ACC Team Previews: Florida StatePosted by mpatton on November 1st, 2011
Florida State had a great season last year. The Seminoles dominated opponents defensively and made do on the other end of the floor. Six players were listed 6’7” and up, and the entire roster showcased a wealth of lateral quickness that made them the most effective defensive team in the country. That shouldn’t change this year. The offense, not the other end, will once again define the ceiling for Leonard Hamilton’s squad.
Looking back to last year a Sweet Sixteen season ended with a bitter aftertaste. It wasn’t when they lost; it was the way they lost. If you don’t remember, Florida State took on Shaka Smart’s Cinderella from VCU. After Jamie Skeen put the Rams up four with three minutes to go, Florida State locked down on defense. Unfortunately, even after holding VCU scoreless in the final three minutes, it didn’t help with the hideous offensive sets for the Seminoles. They went 1-5 from the field during that stretch (plus a missed free throw), and the hideous final possession, where Derwin Kitchen put up an off-balance three that the whole country knew would send the game to overtime, was indicative of just how poorly the team executes in the half court.
Overtime proved no better for the offense. Yet again a hideous final possession at the end of the OT — this one headlined by Chris Singleton putting up a shot with no chance and no remaining time — marred another great defensive effort. The initial postgame reaction after the one-point loss was a combination of blaming Hamilton and blaming Singleton and Kitchen. Hamilton certainly deserves a helping of responsibility. He let his players make plays, generally avoiding sets. The end result looked like a combination of the dribble-drive without the “drive” and most teams’ clock-milking offense. The two best offensive players, Singleton and Kitchen, generally floated around the perimeter, both settling for jumpers far more frequently than necessary and tending to dribble aimlessly. Florida State’s other big issue on offense was its total inability to make shots. The Seminoles were significantly below average in three-point shooting percentage and free throw percentage. Although the low free throw shooting percentage suggests a general lack of shooting ability (which actually wouldn’t be too surprising based on how tall the roster was), I think Singleton and Kitchen were a black hole on offense. Other than the semi-regular post move from Bernard James, it always felt like the Seminole stars did a poor job getting their teammates the ball in a position to do something.
This is why I’ve talked myself into Florida State being a better team this season despite losing two of its most talented players. They bring back six seniors and two graduate student transfers; that, and I think James is a sleeper for first team all-ACC. He was terrific last year and will be the best defensive player in the conference not named John Henson. Frankly, he might be a better defender than Henson: despite not rebounding as well, he actually boasts a significantly higher block percentage. If Hamilton’s team is on top of Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rankings again this season, I hope media members give James a very close look when they’re choosing national and ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
For a floor general, Hamilton will likely turn to a combination of Jeff Peterson and Luke Loucks. Peterson is a graduate student out of Arkansas and Iowa (fun fact: he’ll be the only player to have ever played in the ACC, Big Ten and SEC). He may be the best shooter on the team and has a proven track record for dishing dimes (averaging just under four a game in a little over 25 minutes a game for his career). Loucks has settled in at FSU as a solid role player, which should continue this season unless his shooting has improved dramatically during the offseason. Whether the two guards can find a way to run the offense efficiently remains to be seen.
Finally let’s turn to the newcomers to Tallahassee. The player with the biggest immediate impact will be Antwan Space, a consensus top 100 player. An ESPN recruiting analyst noted: “Space is one of those prototypical wing-types that can do just about anything on the court. He has a long, lean frame that oozes potential and a feathery touch out to 22 feet.” I’m not sure there’s a description more fitting of a future star in Hamilton’s system. He’s athletic and versatile. Terry Whisnant was also a highly-touted prospect who may see decent playing time due to his sharp-shooting ability.
The biggest key for this team will be how well Peterson and Loucks are able to manage the offense, and related, how well their teammates are able to shoot the ball. Florida State has a chance to be a legitimately better team than last season’s Sweet Sixteen team and should challenge Duke for second place in the conference behind North Carolina. This team matches up the best against the two conference titans than anyone else; if you’re looking for a place for the top-ranked Tar Heels to lose their first game, the Donald L. Tucker Center on January 14 is a great place to start.
The two most exciting non-conference matchups are back-to-back with a potential matchup with defending National Champion Connecticut at the Battle 4 Atlantis on November 26 followed by a game at Michigan State on November 30. The Huskies always showcase one of the best interior defenses in the country (seriously, since 2002-03 they’ve only been outside of the top ten in two-point percentage defense once). Meanwhile the Spartans will already have played Duke and North Carolina, so this game should give an interesting look at the relative strengths of the top three contenders in the ACC.
It says here that Florida State is hungry, experienced and ready to challenge the powers of Tobacco Road this season.