Preparing for FSU's Physicality

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Bookies often look at trends to make predictions for upcoming games. An in-depth look at No. 3 North Carolina's recent history at Florida State indicates a trend of close games due to the Seminoles' defensive tenacity.

On Jan. 22, 2006, Reyshawn Terry stepped to the free throw line with 23 seconds remaining at the Tucker Center in Tallahassee, Fla., and knocked down both shots to give UNC an 81-80 lead that would serve as the final points of the game. Two years and 12 days later, FSU brute Ryan Reid drained the first 3-pointer of his career with 8.1 seconds left to send the game to overtime. UNC would win in overtime, 84-73, in a game marked by Reid pulling Ty Lawson to the ground and supplying a high ankle sprain.

Lawson would get revenge on Jan. 28, 2009, with a running 3-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer to lift North Carolina to an 80-77 victory. And then there was last year – Harrison Barnes drained a 3-pointer from a spot not too far from Lawson's launch to give his Tar Heels a 72-70 victory with three seconds left to play.

Add in the fact that Florida State has beaten a top-ranked Duke team three times in the past nine years at home, and the question to UNC head coach Roy Williams was clear on Friday – why do the Seminoles play so well against the ACC's best teams year-in and year-out?

"I think they give everybody the dickens, not just North Carolina," Williams said. "You look at their record – they've been pretty good. They're a good basketball team. They make it difficult for you to get open shots. They make it difficult for you to get second shots… They get enthused to play North Carolina and Duke because it gets so much attention, but I think their effectiveness on the court is against everybody."

The statistics do work toward Williams's point, as Florida State has won roughly 80 percent (59-15) of its home games over the last five seasons. But even so, it's rare for an ACC team to provide such a consistent challenge to the conference elites over an extended period of time.

The initial thought is that Leonard Hamilton's textbook defense has been the culprit for the Heels recently at the Tucker Center. FSU is currently leading the ACC in field goal percentage defense (36.0) for the fourth straight season, but the Tar Heels have shot the ball well for the most part, connecting on 44.9 percent of their shots (106-of-236) over the past four games in Tallahassee.

But where Florida State is most effective is in utilizing its size, length and depth. The Seminoles's current starting lineup averages a shade over 6-foot-7 and checks in at an average of 217.4 pounds per game. That doesn't include 7-foot, 262-pound Jon Kreft coming off the bench.

That type of size and length has forced North Carolina to average 20 turnovers per game over the last four in Tallahassee, while only dishing out 13 assists per game. UNC has not posted a positive assist-to-turnover ratio during that stretch.

"I think their defensive philosophy is just to apply as much pressure as possible," Harrison Barnes said on Friday. "But they have extremely good rotations. The help side is always there. Their bigs are always in the right position. They hard hedge on pick-and-rolls. They always get after you. Guards always get over the top of the screens. So they just put a lot of pressure on you defensively, but they also have really good principles."

The Tar Heels were given an off day on Wednesday following Tuesday's late victory over Miami, but Barnes opted to take the opportunity to rest instead of hitting the gym. His stated reason? To not let his body wear down so that he could be fresh on Saturday.

"You need to be in the best shape that you can be in at Florida State," Barnes said. "Extremely aggressive defensive team, extremely good pressure, extremely hostile atmosphere. So it's going to require the most you can give mentally and physically."

While the Seminoles have underperformed through the first part of the season, guard Ian Miller's return from a first semester academic suspension has provided an offensive lift (15.8 ppg over his last four games). But the worry against Florida State is rarely its offensive production. It's in making sure your mental and physical toughness are up for the challenge.

When the Tar Heels take the Tucker Center floor on Saturday, it will mark the first road game in 42 days. A reminder of the difficulty of playing on the road in the ACC will likely come early.

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