January 3, 2020 - by
No. 18 Noles Ready For Test, Tough Atmosphere At No. 7 Louisville

Florida State Notes / Florida State Statistics / Crow Tribal Member Making His Mark As A SeminoleFlorida State Basketball Guard Devin Vassell Becoming A More All / Florida State Depth Developing As Seminoles Prepare To Enter ACC Play

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – This time of year is just different.

After two months’ worth of non-conference games, with a smattering of ACC contests mixed in, the Florida State Seminoles will spend the rest of the regular season lining up across from nothing but opponents from the nation’s toughest basketball conference.

Consider it the march to March. It began, officially, with a victory over Georgia Tech earlier this week.

And it will continue in earnest on Saturday, when the 18th-ranked Seminoles (12-2, 2-1 ACC) visit No. 7 Louisville (2 p.m., ESPN2).

“It’s a typical ACC game,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said, “where you know you’re going out on the road, you’re going to play against a tremendously talented team, well-coached, with knowledgeable basketball fans.

“It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”

The Cardinals (11-2) check all of those boxes.

Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center is the second-largest arena in the country – trailing on Syracuse’s Carrier Dome – and the Cardinals are 9-0 there this season.

They’ve got the ACC’s leading scorer, junior forward Jordan Nwora (20.2 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game), who is one of four Cardinals averaging at least 9.4 points per game.

And they’ve got one of the country’s brightest coaches in Chris Mack, who guided Xavier to seven NCAA tournament appearances, two Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight before taking over at Louisville last season.

In 10 years as a head coach, Mack’s teams have made the tournament nine times.

“They represent the top of what college basketball is all about,” Hamilton said. “So that’s a challenge for us. … We’re excited about having another opportunity to go play against one of the blue bloods in the country. And we’ll see where we are.”

Florida State, of course, has been crashing the party of the sport’s elite for the last few seasons.

In addition to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and two straight trips to the tournament’s second weekend, the Seminoles are a combined 41-10 in the last two seasons and 15-6 within the ACC.

They’ve also won two of their last three against the Cardinals, which includes a victory at the Yum! Center in their last visit.

“They definitely have a good crowd,” FSU senior Trent Forrest said. “You usually smell the KFC cooking upstairs. It’s definitely going to be a good atmosphere.”

And not the first big-time atmosphere that the Seminoles have played in this season.

Last month, they went to Indiana’s Alumni Hall and despite rallying in the second half, couldn’t overcome a slow start that led to an 80-64 defeat.

Hamilton believes the Seminoles were affected by the arena environment at IU, but that the price paid will have been worth it if they can apply their experience there to Saturday’s game.

“As a coach, you try to train your guys to go out and tune everything else out, other than what’s in the area of 94-by-50,” Hamilton said. “That’s easier said than done.

“I didn’t think that we handled the atmosphere at Indiana very well. That was something that our guys had never experienced before, and that sometimes can be somewhat of a distraction. …

“The atmosphere sometimes has a tendency to motivate the home team. And, as a visiting team, you have to understand you’re not going to be able to hear each other. You’re not going to be able to communicate very well. So you have to have attention to detail.”

And, as has been the case for much of the season, the Seminoles will be tasked with finding a way to win without their full complement of players.

Hamilton said that junior guard M.J. Walker (hip) is “probable” to play against the Cardinals, but that freshman center Balsa Koprivica (back) won’t be available.

It’s hardly an ideal scenario – Walker is averaging 10.1 points per game and is the team’s third-leading scorer, while Koprivica has established himself as a steady contributor at a position where the team doesn’t have much depth – but it’s nothing new, either.

The Seminoles have been mixing and matching due to injuries since Day 1.

“There’s no doubt that when you have guys miss as many games as we’ve had this year, this early in the season, it can be somewhat challenging to develop a synergy and consistency,” Hamilton said. “But it also can give other players an opportunity to step in and make contributions that hopefully will make you stronger toward the end of the season.

“The bottom line is you deal with the situation as it is.”

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