Third-Best Team in the ACC: Florida State or Virginia?

December 19th, 2011

In the midst of watching Tony Bennett's Virginia Cavaliers wrap up a good 67-54 win at Oregon on Sunday afternoon, the following statement trickled across my Twitter timeline: Virginia is the third-best team in the ACC. At 9-1 on the season coming on the heels of their first road victory of the season, the Cavaliers can definitely make that argument.

But what about 8-3 Florida State? Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles did drop a pair of games in the Bahamas and they can be an eyesore offensively, but with one of the best half-court defenses in the country they have an argument as well. How do the Seminoles and Cavaliers stack up at this point in the season? Here's one attempt to provide an answer. 

Florida State vs. Virginia on offense

The Cavaliers currently have an offensive efficiency of 104.4 while Florida State sits at 100.0 according to Ken Pomeroy's website (subscription required) following Sunday's action. Florida State moved up to an average of one point per possession with their 77-61 win over Loyola Marymount, but it can be argued that the Seminoles aren't as bad offensively as many assume. The problem: when they're bad they don't go halfway, as seen in losses to Harvard and Michigan State.

Against the Crimson, Florida State scored just 0.67 points/possession and they weren't much better in East Lansing with a mark of 0.79. FSU's bigger problem than their effecitve field goal percentage (50.6%) is their turnover percentage, as they currently "boast" a turnover rate of 26.5%. It's safe to say that when averaging just a point per possession it's not a good idea to waste more than a quarter of your possessions by turning the ball over. 

The main culprits when it comes to turning the ball over have been their forwards, especially the triumvirate of Xavier Gibson, Bernard James and Okaro White. Unlike guards Michael Snaer (21 assists, 29 turnovers) and Luke Loucks (39, 27), none of these three are even in double figures in assists on the season. The assist-to-turnover splits for Gibson, James and White are as follows: 

Gibson: six assists, 30 turnovers
James: five assists, 23 turnovers
White: eight assists, 22 turnovers

Therein lies the difference between Virginia and Florida State offensively; the Cavaliers turn the ball over on 19.3% of their possessions on the season. Mike Scott is their most-used player according to Ken Pomeroy's numbers, just as Gibson is for Florida State. But Scott has a turnover rate of just 16.3, and even with three of their top four assist men having more turnovers than assist Virginia has just one player with a turnover rate higher than 25.0 (point guard Jontel Evans: 33.3).

The Seminoles average four more points per game (70.7- 66.7) than Virginia but that's due in part to their averaging nine more possessions per game as well. FSU has made up for their lack of a perimeter marksman and turnover issues by rebounding nearly 40% of their own misses, a number that West Virginia surpassed in 2010 on their way to a Final Four appearance.

But in comparing the offenses of Florida State and Virginia the edge would have to go to the Cavaliers. Joe Harris is another solid option for the Cavaliers while freshman Malcolm Brogdon and senior Sammy Zeglinski will also be called upon within their system.  

Florida State vs. Virginia on defense

The defensive numbers are where things can get a little tricky. The Seminoles are widely accepted as one of the top defensive teams in the country as their size helps make things difficult for opponents. FSU allows 0.82 points per possession, a number that ranks fifth nationally according to Their opponents have turned the ball over on 24.8% of their possessions while shooting just 34.2%, a number that ranks among the best nationally.

The Seminoles' length is a big factor defensively, but while athletically they may have the edge on Virginia the numbers aren't very far apart. Virginia is second nationally in points allowed per possession as teams score just 0.79 points/possession. And while their "pack line" defense does its' best to keep the opposition from getting to the basket Virginia's opponents have struggled to shoot from deep. Virginia's opposition has made just 25.7% from deep, a number that sits right above Florida State's three-point percentage defense (25.8%) at 12th nationally. 

With opponents averaging just 6.6 assists per game Virginia has done a good job of forcing teams to look to create more for themselves as opposed to setting up teammates. This could have something to do with the fact that UVA hasn't allowed more than 57 points in a game, and that came in a two-point loss to TCU. Both teams have been very stingy defensively as each ranks in the top six nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (FSU 2nd, Virginia 6th), with tempo being a reason why the Cavaliers have the edge in keeping teams off of the offensive glass. 

Taking those numbers into consideration the edge right now goes to Virginia due to their better efficiency on offense. That could definitely change with Florida State expecting Ian Miller and Terrence Shannon back and freshman Terry Whisnant improving his play by the game.

But when it comes to what teams look forward to facing, the pack line defense could be to college basketball what the neutral zone trap was to hockey when the New Jersey Devils made it famous in the mid-90s. To say the least watching this argument unfold as the season wears on should be fun for ACC and college hoops fans in general.