After six straight road games and more than 12,000 miles of travel over the last three weeks, Florida State will play its first home game in nearly a month on Wednesday night. But, you'll have to excuse the Seminoles (11-5, 1-1 ACC) for not feeling a sense of relief.
That's because FSU's reward is a visit from No. 1-ranked and defending national champion Duke (15-0, 2-0). The tradition-rich Blue Devils are riding the second-longest win streak in school history at 25 straight dating back to last year (the longest is 32) and are one of five remaining undefeated teams this season.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton believes the Blue Devils have improved since knocking off Butler 61-59 in that instant classic of a national title game. Led by the return of seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, they have won 12 of their 15 games by double digits.
"We thought there would be a period of adjustment for them, but they have actually gotten better," said Hamilton, who holds a 3-9 record against Duke in his nine years in Tallahassee. "They aren't quite as deep, but they've gotten stronger … They are shooting well from the perimeter. They lost their point guard (Jon Scheyer) but they were still picked No. 1. This team is as good as I've seen in a while."
Smith has emerged as an early candidate for national player of the year honors while leading the team in scoring (19.5 ppg) and assists (5.7 apg) and Singler is averaging a career-high 17.9 ppg.
The Blue Devils have also added some talented newcomers, though star freshman Kyre Irving (17.4 ppg) is expected to miss his eighth straight game with an injury. Transfer Seth Curry, the younger brother of NBA guard Stephen Curry, is averaging 7.7 ppg off the bench.
"Their first five is just like their second five and that can be really tough," said FSU big man Bernard James, who has started the last three games in place of the injured Xavier Gibson, who is expected to miss about three more weeks while recovering from a broken hand and knee injury. "But, we are going to be prepared for it."
The history of how No. 1-ranked Duke teams have fared in Tallahassee should give FSU some hope that it can pull off an improbable upset. The Seminoles have three wins over No. 1 ranked teams in program history and two of those came against the Blue Devils in the Donald L. Tucker Center in 2002 (77-76) and under Hamilton in 2006 (79-74).
But, this time around, the Seminoles are coming off two straight losses and enter the contest with an ailing offense. They suffered a shocking 65-60 setback to a 7-8 Auburn team and five days later fell 71-59 to Virginia Tech. Facing a 2-3 zone in both games, FSU shot 50 3-pointers and made just 12 (24 percent). They also coughed up 19 turnovers against the Hokies.
"The mystery is that we have is that we have not shot well from the perimeter," Hamilton said. "We'd like to have balance in this game. We want to throw the ball inside a lot more which will help shoot higher percentages and when those inside guys are double teamed we need to kick it out.
"More than anything else we got to take care of the ball. We can't give Duke any extra possessions. What makes it more difficult is that they shoot the ball extremely well from the perimeter and they can drive to the basket and have post players. We got to play a little better and play real smart basketball."
The good news for FSU is their trademark stingy defense may be getting even better. After leading the nation in field goal percentage defense at 37.7 percent last season, opponents are now shooting 35.0 percent (which ranks second this year). The Seminoles also lead the ACC in blocks (143) and steals (109).
With that kind of steady production defensively, the hope remains that if FSU makes some strides offensively they can get back to the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year.
"We're not clicking on the same page and we aren't doing a whole lot of creating for one another and that's why teams are zoning us," James said. We've got to start getting everybody involved Once we do that teams will get out of zones and get back to man and we can pick them apart."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
FSU has struggled to attack off the dribble and get the ball inside. That must change for them to pull off the upset here. FSU can't afford to get into a shooting contest with Duke. Getting off to a good start is another key. They will need help from what will probably be the only sold-out crowd of the year and that means giving the fans reason to get involved early on. Look for the combination of a raucous atmosphere and FSU forward Chris Singleton, who presents a big matchup problem for Duke, to keep the score close in the first half. But, if FSU starts turning the ball over too much, Duke will take advantage and pull away. We'll say the Blue Devils will win, 74-66.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE SEMINOLES:
Singleton is really the only Seminole playing well offensively at the moment. Over the last four games, the junior forward is averaging 21.8 points and 9.3 rebounds ... In FSU's last game at Virginia Tech, guard Deividas Dulkys showed signs of breaking out of a severe shooting slump. Dulkys made two of his last three 3-point attempts. Prior to those shots, he had made just two of his previous 31 attempts from beyond the arc.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE BLUE DEVILS:
Smith is averaging 24.5 points over his last six games ... Singler is coming off his 21st career double-double, a 25-point, 10-rebound performance in a win over Maryland ... Guard Andre Dawkins leads the ACC in 3-point field goal percentage (52.9 percent).
FSU announced that public and student tickets are sold out. A limited number of club level seats are available (call 850-222-0400 to purchase).
FSU has blocked more shots than 15 of its 16 opponents (Florida is the only exception).
FSU is on pace to average its most rebounds in 10 years (41.9 per game) and has outrebounded nine straight foes.
FSU freshman guard Ian Miller (4.7 ppg) will likely miss his seventh straight game due to a groin injury.