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January 3, 2014

FSU opens ACC play with UVa and a boatload of defense

Fans of defense will approve of Florida State's opening game in ACC play on Saturday.

The Seminoles, owners of the 10th-best field goal percentage defense in the country, play host to Virginia, which gives up only 57.6 points per game, the sixth-best mark in the country.

Buckets will be hard to come by, especially given Virginia's grind-it-out style on both sides of the ball. FSU's veterans are not relishing the style of play that Virginia will try to impose, frequently working the shot clock down to the final seconds to tire opponents out.

"It's horrible to stay in a stance for that long," guard Devon Bookert said.

Virginia's vaunted pack-line defense excels at sucking the life out of opposing offenses and the Cavaliers (9-4) opened the season ranked in the top 25 - though have since fallen out of the rankings. Virginia held high-flying VCU to 59 points in a loss and has held six teams this season to fewer than 50 points. And Virginia and Florida State matchups have been notoriously low-scoring in recent years. Both of the two teams have only topped 60 points once in the past four years.

"Virginia plays that stagnant defense that slows you down," Ian Miller said. "We've got to get used to it and still figure out how to get in the gaps."

FSU got a bit of prep for Virginia in its last non-conference game against Charleston Southern, which plays a similar style in the way it tried to defend FSU by packing in the paint. But beyond that, Florida State players say they're well-prepared for Virginia's defense having seen other elite defenses this season, especially No. 12 Florida.

"We've played against tougher D than that," guard Aaron Thomas said. "As you can see from the beginning of the year."

In a game where offense will be at a premium, Florida State does appear to have the clear advantage. The Seminole offense has been more effective this season than almost any other under Leonard Hamilton, and Florida State has seen seven different players score in double figures at least once this season. And with Thomas burgeoning into a legitimate offensive threat alongside Okaro White and Miller, FSU is borderline explosive on offense.

By comparison, Virginia has only Joe Harris averaging double-figure scoring and the Cavaliers average a paltry 64 points per game - 313th out of the 351 Division I teams and are fresh off a blowout loss to Tennessee. And Florida State, so far one of the pleasant surprises of the ACC, would love to keep the good vibes going with a win to open conference play.

"We have to turn our focus to a very hungry Virginia team that lost and didn't play well against Tennessee," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "This game becomes precious and so very important. Everybody wants to get off to a good start in the conference."



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