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What to Watch For: Size differential could give Indiana problems against No. 20 Florida State

After a week of tests in the 2020 Maui Invitational, Indiana finds itself against another challenging opponent this Wednesday.

The Hoosiers will play the No. 20 Florida State Seminoles on the road in Tallahassee as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The two teams played against each other last year for the challenge, too, with Indiana beating the Seminoles in Bloomington in dominant fashion, 80-64.

Thus far, the Seminoles have only played one game, against North Florida, who they beat 86-58.

This year, other than the location, there are a number of differences in the matchup. Let’s take a look at the key differences and things to watch going into the game.

Jerome Hunter during last year's win against the Seminoles in Bloomington. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

New-look Florida State

The Seminoles lost a number of contributors from a season ago, most notably Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams.

Forrest was a consistent four-year contributor for Florida State, averaging 8.3 points per game in his career and 11.6 in his senior campaign. The loss of Forrest is a loss of consistency and leadership for the team.

Vassell and Williams were two underclassmen a year ago, each of them left the team early to enter the 2020 NBA Draft and both were selected early on. Williams was the fourth overall pick, taken by the Chicago Bulls and Vassell was the 11th overall pick to the San Antonio Spurs.

In Williams, there is a loss of an athletic rim protector and a strong 6-foot-8 build as well as nine points and four rebounds per game. Vassell scored 12 points per contest and also was a prolific shooter. He had a career 41.7% 3-point field goal percentage in his two seasons at Florida State.

This year, the Seminoles look to be led by a mix of veteran and fresh guard play with senior M.J. Walker and freshman Scottie Barnes.

Walker is a rare player as he is a senior who also was a very highly touted recruit and 2017 McDonald’s All-American. Walker will be the team’s undisputed leader both in production and experience.

In the first game against North Florida, he had 17 points on 50% shooting from the field as well as making three of his five 3-point field goals. He is a career 8.2 points per game scorer, but with previous stars from past Florida State teams gone, his scoring volume should only increase in his final season.

Walker also has a plethora of experience on the big stage. He has played in seven career NCAA Tournament games and was a key part of the Seminoles’ run to the Elite 8 in 2018 as a freshman.

Barnes provides a new boost of star power to Florida State as like Walker, he was a highly touted recruit. The freshman was the No. 7 overall player in the 2020 recruiting class and an in-state kid, hailing from West Palm Beach, Florida.

Barnes presents a difficult matchup for anyone that Indiana slots to defend him, as a physical and supremely athletic 6-foot-9 guard. The freshman did a little bit of everything in his debut against North Florida, scoring just eight points on 4-for-11 shooting, but he also provided six rebounds and six assists.

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Size differentials

Purely on paper, size is the biggest difference that separates these two teams.

Leonard Hamilton has built a reputation for putting together rosters filled with size and big, athletic bodies and that is no different this year. The 2020-2021 Seminoles feature eight players who are 6-foot-8 or taller. Additionally, they have two players who are over 7 feet tall.

The Hoosiers are far smaller. They only have three players who are 6-foot-8 or bigger with only two currently available. Redshirt senior center Joey Brunk is dealing with a sore back and has missed every game this season.

Florida State’s starting lineup features:

  • J. Walker (6-foot-5) guard

  • Anthony Polite (6-foot-6) guard

  • Scottie Barnes (6-foot-9) guard

  • Raiquan Gray (6-foot-8) forward

  • Balsa Koprivica (7-foot-1) center

There is a big differential when compared to Indiana’s starting group:

  • Rob Phinisee (6-foot-1) guard

  • Al Durham* (6-foot-4) guard

  • Armaan Franklin (6-foot-4) guard

  • Race Thompson (6-foot-8) forward

  • Trayce Jackson-Davis (6-foot-9) forward

*This is assuming Durham will be healthy. He is currently listed as a game-time decision. If he is out, then it is likely that freshman Trey Galloway, a 6-foot-4 wing, will take his place. 

How does IU adjust?

With the presence of Florida State’s height, Indiana will need to make some adjustments to adapt to what they have on the floor.

That is not to say they’ll make any particular lineup changes, but the players will need to be extra prepared to handle the extra size. Thompson and Jackson-Davis will be guarding Gray and Koprivica, but the guards are really where a maximum effort will be necessary.

All three of them will be playing undersized and Barnes is where there is a particular mismatch. Franklin will likely take that assignment and he’ll need to pay Barnes special attention.

Franklin proved himself in the previous game and guarded another stud freshman Ziaire Williams, of Stanford excellently, holding him to four points. Williams, like Barnes, is taller than Franklin as he is 6-foot-8. At the same time, Barnes is a much more physical presence to handle compared to Williams, who is far skinnier.

Armaan Franklin during last year's win over Florida State in Bloomington. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

Florida State will challenge Indiana defensively, too. Florida State is a lot like Texas, a team that handled IU and caused the Hoosiers to have one of their worst offensive performances of the decade, only scoring 44 points.

The length, size, and athleticism of Texas disrupted Indiana’s offense and forced them to shoot it from deep, a consistent struggle for the Hoosiers. As a team, Indiana is only shooting 29% from beyond the arc.

That mark will have to improve going forward, but it’ll be especially important against a team like Florida State that can clog the paint and make it difficult for Indiana’s best two scorers this season, Jackson-Davis and Thompson.

A key to remedying the shooting woes and attacking the athleticism of Florida State would be Jerome Hunter. The redshirt sophomore wing has struggled off the bench this season, only scoring 4.3 points per game and hasn’t been aggressive shooting the ball. He fouled out against Providence with zero points as well.

With his 3-point shooting ability and good size at 6-foot-7, this could be an opportunity for Hunter to get out some extra minutes and get out of his slump.

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