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Now it’s getting serious: Hoosiers prep for deep, athletic Florida State team

For Indiana basketball, the real season starts now.

After hosting, and beating, seven consecutive low-major conference opponents to start the season, the Hoosiers will play their first big-time opponent Tuesday when the Florida State Seminoles come to Bloomington for a late 9 p.m. tip-off as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

This game will be the first of 24 straight games against high-major opponents for Indiana, including both Big Ten and nonconference schools.

Trayce Jackson-Davis racked up his fourth double-double of the season against South Dakota State. (Bailey Wright/HN)

Florida State may be up there for one of the toughest matchups the Hoosiers have of those 24 games. The Seminoles are red hot, gathering wins over No. 17 Tennessee and Purdue last weekend to win the Emerald Coast Classic. Florida State entered the polls for the first time this season with a debut ranking of No. 17 in the AP Poll.

Florida State holds a 6-1 record with three high-major wins and two wins over ranked opponents already. They beat No. 24 Florida on the road earlier in the season in addition to Tennessee and Purdue. Their only loss was a two-point road defeat at Pittsburgh to start the season.

A deep rotation

It is easy to see why a team like Florida State is ranked when looking at its roster. Long time Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton plays a similar rotation to Indiana. He has a very deep roster to work with, allowing 10-plus guys to get in every game. The Seminoles have 12 players who play at least 10 minutes per game, but four in particular stand out.

Sophomore and 6-foot-7 guard Devin Vassell has stepped up big-time in his second collegiate season, leading the team with 12.4 points per game along with 4.1 rebounds per game. Vassell also knocks down 42.1 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Starting point guard Trent Forrest is the Seminoles’ undisputed leader as the lone senior on the roster and has been a steady contributor for the team throughout his entire career. Forrest gets the job done in a number of ways for Florida State.

The point guard is averaging 4.5 assists per game in his senior campaign but is also currently 10th all-time in total assists in school history. Forrest is the second-leading scorer with an average of 11.7 points per game. He also leads the team with 11 steals so far this season.

Junior guard M.J. Walker and freshman forward Patrick Williams are the next guys up for Florida State and also were both five-star recruits coming out of high school. Walker was a 2017 McDonald’s All-American and is averaging 11 points and 3.8 rebounds thus far in his junior campaign.

Williams is an interesting talent, being a 6-foot-8 big with a really nice jumper. Williams chips in 10.4 points per game while converting on 36.4 percent of his looks from deep and is Florida State’s best free-throw shooter, making 94.4 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.

Beyond the star power, what will really make Florida State difficult for IU is the sheer number of athletes the team can put on the floor at any time. The Seminoles can easily make substitutions as part of their deep rotation and have plenty of height to pick from. Seven of Florida State’s players are 6-foot-8 or taller, and they have two seven-foot players as well in Balsa Koprivica and Dominik Olejniczak.

Trying to match up with FSU’s size

For perspective, Indiana has four players 6-foot-8, or bigger, and none of them reach seven-foot. Expect Indiana’s post players —Race Thompson, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Joey Brunk and De’Ron Davis —to play heavy minutes to try and counteract Florida State’s ridiculous height. Justin Smith, who has played both on the wing and inside this year, will also be crucial in matching Florida State’s athleticism.

In addition, Indiana might run some taller lineups in general with more minutes for bench guys like Damezi Anderson and Jerome Hunter, who have good height (both 6-foot-7) and can match up better athletically with Florida State than a lot of IU’s roster.

Getting back on track offensively

Indiana will need to get creative offensively to counteract Florida State’s height and rim protection down low. Florida State holds opponents to 36 percent field goal shooting and does an even better job guarding the perimeter, only allowing 28.8 percent of opponent’s looks to fall.

The midrange jumper has been viable weapon for Indiana this season and it could be something that is seen more of against the Seminoles. Getting to the free-throw line and getting Florida State in foul trouble will be key as well.

In general, IU needs to find an offensive rhythm again. The Hoosiers still have the sixth highest scoring offense in the country with an average of 86.4 points per game, but they didn’t show it in the South Dakota State win on Saturday, scoring only 64 points for the night.

At the end of the day, this will be a big test for Indiana as they try to prove their undefeated start over lesser competition wasn’t meaningless. A win over a ranked team and a team that has made two consecutive Sweet 16 appearances would give the Hoosiers’ early success validation.

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