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Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | January 5, 2019

Virginia vs. Florida State prediction: 3 stats tell us who will win this Top-10 matchup

The new year is here, and with it comes the start of ACC play. What better way to kick off the intraconference schedule than with a Top-10 matchup between No. 4 Virginia and No. 9 Florida State?

The two teams have one loss between them, with the Cavaliers sitting at 12-0 and Florida State at 12-1, with its lone loss of the season coming to Villanova in the AdvoCare Invitational championship game in November.

You can watch the game Saturday on ESPN2 at 3 p.m.

Now, we’ll break down three key factors that will make the difference in the matchup, along with a score prediction.

Florida State has to do a better job taking care of the ball

Big surprise here, Virginia enters the game boasting the second-slowest pace in the country. Virginia’s opponents get an average of 62.5 possessions per game — 8.5 fewer than the national average, and 10 fewer than Florida State’s average mark of 72.5. That’s a tough environment for a team that lacks ball security, and as it happens, the Seminoles are averaging 17.6 turnovers per 100 plays (tied for 255th in the country). 

MORE: 33 fearless predictions for the remainder of the college basketball season

Yes, faster-paced play leads to more mistakes, but if Florida State doesn’t seriously limit that number against Virginia, they won’t have enough opportunities to win the game. That problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Cavaliers have the 24th-best true shooting percentage (a measurement that takes both accuracy and point value of shots into account), while the Seminoles sit tied for 92nd there. With fewer and fewer possessions, efficiency becomes more and more vital.

Florida State can make a difference from 3-point range

Two of the closest games for Virginia this season came in a 76-71 win at Maryland and a 66-59 win against Dayton. What do those teams have in common? They’re the only two to have shot better than 35 percent from 3-point range against Virginia this season. 

The Cavaliers have one of the best 3-point defenses in the country, holding their opponents to just 24.7 percent from behind the arc (the 2nd best mark in the country). The Seminoles are a middle-of-the-road 3-point shooting team (averaging 34.2 percent 3-point shooting — the 182nd best in the country) — but with four players that average better than 40 percent on the year, there’s plenty of potential here for Florida State to get some separation from deep.

MORE: Andy Katz's Power 36 rankings | AP poll

Can Virginia contain Cofer?

After sitting out the first half of the year due to a preseason injury, Florida State’s Phil Cofer started his first game of the season against Winthrop on New Year’s Day, and the Seminoles have to be delighted to have him back. Cofer led the team with 12.8 points per game last year, and in his first start, he put up 14 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists in 28 minutes. This matchup with Virginia will be a much tougher test than the Winthrop game, but Cofer will have some help that wasn’t there last year.

Terance Mann has gotten even better after a breakout junior season, becoming a serious 3-point threat. He’s shooting 43.5 percent from behind the arc (up from 25 percent last year), though he only takes 1.8 attempts per game. And sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele has stepped up in Cofer’s absence, averaging 11.8 points per game this season (up from 7.2 as a freshman). That’ll take some of the pressure off Cofer’s shoulders, which could provide for some tough matchups for the Cavaliers.

Florida State, Virginia prediction

Florida State definitely has the tools to challenge Virginia — especially with Cofer back — but going on the road against the Cavaliers is always a wake-up call. The Seminoles will keep it close, but Virginia will keep control and stay undefeated. SCORE PREDICTION: Virginia 64, Florida State 59

How we're doing with these predictions

We're 3-3 so far, but the season is still young.

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