Marymount
10:00 PM Pepperdine at Santa Clara (CSN CA)
10:30 PM Stanford at Colorado (FSN)
10:35 PM Portland State at Sacramento State
11:00 PM BYU at Gonzaga (ESPN2)