When Florida State upset top-seeded Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals last March, Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton talked about the level of respect his program receives.
“Sometimes you may not get the proper respect,” he said, “but one thing about respect is you have to go earn it. And hopefully this gives us a little bit more respect.”
Up to No. 9 in the country this week on the strength of a seven-game winning streak, Florida State (14-2, 4-1 ACC) can continue gaining national respect with another victory against suddenly unranked Virginia (11-4, 3-2) on Wednesday in Tallahassee, Fla.
The Seminoles are 8-0 at home and have won their past four conference games by double-digit margins, including 78-68 at Wake Forest in their most recent game on Jan. 8.
The reigning national champion Cavaliers, meanwhile, have lost back-to-back games for the first time since February 2017, and they haven’t won on the road since the Nov. 6 season opener at Syracuse. Virginia dropped the rematch with the Orange, 63-55 in overtime at home on Saturday, and subsequently dropped out of the Top 25.
Hamilton’s team had Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett’s respect long before the Seminoles’ 69-59 win in the 2019 ACC tourney. Florida State has won three of the past five in the series and has held Virginia to fewer than 60 points in five of the past seven meetings.
The Cavaliers are only averaging 55.7 points per game this season. As of Monday, the only Division I schools putting fewer points on the board were Maryland-Eastern Shore (54.3) and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (52.1).
Virginia shot a season-low 31.3 percent from the floor against Syracuse and made only seven of its season-high 31 3-point attempts (22.6 percent).
Facing a stretch with three of their next four games on the road, the Cavaliers don’t have time to worry about the past.
“Coach said it after the game. We can’t get too down on ourselves,” junior center Jay Huff said. “Now’s when we’ve got to come together a little bit rather than pointing fingers.”
For Florida State, the challenge against Virginia is breaking through a defense that leads the nation in both opponents’ scoring (48.7 points per game) and opponents’ field-goal shooting (34.6 percent).
The Seminoles, who haven’t lost since Dec. 3 at Indiana, are 11-0 when they score at least 65 points.
Sophomore guard Devin Vassell (12.3 points per game), senior guard Trent Forrest (12.2) and junior guard M.J. Walker (11.6) lead the Florida State offense, which has made 10 or more 3-pointers in a game four times this season.
Virginia’s leading scorers are senior forward Mamadi Diakite (12.9 ppg), senior wing Braxton Key (10.5) and sophomore point guard Kihei Clark (10.1).
Clark ranks second in the ACC in minutes at 36.4 per game, having played the full 45 against Syracuse. He leads the Cavaliers in assists (5.9 per game) but also turnovers (3.1 per game).
“At times he’s doing some really good things, and at times sure he’s making some second-year mistakes,” Bennett said of Clark. “But there’s a lot of attention on him, and we need him on the floor.”
The teams meet again on Jan. 28 in Charlottesville, Va.
–Field Level Media