Can No. 11 Florida State rebound against rejuvenated Pitt?
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Which is tougher, losing at home to the top-ranked team in the nation on a last-second 3-pointer or trying to rebound 48 hours later on the road?
The 11th-ranked Florida State Seminoles are about to find out.
Two days after losing 80-78 to Duke on Cam Reddish's 3-point basket with less than a second remaining, Florida State (13-3, 1-2 ACC) travels to Pittsburgh to play the unranked Panthers (11-5, 1-2) at 7 p.m. ET on Monday.
But with new head coach Jeff Capel, these aren't the same Panthers of the previous two seasons. After winning only four conference games two seasons ago and going winless in ACC play last season, the Panthers knocked off Louisville 89-86 in overtime on Wednesday. They also played West Virginia close on the road and beat 11-win Duquesne by 21 to end November.
The 11 wins this season are three more than Pitt had all of last season. What's more, the Seminoles are only 1-5 all time at Pitt's Peterson Events Center and have lost two straight in the building. And the Panthers are 9-2 at home this season.
"We had a very hard-fought game (Saturday) and we play again on Monday. That's extremely challenging," Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton recently said, per Florida State's web site. "So we're going to have to maximize our energy, be sure that our game preparation is solid. ... And you've got to move on."
To do so, the Seminoles will need to figure out one of the more surprising defenses in the nation this season. A season after ranking 289th in the NCAA in KenPom raw defensive efficiency, Pitt currently sits 12th in that category. The Panthers are also in the top 20 in the nation in field-goal percentage defense at 38.7 percent.
"I feel like a lot of our guys that were here last year understand that," Seminoles redshirt sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele told the Florida State site about having to quickly get over the Duke loss and not take Pitt lightly. "Our feet might be worn out, but it's important that we get in (Sunday), get a lot of treatment, watch a lot of film and just move on from this game."
Kabengele will likely play a key role in whether the Seminoles are able to do that. He leads the team in scoring at 12.0 points per game, despite not starting once this season. He also leads the team in free throws made and attempted (61 for 81) and tied his career high with 24 points against the Blue Devils.
In the Seminoles' last game against Pitt, an 88-75 win in Tallahassee last February, Kabengele scored 13 points off the bench, fourth on the team. The three teammates to score more than him -- PJ Savoy (18 points), Phil Cofer (14 points) and M.J. Walker (14 points) -- should all play against the Panthers on Monday, as well.
Another issue working in the Seminoles' favor is Pitt's 0-3 record against ranked opponents (including an 0-2 mark in conference play). The Panthers are also young with a freshman leading the team in scoring in each of the last 12 games and three of Pitt's four leading scorers being freshmen -- Xavier Johnson (17.0 ppg), Trey McGowens (13.4 ppg) and Au-Diese Toney (10.1 ppg). Senior Jared Wilson-Frame averages 11.5 points per contest.
But don't expect Capel's kiddies to be intimidated after losing by six at No. 15 North Carolina State on Saturday.
"That excuse is not for us right now," Capel told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about his team's inexperience following the 86-80 loss. "It's January. It's the middle of January. We're in league play. We have 16 games under our belt right now and these guys have played heavy minutes."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 13, 2019