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RaiQuan Gray’s emergence, Balsa Koprivica’s defense and other FSU basketball observations

The Florida State Seminoles celebrate their win over Louisville. 
01/18/21
The Florida State Seminoles celebrate their win over Louisville. 01/18/21(Scott Utterback/Courier Journal)
Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 3:31 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - If someone had told you that Florida State would be without its third-leading scorer and have arguably its best player tally just two points on the road against a top-three team in the ACC standings, you probably would have guessed it was an evening to forget for the Seminoles.

In fact, it was quite the opposite. Florida State (8-2, 4-1 ACC) showcased its elite depth once again with five different players scoring in double figures en route to a dominant win over Louisville (9-3, 4-2 ACC) at the KFC YUM! Center Monday night.

The Seminoles never trailed on the evening and led by as many as 24 points in the first half. In the first 20 minutes of action, Florida State shot 53% from the field and made eight 3s, while holding the Cardinals to 41% from the field, including just 2-of-8 from 3-point range.

“I think going on the road and playing against a real good team like Louisville motivated us and we realized we needed to be at our very best,” head coach Leonard Hamilton said after the game. “We expected a hard fight from them.”

Without regular starting guard Anthony Polite in the lineup due to a shoulder injury, the Seminoles inserted Wyatt Wilkes into the starting lineup alongside M.J. Walker and RayQuan Evans in the backcourt.

Wilkes did not score a point in Florida State’s win over North Carolina Saturday, but his shooting was a huge boost for the Seminoles against Louisville. He was Florida State’s second-leading scorer on the night with 13 points, going 3-of-5 from distance.

Wilkes is arguably the best shooter on a Florida State team that does not have a lot of players who are true gravity floor spacers. His presence on the floor is important in order to open up the paint for the Seminoles’ plethora of long, athletic perimeter players to get into the paint. If he can continue to be an effective catch-and-shoot player, Florida State will be much more dangerous offensively.

The Seminoles’ dominant performance despite Walker’s rough night shooting was arguably the most impressive part about Monday night. Walker came in averaging a team-high 16.3 points per game, but his 2 points on just 1-of-7 shooting against Louisville was his lowest offensive output of the season.

However, he still ran the offense at a high level, handing out a career-high 10 assists. He also did a solid job against Louisville’s leading scorer in Carlik Jones, who had 17 points but shot just 5-of-12 from the floor. The Seminoles outscored the Cardinals by 11 points with Walker on the floor.

“That says a lot not only about him but about the culture of our team,” Hamilton said. “He still played hard. He stayed in the moment. He didn’t force any shots and he was still executing the offense. He was verbal with his teammates. That’s what you like to see from a veteran this time of year.”

Florida State has now won three-straight games since falling at Clemson (9-2, 3-2 ACC) on Dec. 29. The Seminoles are averaging an absurd 1.32 points per possession over their last three games and have outscored their opponents by 53 points in that span. They will have another crack at the Tigers on Saturday.

Here are a few other observations from Monday night’s game:

RaiQuan Gray’s emergence

Gray followed up his best performance of the season against North Carolina (19 points, 6-of-10 FGs) with an equally impressive game against Louisville.

With Walker struggling to score and Polite not in the lineup, the 6-foot-8 forward scored a game-high 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go along with eight rebounds.

He scored in a variety of ways, including using his size to post up smaller defenders, driving to the basket and finishing through contact, and connecting on several mid-range jumpers.

Gray also brought the ball up the floor and initiated the offense multiple times throughout the night. The versatility he showcased at his size even prompted the TV broadcast to compare him to Draymond Green at one point.

Gray had a game-high plus-14 when on the court. He’s showed over the past couple of games that he can be a primary option on the offensive end for the Seminoles.

Gray’s evolution has been a welcome sight for Hamilton and the Seminoles. Entering the 2019-2020 season, Gray said he had dropped about 36 pounds. Now he is down to about 260 pounds and is playing a career-high 26 minutes per game.

The next step for him is to become more accurate from beyond the arc. So far, he is shooting just 22% from downtown, but his smooth mechanics and high release point suggest that will improve over time. He’s a 78% free throw shooter, which also indicates his 3-point percentage will increase as the season progresses.

If he add that element to his game, he is going to be an excellent player and Florida State will become even more dangerous offensively than they’ve been the last three games.

Balsa Koprivica’s defense

Koprivica’s performance won’t jump off the stat sheet. He played just 14 minutes because he was in foul trouble most of the night. He had six points, four rebounds and three assists.

His biggest impact on the game though was on the defensive end, where he made numerous standout plays on the night.

The 7-foot-1 sophomore out of Serbia had two of FSU’s five blocks early in the first half and made it difficult for Louisville’s guards to score at the rim.

Even though the Seminoles had three more blocks in the game, the Cardinals often had a noticeably easier time getting inside the paint when Koprivica was not on the court.

His two most impressive defensive plays of the game though actually came on the perimeter. Midway through the first half, there was a possession where Louisville ran a pick-and-roll and Koprivica got switched onto Jones.

Having a seven-footer matched up on the perimeter against the Cardinals’ best perimeter creator seemed like it would be a recipe for disaster for the Seminoles. Koprivica, however, did a spectacular job of keeping the quicker guard in front of him, making Jones pick up his dribble and forcing Louisville into a shot clock violation.

The second play came with about 11 minutes left in the second half. David Johnson had the ball on the left wing for Louisville. Koprivica was again matched up against Jones near the top of the key.

Johnson took a dribble towards Jones and fired a pass in his direction, probably thinking a seven-footer would not go that far outside to guard Jones.

Koprivica anticipated the pass, intercepted it and took it all the way to the other end of the court before completing a nifty euro step to get a shot off over Jones.

Koprivica missed the layup but caught his own miss off the rim and slammed it back for the score.

It was an impressive display of mobility for a player his size that shows how much of a weapon he can be on both ends of the court for the Seminoles.

Not only can he protect the rim with his size, but his quickness allows him to stay in front of guards on the perimeter and be effective against the pick-and-roll.

Offensively, he can be a great lob target and with his quick second jump, he can be dangerous on the offensive glass.

It was a performance most people will gloss over, but Koprivica in limited action showed how important of a role he’ll play for Florida State going forward.

Barnes, Osborne off the bench

As mentioned before, Florida State’s depth is one of their biggest strengths and it looked the part Monday night. Arguably the biggest difference in the game was Florida State’s bench, which outscored its Louisville counterpart 29-7 in the game.

Scottie Barnes and Malik Osborne combined for 22 of those 29 bench points. Barnes, who missed Saturday’s game against North Carolina with an ankle injury, continued to flash his diverse skillset that made him a top-10 recruit in the country.

The standout freshman had 10 points, making 2-of-4 3s with six rebounds, and was active as usual defensively with two steals and a block in 22 minutes. It was his third consecutive game scoring in double figures.

Barnes’ shooting is his biggest weakness at this point in his young career (30.4% 3s), but he is certainly capable of making the open shot. Even when his shot is not falling though, Hamilton can use him in a variety of ways, whether that’s as a slasher on the wing, an off-ball cutter or a facilitator.

He has tremendous defensive upside as a guy who can guard multiple positions, and his ankle did not appear to be affecting him at all on Monday.

Barnes mostly played power forward in high school but Hamilton has used him in different spots throughout this season to prepare him for the next level. Barnes appears to be well on his way to being a lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft with even more room to grow if he can become a more consistent shooter.

Osborne, on the other hand, has been an overlooked but valuable player on this Florida State team. He had 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting in 25 minutes, including the highlight of the night with this dunk over JJ Traynor:

Osborne this year has willingly come off the bench in all 10 games for the Seminoles after starting 28 of 31 games last season. His scoring (4.7 ppg) and efficiency (37.2% FGs) have decreased from last year, but his role speaks volumes of the depth Florida State has.

With Polite likely to be back for Saturday’s game against Clemson, Osborne is still a vital piece of a rotation that is legitimately 10 players deep.

It is unclear if Hamilton will eventually move Barnes back into the starting lineup or how Polite’s return will affect the entire rotation, but there are very few bench units in college basketball, if any, that can provide the one-two punch of Barnes and Osborne.

Florida State has a legitimate argument as the best team in the ACC for the second year in a row. The Seminoles might not be good enough to win the national title, but with their depth, they will be an extremely tough matchup for anybody.

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