College Basketball Betting Preview: Virginia Desperate For Offense vs. Florida State
With conference play in full swing, the quality matchups are coming fast and furious at college basketball bettors. Tonight, we are treated to a big early-season ACC matchup between defending national champions Virginia and ninth-ranked Florida State. These two teams have gone in opposite directions following preseason expectations. The Cavaliers have dropped out of the top 25, having lost two straight games for the first time since early 2017. Florida State, meanwhile, continue to climb the rankings after starting the year on the outside looking in. The Seminoles already have a handful of quality wins on their resume, beating Florida, Tennessee, Purdue, Louisville, and Clemson. Florida State has lost only twice all season, and one of those losses was essentially a scheduling loss, as the team was defeated 80-64 at Indiana, two days after beating Purdue on a neutral floor in Florida. UVA has lost four of eight, and failed to cover the spread in its last three away from home. While Florida State’s public perception was down, KenPom actually had the Seminoles ranked 14th in the preseason, which is precisely where they remain as of today. Virginia, however, started the season ranked fifth in KenPom, and now sit 42nd.
For the Cavaliers, the problems on offense have led to a serious regression for a team that went 35-3 SU and an ACC-leading 26-12 ATS. This season, Virginia is only 11-4 SU and 4-7 ATS. The defense remains phenomenal, ranking third in KenPom’s defensive adjusted efficiency numbers. This, combined with a brutal offensive adjusted efficiency ranking of 229th has led to continued success on the UNDER, where Virginia games are 9-6, with an average cover margin of +8.0. This cover rate of 60% is consistent with the Cavaliers’ UNDER figure since 2016. Virginia games have gone 69-46-1 to the UNDER in that span. This Cavaliers team simply cannot score the ball. Virginia is shooting only 48% on two-point field goal attempts, 210th in the country. From distance, the team is even worse, shooting a mere 26.8% from three-point range. While this defense is good enough to keep Virginia in any game, Florida State can take stock in the fact that it has actually played Virginia quite well in recent times. Head Coach Leonard Hamilton credits his team’s respect for Virginia for the success. Last season, the Seminoles beat Virginia by ten points in the ACC tournament 69-59. In the previous three seasons, Virginia has gone a spectacular 89-18 SU, but against Florida State in that period, Virginia went 2-2 SU and 1-3 ATS. Virginia’s inability to score, combined with Florida State’s effectiveness against much better Virginia teams, makes the Cavaliers very difficult to trust in this spot, despite getting 6.5 points. In its last three games away from home, Virginia won by three as a 10.5-point favorite, lost by 29 as a 2.5-point underdog, and lost by seven as ten-point favorite. Over those three games, the Cavaliers have averaged a mere 50.0 PPG. Facing a Florida State team in its own building, armed with a 28th ranked offense in KenPom adjust efficiency ranking does not bode well.
While Virginia has struggled in its title-defending campaign, Florida State has substantially exceeded expectations. The Seminoles were picked to finish fifth in the ACC and were not ranked in the preseason AP poll. Since then, the team has gone 14-2 SU and 9-7 ATS. The team had the scheduling loss against Indiana mentioned above, and other than that, the only blemish on its record remains a two-point loss at Pitt on opening night. The two teams only have one common opponent so far, but the Seminoles beat Purdue on a neutral floor by three, while Virginia suffered its worse loss in years to the Boilermakers 69-40.
This looks to be a very good matchup for the Seminoles. In addition to recent success against the Cavaliers, Virginia just do not seem to be the sort of offense that can trouble Florida State. After the Seminoles’ recent win against Wake Forest, Head Coach Leonard Hamilton was rather blunt about how his team can be attacked. “We are a different kind of team than what we have been in the past where we had long, athletic guys in the paint to deter people from driving to the basket. I think realizing that we got a 7-footer out and a couple big guys in the NBA. I thought they had the right game plan on driving us and getting to the free throw line and creating an opportunity for them to get us in foul trouble. That was a very smart move on their part.” The trouble for Virginia, is that its offense does not appear to be capable of going at Florida State in this fashion. Only 34.8% of Virginia’s field-goal attempts come at the rim, ranking only 230th in the country. Florida State should be able to take advantage of Virginia by letting the Cavaliers play more on the outside, and Virginia’s shooting troubles should continue here.
That said, Florida State could easily struggle to score with any consistency. The Seminoles thrive on two-point field goals, ranking 30th in the nation converting on 54.2% of two-point field goal attempts. However, this is where Tony Bennett’s pack line defense is most effective. Opponents are shooting a paltry 40.9% on two-pointers against Virginia this season.
A total of 114 may seem frighteningly low, but the likelihood is that Virginia cannot take advantage of Florida State’s defense, while the Seminoles offense will be pushed out to the perimeter, where it is at its weakest. In terms of the sides, despite Virginia’s step back this season, it would take a confident bettor to give away 6.5 points in a spot where defense should reign supreme. Tony Bennett remains perhaps the best coach in all of college basketball, and while this team is nowhere near the standard set in the past couple of years by Virginia basketball, a bounce back will surely come. The Cavaliers should be plenty focused for this battle. Knowing its only chance is to play to Bennett’s scheme, Virginia will likely make sure this game is played at a snail’s pace. It’s hard to see the Cavaliers coming out on top, but it still remains a scary proposition to bet on Florida State winning comfortably.