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With Florida State coming to Assembly Hall, IU men’s basketball’s cupcakes are over



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Junior forward Justin Smith shoots the ball in the second half against Princeton University on Nov. 20 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. IU will play against Florida State University on Dec. 3 at home. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

IU head coach Archie Miller and his team had to adjust to a new structure without the leadership of years past. It had to form a new chemistry on the court with fresh faces along with familiar ones in different and expanded roles. 

It’s why IU men’s basketball opened the season with one of the nation’s weakest non-conference schedules, currently ranked 343rd out of 353 non-conference schedules, playing seven straight games where IU could afford to not be at its best and still win with relative ease. 

That’s over now. 

No longer can IU struggle for stretches like it did against Louisiana Tech University, or have the slow starts it did in its first few games. IU doesn’t have the room to recover anymore. 

From here on out, IU only faces major conference teams. That begins Tuesday as Florida State University comes to Bloomington for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. With that comes larger crowds and the type of environment Assembly Hall is known for. 

“I'm always excited to play in Assembly Hall,” senior guard Devonte Green said after Saturday’s win over South Dakota State. “But it's always an advantage for us when there's a lot more fans here and they're a lot louder and the game's more intense.”

The Seminoles haven’t had the same weak schedule to open the season. It already has wins over the then-ranked No. 24 University of Florida, then-ranked No. 17 University of Tennessee and Purdue.

Its only loss came in a true road game against the University of Pittsburgh by two to start the season. Last season, Florida State advanced to the Sweet 16, and all the way to the Elite 8 in the 2017-18 season. Head coach Leonard Hamilton turned a traditional football school into one of the nation’s more successful basketball programs in recent years. 

IU and Florida State are similar in depth. 

“It should be a great opportunity to play against a terrific ACC team,” Miller said Saturday. “Depth and size at the highest level.”

Both teams have four players scoring in double-figures. IU is led by freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis with 15.6 points per game. Junior forward Justin Smith, junior guard Al Durham and senior guard Devonte Green are IU’s next three top scorers respectively, all with over 12 points per game. 

Jackson-Davis has been IU’s most consistent player over the first seven games. Not only is he leading the team in scoring, but he is 0.4 rebounds per game away from averaging a double-double. He already has four double-doubles in his career. Against South Dakota State University on Saturday, Jackson-Davis had 19 points along with 14 rebounds and four blocks. 

While IU is deep with its forwards, Florida State is deep among its guards. Florida State has 11 guards on its roster, though certainly not guards lacking for size, along with five forwards and two centers. Its two top leading scorers are guards. 

Given the structure of the Seminoles roster, Jackson-Davis could be in line for another big game. Only one Florida State forward is of Jackson-Davis’ 6'9" frame. Though, Jackson-Davis would be undersized against either of Florida State’s 7-foot centers when IU plays its smaller lineup. Florida State may not have the stable of big men to rotate around if Jackson-Davis wears them down inside. 

IU has had one of the better offensive teams in points per game through the first seven games, but it is facing a Florida State defense ranked third in KenPom’s adjusted defense rating. IU’s defense still isn’t meeting Miller’s standards. 

No matter whether IU gets another big night from Jackson-Davis or if the defense struggles again, there will be far more answers after Tuesday night than IU has had after any of its first seven games. 

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