Previewing Maryland-Florida State basketball with a Seminoles beat reporter

The Terps open their final Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament with a second-round game against Florida State at noon Thursday.

No. 8-seeded Maryland (17-14, 9-9 ACC) and the No. 9 Seminoles (18-12, 9-9) split the regular-season series. The winner faces No. 1 Virginia in the quarterfinals Friday at noon.

To preview the matchup, we traded emails with Brendan Sonnone, who covers Florida State for the Orlando Sentinel. Check out more of his work on the Sentinel's "Chopping Block" blog.

Baltimore Sun: Florida State took care of Maryland pretty easily down in Tallahassee in January, then the Terps won by a dozen in College Park. What do you make of the way these teams match up?

Brendan Sonnone: It is difficult to boil down the discrepancy between the two games to just one or two aspects. The key in the first game was that FSU made 16-of-24 3-pointers, and consequently won by 24 points. Ian Miller led FSU with 20 points. In the next contest, Miller (13.7 points per game) was out with an injury and the Seminoles struggled to stop Seth Allen, who had 32 points. Miller isn’t a great defender, but he's much better than reserve Devon Bookert and would present more of a challenge to Allen. That would be the key matchup to watch on Thursday, Allen vs. Miller. These teams definitely have some similarities. They rely on balanced scoring and prefer to push the tempo. Because of that, there isn’t much of a discrepancy.

FSU had won three in a row before losing to Syracuse on Sunday. Was that the product of Boston College and Georgia Tech falling on the schedule there, or are the ‘Noles starting to put it together?

A little bit of both. Remember, Boston College and Georgia Tech recently beat Syracuse and FSU got a big road win against Pitt as well. The biggest difference for FSU during its recent run compared to its midseason slump is Okaro White. The senior forward started getting more aggressive on offense and cut down on committing so many silly fouls. As a result, he’s averaging 21 points in the past four games. When White is playing at a high level, FSU has enough offensive firepower to hang with most teams in the ACC. That’s honestly been the difference the past few weeks.

Aaron Thomas has to be one of the most improved players in the ACC this season. What did he do to make himself a better offensive player this season, and is he a star in the making?

Thomas has the skill set to become one of the top players in the ACC. He’s explosive and creative offensively, and he's already one of the better one-on-one defenders in the league. For him, it’s been a matter of confidence in his offensive game. He spent a lot of extra time shooting around this offseason and bumped his 3-point percentage up from 22 percent as a freshman to 37.8 percent. Once Ian Miller went down for a few games with an injury in February, Thomas was ready to step up. He’s averaged nearly 18 points per game since Miller’s injury and has remained playing at a high level since Miller has returned.

This seems to be an annual question for Maryland heading into the ACC tournament, so let’s spin it to Florida State: What do the Seminoles need to do this week in Greensboro to make the NCAA tourney?

Before the loss to Syracuse, I would’ve said just win its first ACC game. Now I think FSU needs to beat Maryland and Virginia to have a legitimate shot at the NCAA tournament. Even then, I think it’s still iffy. But FSU’s résumé would be helped tremendously with a quality win over Maryland and then a huge win against Virginia.

Prediction time: Which of these teams is moving on to play Virginia on Friday afternoon?

My gut says Maryland. I think FSU put so much mental effort into that Syracuse game that it’s hard to imagine the team getting back up. Maryland is playing really good basketball right now, although that may not be directly translating to a ton of wins. Based on the way these two teams have played each other this year, I think it’s safe to assume that whoever gets off to the better start will get the victory.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad