Florida at No. 17 Florida State
When and Where: Tuesday, Nov. 6, Donald L. Tucker Center, Tallahassee, Fla., 9 p.m. EST.
Florida has a challenging task extending its 27-year streak of winning season openers Tuesday night when it tries to end a four-game losing streak to intrastate rival and 17th-ranked Florida State on the road in the Sunshine Showdown.
The Gators, who reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, have not lost a season opener since 1990 to South Florida. But only two of those previous 27 wins have been true road games — at Florida State in 2000 and at Navy in 2015.
Additionally, the 17th-ranked Seminoles, who lost to Michigan in the regional finals after upsets of top-seeded Xavier and Gonzaga in the previous two rounds, hammered a top-five Florida team 83-66 in Gainesville last year after winning the previous three games by a combined nine points.
Gators expected to contend in improved SEC
Florida, which was 29th in the preseason AP Top 25, was picked to finish second to Kentucky in the SEC preseason media poll as Mike White begins his fourth season in Gainesville.
The Gators lost point guard and all-time assists leader Chris Chiozza to graduation, but three starters return from a team that averaged 75.8 points and hit 9.1 3-pointers per game.
Expected to fill Chiozza’s spot is highly regarded freshman Andrew Nembhard, who played at prep powerhouse Montverde Academy and helped Canada’s U-18 squad to a silver medal in the FIBA Championships this summer.
— Gators Men’s Basketball (@GatorsMBK) November 4, 2018
“I see an elite passer and a point guard with size, high intelligence and character,” White told Blue Ribbon Yearbook. “I don’t think he’s worried about following Chris or anything other than him doing the best he can do on a daily basis.”
He will be flanked by a pair of seniors on the perimeter in KeVaughn Allen, who averaged 11.0 points, and Jalen Hudson, who withdrew from the NBA Draft over the summer after scoring 15.5 points per game and shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range.
In the frontcourt, Keith Stone will try to take another step of progress after averaging 8.8 points and 4.3 rebounds while proving a consistent perimeter threat by hitting 42.4 percent of his long-range attempts.
Another freshman expected to make an impact is wing player and freshman Keyontae Johnson, who has a 41-inch vertical leap and seven-foot wingspan and arrives at Florida after a highly traveled prep career that included stops at the IMG Academy and Oak Hill Academy.
Seminoles face early season test
Though tabbed to finish seventh in the perennially challenging 15-team Atlantic Coast Conference, Florida State is considered among the haves in the conference as there is a clear line of demarcation between the top seven and the bottom eight.
The Seminoles also return three starters from last season’s team, but the program has evolved under Leonard Hamilton from a squad that was known primarily for its defense and athleticism to one that can now go point-for-point offensively with any team in the country.
“The team has developed a mentality that, on the offensive end, we’re pushing the ball and being aggressive,” Hamilton explained to Blue Ribbon Yearbook. “But we want to be just as aggressive and fundamentally sound on the defensive end.”
One of those three returning starters — forward and last season’s leading scorer Phil Cofer — is not expected to play due to a foot injury. Cofer averaged 12.8 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 48.6 percent.
The Seminoles, though, still boast plenty of size in the paint. Christ Koumadje is a large presence in the paint at 7-foot-4, and if he can stay healthy, can definitely build on his totals of 6.5 points and 4.1 rebounds in 24 games from last season.
Without Cofer, the offensive focus moves to Terance Mann, who averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting 56.8 percent — good for third in the ACC last season.
82. Terance Mann, @FSUHoops
The 6-7 senior was a critical piece for the Seminoles on their run to last year's Elite 8. A versatile defender that can play big, Mann is one of the main reasons that FSU can play the pressing style that made them so good last March. pic.twitter.com/Qm5ytdTrxO
— College Basketball Talk (@CBTonNBC) October 29, 2018
“Losing in the Elite Eight left a bad taste in our mouths,” Mann said. “I just want to come back, be a leader and continue to help change the narrative of the Florida State program.”
The Seminoles do not have many players with defined positions aside from Koumadje, with multiple players capable of handling playmaking responsibilities. Trent Forrest, though, is the best of the bunch after totaling 4.1 assists per game and a 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio.
He is not a perimeter threat, but the 6-4 junior can get into the lane virtually at will and needs to shoot better than 69.7 percent from the foul line to take better advantage of that skill.
Florida State is:
- 5-0 ATS in its last five games vs. SEC teams.
- 11-0-1 ATS in its last 12 Tuesday games.
- 6-2 ATS in its last eight home games vs. Florida.
- The under is 4-0 in its last four games.
- The under is 4-0 in its last four non-conference games.
- 2-11 ATS in its last 13 games vs. ACC teams.
- 3-11 ATS in its last 14 games as a road underdog.
- 3-12 ATS in its last 15 games as an underdog between 0.5 and 6.5 points.
- The under is 7-1 in its last eight road games.
- The under is 17-8 in its last 25 games vs. ACC teams.
- The under is 6-2 in its last eight non-conference games.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Even without Cofer, the returning experience Florida State returns matches up well where Florida has its strengths. The Seminoles will likely run their offense through Mann and Forrest, and Mann totaled 25 points and eight rebounds in last year’s romp at Florida.
If the Gators cannot get Koumadje into a foul trouble, they will likely struggle on the boards — something that plagued them all of last season as they finished with a minus-2.2 rebound margin. Florida State was a plus-2.7 and held opponents to 41.6 percent shooting.
The one area where this game could swing is at point, where Nembhard is getting thrown right into the fire for Florida. He has a solid prep and international pedigree, but Tallahassee is a rough place to make a collegiate debut. This game will not be a blowout like last season, but the Seminoles should have enough to hold off the Gators.
Prediction: Pick: Florida State -4.5
Full-Game Total Pick
While both teams have good offenses, the Gators were prone to bouts of inconsistency, and Florida State has a slightly better defense and a rim protector in Koumadje should he avoid foul trouble.
Both teams have enough athleticism to make the other’s offense uncomfortable, and though the Seminoles won last year’s game by 17, both teams shot under 40 percent. The difference was Florida State grabbing 23 offensive rebounds on its 44 misses.
Prediction: Pick: UNDER 149.5 points
Half-Time Side Pick
The Seminoles have led at halftime in every game during their current four-game winning streak over the Gators, ranging from two to 10 points. Interestingly enough, the last two times the teams have played in Tallahassee, Florida State has led by two points after 20 minutes.
Prediction: Pick: Florida State -2
Half-Time Total Bet
The last three games between the teams have ranged from 70 to 77 points in the first half, but without Cofer playing for Florida State, the sense is it will be a grind to get there this time around unless Florida gets hot from the perimeter or Mann dominates for Florida State. The length of both teams makes this an interesting bet that can go either way, but the hedge is the defenses deliver.
Prediction: Pick: UNDER 70.5 points