A suddenly slumping defense has Florida State on the verge of falling out of the Top 25. League scoring leader Malcolm Delaney and Virginia Tech seem to have a good opportunity to take their ACC rival’s spot.
In danger of losing three straight for the first time in two years, the 25th-ranked Seminoles look to bounce back from their worst defensive game of the season in a matchup with Delaney and the Hokies on Saturday night.
Florida State (13-4, 1-2) had won seven in a row before a 77-68 loss at Maryland on Sunday night. Two days later, the Seminoles lost their first home game of the season, 88-81 to North Carolina State.
If Florida State has its five-game home winning streak against Virginia Tech (13-2, 1-1) snapped, it will be mired in a three-game skid for the first time since Jan. 26-Feb. 3, 2008. That would be a tough position for the Seminoles, especially given their next two games are against No. 20 Georgia Tech and No. 8 Duke.
Subpar defense has been the biggest surprise during Florida State’s slump. The Seminoles had allowed more than 72 points only once in their first 15 games. They were holding opponents to 33.7 percent from the field before letting the last two hit a combined 46.1 percent, including 21 of 39 from 3-point range.
“It’s so frustrating, especially when you pride yourself on defense,” Florida State guard Derwin Kitchen said.
The Seminoles are second in the ACC in scoring defense, allowing 59.9 points per game. Now they’ll have to find a way to stop Delaney, who averages a league-leading 20.8 points.
Delaney had 28 points and a career-high nine assists in an 81-66 win over No. 23 Miami on Wednesday night. The junior guard returned to the lineup in the Hokies’ previous game, a 78-64 loss to then-No. 9 North Carolina on Sunday night, after missing his previous contest with a sprained left ankle.
Delaney, though, was held to 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting in Virginia Tech’s 63-52 road loss to Florida State on March 8, the teams’ last meeting. The Hokies shot 30.8 percent from the field and 5 for 20 from 3-point range as the Seminoles increased their series lead to 24-17.
This will be Virginia Tech’s third straight game against a ranked team. Consecutive victories might be enough to get the Hokies into the Top 25.
“In this league, I’m not sure anyone is Kansas or Texas,” coach Seth Greenberg said. “Everyone, though, is really good.”
Virginia Tech is averaging 80.1 points in its last eight games. The Hokies had four players score in double figures versus the Hurricanes.
Even starting forward Terrell Bell had a strong game, matching his career high with 13 points. The junior had been held under nine points in 13 of his first 14 games.
“You’re a whole lot smarter when you make shots,” Greenberg said. “When you make shots, you’re a good coach. When you don’t make shots, you’re a bad coach.”
The Seminoles have had their own surge offensively, averaging 83.8 points and shooting 50.8 percent over their last five games. They’re led by 7-foot-1 sophomore Solomon Alabi, who averages 12.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks.
Alabi might be tough for the Hokies to handle. They don’t have a player taller than 6-7 who’s averaging more than 9.8 minutes per game.