In preparation for this afternoon’s contest between Duke and Florida State in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, The Blue Zone takes a detailed position-by-position look at the two teams to identify the key matchups and players for both teams.
Point guard: Floor general is a relatively weak position for both of these squads. Tyler Thornton led the Blue Devils Friday, but cannot be counted on to lead the team in shots regularly. He brings defensive ability and reliable ball-handling, however. Quinn Cook has contributed as more of a distributing point guard this season, but after seeing just three minutes of action against Virginia Tech, it’s hard to imagine him playing a significant role against the Seminoles. Like Thornton, Florida State point guard Luke Loucks broke out against Miami Friday, posting 14 points when his season average is 6.5 per game. He dishes out four assists per game and can cause turnovers on the defensive end, but he’s not a great creator or shooter—he makes just 28.8 percent from beyond the arc, and 60 percent from the free-throw line. Backup Jeff Peterson, a transfer from Arkansas, has provided little more than minutes for Seminole head coach Leonard Hamilton. Neither team has an excess of talent here, and Thornton’s advantage on defense offsets Loucks’ better offensive play.
Shooting guard: Both Florida State and Duke have depth and talent at the off-guard position. The Blue Devils will have to match up with junior Michael Snaer and sophomore Ian Miller, the Seminoles’ top two scorers who combine to average 25.5 points per game and who scored a total of 38 in Friday’s contest. Both players can shoot and penetrate, although Miller’s driving ability is a bit less developed than Snaer’s. Deividas Dulkys adds a third shooter to the Seminoles’ off-guard mix, with 6.8 points per game, and he’s a quality defender outside as well, averaging 1.3 steals and 0.6 blocks—a high number for a 6-foot-5 guard. Austin Rivers is the most talented player for either team at this position, but he’ll need to be on top of his defensive game and get offensive help from Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. Curry scored just nine points against Virginia Tech while Dawkins was held scoreless. The Blue Devils have a more talented trio of shooting guards, but the Seminoles have been more productive of late, so this is another backcourt draw.
Small forward: It will be unusual for Duke to face another team that lacks a true small forward. Like the Blue Devils, Florida State does not have a true outside-in big man, so look for plenty of three-guard lineups for both sides.
Power forward: Like they do at other positions, Florida State and Duke match up almost evenly at the power forward spot. Okaro White and Josh Hairston are 6-foot-8 wing players with little perimeter skill and more willingness to play inside. White definitely has the upper hand in this matchup, with 7.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game and outstanding length and athleticism. Deeper in the post, Bernard James and Miles Plumlee will battle. James—who served in the Air Force for six years before moving on to Florida State—has shot an excellent 61 percent from the floor to average 10.4 points per game, and adds 8.3 rebounds with his toughness and 6-foot-10 frame. James is arguably Florida State’s most valuable player, and White’s talent advantage over Hairston definitely give the Seminoles the edge at this spot.
EDGE: Florida State
Center: Xavier Gibson possesses impressive length on the interior that helps him to 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, but he has never quite fulfilled his offensive potential despite a solid average of 7.2 points per game. Jon Kreft gives Leonard Hamilton a big body—7-foot, 260 pounds—to bring off the bench, but Mason Plumlee’s talent will be too much for the Seminole duo. If Miles Plumlee can keep James occupied while both Plumlees are on the floor, Mason should be able to find opportunities to score.
Tom’s Prediction: Duke 68, Florida State 65