BLOOMINGTON – Indiana coach Archie Miller has emphasized all season that getting any win in college basketball is a difficult task. Miller took time after most of the Hoosiers' first seven games to congratulate his team on a victory, even though on paper it looked as though Indiana had taken the court with significantly superior talent. IU won all seven of those November home matchups against mid- and low-major opponents, but tonight the competition gets much harder. If the Hoosiers can match those early-season wins with a victory over No. 17 Florida State, Miller will be completely justified in celebrating his team's accomplishment.
The Seminoles enter Assembly Hall also winners of seven straight after taking a season-opening loss against Pittsburgh. That string includes wins over Florida, Tennessee and Purdue, the latter in the final of the Emerald Coast Classic in Florida on Saturday. FSU, in its 18th season under coach Leonard Hamilton, is coming off a 29-8 campaign and a trip to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. Those 29 wins were a program-record. Once again, Indiana has drawn one of the ACC's elite teams in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The biggest difference between the Seminoles and Indiana's previous opponents this season is size. So far, Indiana has feasted on the boards against smaller teams, outrebounding opponents by an average of 12, tied for the third-highest margin in the country. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Justin Smith and Joey Brunk have led the way in rebounding, but Florida State presents a different challenge. The Seminoles feature three players 6-foot-8 or taller among their top six scorers and 7-1 freshman Balsa Koprivica out of Serbia is already making an impact with 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 13.4 minutes per game. So many times last season, Indiana was bullied under the rim because Juwan Morgan was the team's only available big man. It has been refreshing to see the Hoosiers push opposing teams around this season, but that will likely end tonight. Instead, Indiana will have to be much more fundamentally sound if it is to continue its rebounding advantage. Jackson-Davis, who has been the most athletic player on the floor in every game the Hoosiers have played so far, might meet his match in fellow 2019 five-star recruit Patrick Williams, a 6-8 forward averaging 9.4 points per game.
Where Indiana will also have to improve is in taking care of the ball. The Hoosiers turned it over 19 times against South Dakota State on Saturday and have been loose with the basketball for three straight halves (the second half against Louisiana Tech was a mess of sloppy play). Florida State stands ready to take advantage of that issue. The Seminoles play aggressive defense, pressuring the ball and trying to jump passing lanes wherever possible. They make even simple passes difficult with their length and they will probably get plenty of tips if the Hoosiers aren't strong with their passes and cuts. The burden will fall heavily on guards Devonte Green, Al Durham and Armaan Franklin to protect the ball. Green in particular has been somewhat careless with the ball in the last two games and coach Archie Miller wants the senior to be more responsible and stop trying to do too much. We've heard that same spiel about Green for most of his career, so it might just be a matter of whether Good Devonte or Bad Devonte plays most of the game tonight.
This is the first real test for a young, still-inexperienced Indiana team. It has gained some experience in these first seven games, but tonight it will find out how it handles facing a team that is its equal physically. It should be a terrific atmosphere at Assembly Hall and the building will be ready to explode if Indiana goes on a run or Jackson-Davis comes up with one of his now-familiar highlight-reel blocks. Indiana can make a statement with a victory tonight, but even if the Hoosiers win it will be just the first in a string of games against quality opponents that will last the rest of the year. The real season starts now.