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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Seminoles.com) – There will be no easing into Atlantic Coast Conference schedule for the Florida State men’s basketball team.
Yes, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton has preached about the quality of the league, and both the recent and not-so-recent history shows that he’s right.
Still, even by those standards, the Seminoles are facing a challenging start to their conference campaign.
Florida State, ranked No. 9 after a 12-1 start to the season, will visit No. 4 Virginia on Saturday (3 p.m., ESPN2), host in-state rival Miami on Wednesday and then get a visit from No. 1 Duke on Jan. 12.
Those three teams have a combined record of 31-6. And the Cavaliers are one of just four undefeated teams in the nation.
“You’ve just got to be able to flip that switch,” FSU junior Trent Forrest said. “It’s serious from here on out. You’re getting everybody’s best shot every game.”
And, when they meet Virginia, the Seminoles expect the best shot from one of the sport’s best programs.
With their patented blend of slow-paced, patient offense and infamous “pack line” defense, the Cavaliers have joined the ranks of the elite during 10th-year coach Tony Bennett’s tenure.
UVA has made five straight NCAA tournament appearances, reached the Elite Eight in 2016 and last year went 17-1 in ACC play on their way to a No. 1 overall seed.
Never mind that the Cavaliers also accomplished the dubious feat of becoming the first ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 in the tournament’s first round.
“The system they have has probably been the most effective system in the ACC, consistently, in the last five or six years,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said.
And it’s a system that could hardly be more different than the one Florida State will employ.
During FSU’s recent return to prominence, the Seminoles rebuilt their program to be based on aggression and speed, often using a deflection or a steal on defense to get down the floor and score an easy basket in transition.
Hamilton said that the Seminoles had about 73 possessions in their most recent game, a 87-76 win over Winthrop. Against the Cavaliers, he expects FSU might have as few as 50.
Which means that every pass, every shot and every offensive sequence becomes magnified. If a team only gets 50 chances to score, they can’t let many go to waste.
Particularly not when playing on the road against a team that boasts a reigning first-team All-ACC member (junior Kyle Guy, 15.4 PPG) and leads the country in scoring defense (51.4 points per game).
“There’s no secret what they’re going to do,” Hamilton said. “They limit the number of possessions you have, then they’re a real solid man-to-man defensive team. They really guard you, from the top of the key down to the short corners.
“That makes for a pretty good system, and the kids have bought into it.”
Then again, the Seminoles have proven a difficult matchup for Virginia in recent years, particularly when they can effectively attack the basket.
FSU has won two of its last three matchups at UVA – including a 60-58 triumph in its last visit to Charlottesville, Va. – and last year led the Cavaliers by 10 points at halftime before Virginia rallied in the second half.
“It’s going to be a test of each other’s will,” FSU sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele said. “Virginia, they’re going to play their style of play regardless of the circumstances. And it’s our job to play our style of play.
“So (it will come down to) whoever is able to impose their will the most.”