Making Sense of Florida State’s Weird Season Trajectory

Posted by rtmsf on January 23rd, 2012

Matt Poindexter is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s Duke-Florida State game in Durham.

Before the season started, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi pegged Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State team as an 8-seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. Then talented Seminole forward Terrance Shannon suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, and a 5-0 start was followed up by a 4-6 stretch that featured an inexplicable home loss to Princeton and a blowout loss at Clemson to start ACC play. A week into January, the team that many expected to sit near the top of the ACC was instead 9-6, with their best victory a home win against Central Florida. The Seminoles have some more impressive wins today. First, FSU handed North Carolina by giving the Heels one of the worst beatings of the Roy Williams era, leading for all but the first 39 seconds of the game and winning 90-57. Then, a week after beating UNC, FSU’s Michael Snaer hit a last-second shot to snap Duke’s 45-game winning streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Why the sudden change?

According to Hamilton, the drastic improvement over the past few games is due to more experience and better point guard play. In his postgame press conference on Saturday, Hamilton said that many were confusing his team’s age with experience. Though already 26 years old, star forward Bernard James’ pre-Seminole basketball experience consisted of a few years as an enlisted member of the United States Air Force and one season at Tallahassee (FL) Community College. Many of James’ teammates are also upperclassmen, but played limited minutes behind Derwin Kitchen and Chris Singleton until this season. His juniors and seniors, Hamilton feels, are only now catching up on court time.

Hamilton specifically singled out one of those upperclassmen, senior guard Luke Loucks, as being much improved over the past four to five games. Indeed, as his propensity for turnovers has faded in conference play, Loucks appears to be the best passing point guard in Tallahassee in the past decade. With his sharper point guard play, Florida State’s turnover percentage has dropped significantly in the ACC, and its three-point percentage is up to an in-conference best 39.5%. In the second half against Duke, when the Seminoles torched the Blue Devils for 50 points on 35 possessions, FSU most often found success by screening for Loucks, forcing a switch, and feeding a forward guarded by Seth Curry or Austin Rivers in the post. The mismatch worked more often than not, and Duke couldn’t hold the lead.

Florida State is currently tied for the top spot in the ACC at 4-1, and without any trips left to Chapel Hill or Durham they have an easier conference schedule ahead of them than other top-tier teams like Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia do. On top of that, Hamilton’s comments suggest that this team will continue to improve. If he’s right, Florida State may be one of those rare teams to go from good to forgotten and back again all in the span of a single season.

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