Is Florida State Any Good This Year?Posted by KCarpenter on January 2nd, 2012
When the season began, it was taken for granted that Florida State would be the third-best team in the ACC. On the cusp of conference play, I am beginning to wonder if Florida State is even in the top half of the conference. Despite lining up some decent challenges in their non-conference schedule, the Seminoles haven’t been able to prove they even belong in the conversation. Until last Friday, FSU had basically beaten bad teams and lost to very good teams and remained an enigma. Losing to Harvard, Connecticut, Michigan State, and Florida on the road isn’t shameful. Nearly every team in the country would lose to those teams under these circumstances. On the other side of the coin, when your best victories are against Massachusetts, Central Florida, and Charleston Southern, you haven’t really demonstrated anything either. These teams, while talented, should be handily beaten by a team that is supposed to be the third best in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Then, on Friday, Florida State loses by two points at home to Princeton in triple overtime. What do we make of this loss? Princeton isn’t great (with losses to Elon, Siena, and Drexel already), but they are pretty good. What conclusion can be reasonably be drawn from this performance? Is Leonard Hamilton’s team anywhere close to last year’s tournament team?
It’s really hard to say. The Seminoles are an enigma this year. Without a signature win or a horrible loss (Princeton is #134 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings), the team just seems middling and undistinguished. As always, the defense is excellent, with Ken Pomeroy ranking the Seminoles as fifth best in the entire nation, the best mark in a conference that includes the other excellent defenses of Virginia and North Carolina. The difference, this year, seems to be that even an elite defense can’t make up for a truly dreadful offense.
And make no mistake: The Seminole offense is dreadful. While talented post scorers save FSU from Boston College–type levels of offensive ineptitude, the team’s execution is simply painful to watch. On offense, over a quarter of possessions simply end with the Seminoles turning the ball over, an incredible rate that’s worst in the ACC and not the far from the worst in the nation. From the perimeter, the team shoots 30.9%, which is good for 264th in Division I. The offense is ugly.
Things might be getting better, however. Ian Miller recently rejoined the team, offering a small beacon of hope. While the squad is stacked with athletic, tough forwards, this season has revealed a real lack of ball-handling and play-making. In terms of percentages, almost every member of the team is more likely to turn the ball over than to notch an assist. Florida State has accumulated a grand total of 157 assists this season. Kendall Marshall has 150 by himself. Now, obviously Marshall is a great play-maker, but an entire team should handily beat one man in this category. This is where Miller might be able to help. Though he hasn’t been an elite ball-handler in the past, the Seminoles are so bad in this area that any skilled guard will go a long way towards decreasing the number of times that they cough the ball up. Can one rotation guy change the entire timbre of the offense? Probably not, but he should help.
Just a little improvement is really all that the Seminoles need. It would be disingenuous of me to claim that FSU is turning the ball over a lot more than last year and that this is what is primarily to blame for the slow start in Tallahassee. Last year, FSU that made it to the Sweet Sixteen and only lost by a single point in overtime to a very hot Virginia Commonwealth team. That team was also terrible in terms of turnovers; they turned the ball over on 23% of possessions. This year, it has only risen to 25.1%. Leonard Hamilton can have a lot of success with this team despite the flaws if they can muster up a little improvement in just enough areas to turn an awful offense into a merely mediocre one.
Despite the lack of any sort of impressive win, this Florida State team isn’t that far from last year’s team in terms of defense or offense. While the Seminoles haven’t claimed a clear spot in the ACC pecking order, they certainly have the potential to succeed in the same ways as last year’s team. Are they there yet? No. Just because Florida State hasn’t proven anything yet, doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. The Seminoles are down, but with the fifth best defense in the entire nation, you just can’t count them out.