Just the Facts: No. 4 seed Florida State vs. No. 13 UNC Greensboro in NCAA Tournament first round
The NCAA Tournament is back and the Florida State men's basketball team is once again a contender.
The Seminoles (16-6, 11-4 in ACC) tie a program record with their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance this year. They are the No. 4 seed in the East Region and open the tournament against No. 13 UNC Greensboro (21-8, 13-5 in SoCon) Saturday at 12:45 p.m. at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.
FSU opened as a 10-point favorite over the Spartans and is now favored to win by 11 points as of Tuesday afternoon. By comparison, the other three No. 4 seeds, Oklahoma State, Purdue and Virginia, are all favored by 7.5 points.
This is UNCG's fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in program history and its second in four years. Most recently, the Spartans lost 68-64 to Gonzaga as a No. 13 seed in 2018.
"Let's go," UNCG junior guard Kaleb Hunter told UNCGSpartans.com when asked his first thoughts on the matchup.
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"We're going to be ready for whoever we play. We know Florida State is big, but we can't control that. The only thing we can control is how we play, and we'll be scrappy. As long as our names were called, that's all that mattered. We're blessed to be in this position."
FSU has won its last five NCAA Tournament openers dating back to a 67-60 loss to No. 8 seed Gonzaga in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament
The Seminoles have faced UNCG four times in program history, winning all four games. The most recent matchup was a 75-60 win in 2011.
Why FSU wins
FSU is seeded where it is for a reason.
The Seminoles looked poised to play their way onto the No. 3 or even No. 2 seed line for the NCAA Tournament until they struggled down the stretch, dropping three of their final five games. But this team remains extremely talented.
FSU enters March Madness with a 39.0% three-point percentage on the season, seventh-best in the country and best in the ACC. That's on pace to be FSU's best three-point percentage since the 1987-88 team which made 43.8% of its threes, albeit taking them at a far lower rate.
Seven different Seminoles have made at least 11 three-pointers this season, an aspect of the FSU offense that should stretch the UNCG defense. This in turn will likely open things up for the Seminoles in the paint.
The Spartans average over three three-point attempts more per game than FSU (24.7 to 21.3) but make them at a far lower 30% rate. That percentage is 311th out of 340 Division-I teams this season.
UNCG is one of the few mid-major teams who has a few players that can closely match FSU's size with a few bigs including 7-foot-1 center Hayden Koval. That being said, FSU's length throughout its roster will likely make things hard for UNCG offensively.
UNCG point guard Isaiah Miller is a do-it-all leader for the Spartans, averaging 19.3 points and 6.9 rebounds this season and winning his second consecutive Southern Conference Player of the Year award.
He stands just 6-foot, however, and a few of the players who will likely guard him, including 6-foot-9 Scottie Barnes and 6-foot-8 RaiQuan Gray may make it hard for him to generate offense. This is especially true considering he does the majority of his scoring inside the arc, averaging 7.9 made two-point shots per game.
Why UNCG can pull the upset
The Spartans are a rare team that will match and possibly even exceed FSU's rotation depth during Saturday's game.
UNCG has 11 players that have appeared in 26-plus games this season and average seven or more minutes. FSU has 12 players that have appeared in 16 or more games, but only 10 that average seven-plus minutes.
This means that the stamina advantage FSU normally holds in the closing minutes of a game against a team playing with a more shallow rotation likely won't be there against the Spartans.
UNCG is also a suboptimal matchup for the Seminoles considering their recent turnover woes. FSU has committed 17-plus turnovers in four of its last five games. That peaked with a season-high 25 turnovers in last Saturday's ACC Championship loss to Georgia Tech.
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The Spartans have forced 14.9 turnovers per game this season, 61st out of 340 teams. This is led by Miller, who averages 2.6 steals per game and just won his third consecutive SoCon Defensive Player of the Year award.
If Miller and his teammates are able to force FSU's guards into a number of turnovers as a number of recent opponents have, it could swing the game into the Spartans' favor.
Early NCAA Tournament upsets can also be fueled by a remarkable individual effort. Miller is capable of accomplishing that, having scored 25 or more points in three of UNCG's last six games.
"I've been trying to get back to the NCAA Tournament since my freshman year," UNCG senior guard Isaiah Miller told UNCGSpartans.com.
"It hasn't been an easy road. It's nice to know who we are going against so we can prepare and get ready for a game. I've been through this my freshman year, but we didn't get past the first round. I am trying to make history and all my excitement is going to go into my work."
The game will be broadcast on truTV at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday. Brian Anderson, Jim Jackson and Allie LaForce will be the broadcast crew for the game.
The FSU radio broadcast will be available on 100.7 FM locally and on FSU affiliates across the state with Gene Deckerhoff and Adrian Crawford on the call.
FSU played in two games in the conference tournament and Koprivica had a double-double in each of them. He averaged 14 points and 10.5 rebounds over the week and was named to the All-ACC-Tournament first team.
He had more double-doubles last week than the one he had in his first 46 games at FSU combined and looks to be playing his best basketball at the ideal time for the Seminoles.
This will be a matchup against a UNCG team that is likely to present plenty of opportunities and playing time for the FSU big man. The key for him will be staying out of foul trouble and staying on the court.
Koprivica has struggled with staying out of foul trouble through his FSU career and has picked up three or more fouls in six of FSU's last seven games.
Without him on the floor, FSU's rotation of big men can struggle and could leave the door open for UNCG to pull off the upset.
FSU will have its hands full in its NCAA Tournament opener.
The Spartans nearly pulled the No. 13 seed over No. 4 seed upset three years ago against Gonzaga and will have their eyes on finishing the job this time around.
It could definitely happen, but there are a few reasons why I see FSU advancing to the first round.
First off, FSU has historically responded to losses well under Leonard Hamilton. After such a sloppy performance against GT, I don't expect to see nearly as turnover-prone a showing against UNCG.
Additionally, FSU, which has been a far better three-point shooting team at home than on the road this season, showed at the ACC Tournament that it can hit threes away from home in both games.
Compare this with UNCG, a team that takes a lot of threes but hits them at a low rate, and it would probably take a reversal of those fortunes for the Spartans to pull the upset.
It won't be easy, but I see the Seminoles outlasting the Spartans to win their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament opener 78-70.
No. 4 seed Florida State vs. No. 13 seed UNC Greensboro
When: Saturday, 12:45 p.m.
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
TV/Radio: truTV/101.5 FM
Reach Curt Weiler at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.
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