Florida State: A Quiet Contender

Posted by Charlie Maikis on January 10th, 2017

Just a little over a week into the ACC schedule, the conference race has thus far been a jumbled mess. Every team has at least one win in conference play, and the only two unbeaten teams are a pair of unlikely candidates, Notre Dame and Florida State (both 3-0). While the talk of surprising teams nationally is predictably being dominated by #1 Baylor, Leonard Hamilton’s team assuredly falls into the next tier. Anchored by future first-round draft picks Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac, the Seminoles have won 11 straight games heading into tonight’s battle with Duke at the Tucker Center. We’re only one-sixth of the way through the conference regular season slate, but can Florida State continue its push and make a run at the school’s first regular-season ACC title?

Florida State (USA Today Images)

In their three ACC wins over Wake Forest, Virginia and Virginia Tech, the Seminoles have relied on their size, winning the rebounding battle each time. As the nation’s second-tallest team (featuring two seven-footers and five players 6’9″ or taller), Florida State will lean on that inherent advantage to control the boards and defend all over the floor. The Seminoles’ long-distance shooting has appeared to turn a corner in recent weeks as well. They’ve converted 42.1 percent of their attempts in ACC play, including a blistering 15-of-32 in the last two wins. Last month I wrote about how Bacon’s improved three-point stroke has opened things up for his team, and he came through on that point by draining six threes in their two-point win at Virginia. If Florida State can leverage its prolific size to gain extra possessions and then cash those in by shooting at a high percentage, they’ll be in great position for success no matter which ACC powerhouse is lined up across the Seminoles.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.02.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 2nd, 2017

The opening weekend of ACC play was one of the wackiest we have ever seen. On Saturday afternoon two home underdogs pulled off massive upsets: Virginia Tech over Duke and Georgia Tech over North Carolina. Those games were followed by a trio of late afternoon contests in which the winner rallied from a late second half deficit to pull out a close victory on the road —Florida State nipped Virginia; Clemson beat Wake Forest; and Notre Dame edged Pittsburgh in overtime. It was certainly a wild way to close out 2016, but the fun didn’t stop with the calendar year. Boston College, a team that had not won an ACC game since March 2015, celebrated the New Year by blasting Syracuse to snap its 20-game ACC losing streak. Here are the highlights from opening weekend around the ACC.

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (Photo: hokiesports.com)

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (photo: hokiesports.com)

  • Best Win: In a normal situation, a 14-point win over the preseason pick to win the conference would warrant ‘Best Win’ accolades, but Virginia Tech’s rout of Duke comes in second this weekend. Instead the title goes to Leonard Hamilton‘s Florida State squad for handing Virginia only its second ACC defeat in Charlottesville since 2012. The Cavaliers came into the game ranked first in KenPom’s system, but the Seminoles rode Dwayne Bacon‘s hot hand in the second half to pull off the upset despite struggling to make shots from the field (41%) and foul line (50%). In addition to his great shooting performance (more on that below), Bacon exploited two rare Virginia breakdowns — scoring after an inbounds steal under the basket on one late possession, and converting an offensive rebound following his own missed free throw a few minutes later. Those are the kinds of plays that beat Virginia, a team that does not very often beat itself.

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ACC Trends: The Rise of Three-Point Shooting, Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 22nd, 2016

In Part I of this series published earlier this week, we examined the latest stylistic change in college basketball: a substantial surge in three-point shooting. Players in both the NBA and college basketball are hoisting and making more long-range shots than ever before, a trend we expect to continue growing into the future. With that in mind, we decided to gauge how the 15 current ACC head coaches may be willing to adapt to such a shift in style of play. To make that assessment, we must first look at recent history.Coaches3s-ImportanceThe graph above shows the relative importance of three-point shooting for ACC coaches over the past five seasons, both offensively and defensively. This rating is simply an average of how a coach’s team has ranked nationally in three areas concerning three-point shooting: three-point accuracy; three-point attempt percentage; and the percentage of points derived from three-point baskets. With only one exception — Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning has only four years under his belt — we used data from the last five seasons for each coach, including seasons at other schools (i.e., Josh Pastner at Memphis and Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt). Read the rest of this entry »

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Dwayne Bacon is Florida State’s Difference Maker

Posted by Charlie Maikis on December 6th, 2016

Over the last five years Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton has coaxed a number of highly-rated recruits to Tallahassee, but the Seminoles have struggled to translate those recruiting victories to on-court ones. Sitting at 7-1 so far this season with solid but not spectacular wins over Illinois and Minnesota, Hamilton’s group appears ready to return to prominence. Florida State has long been known for its elite defense, but the difference this season has come on offense where the Seminoles currently rank among the nation’s top 25 units. Per Synergy Sports, they rank 20th nationally in two-point field goal percentage and are producing nearly 0.2 more points per possession on shots around the rim this season. This short-range improvement has come in large part thanks to the offensive improvement of Florida State’s best wing, Dwayne Bacon.

Has Bacon's improved shooting spurred an offensive revolution at FSU? (Geoff Burke- USA Today Sports)

Has Bacon’s improved shooting spurred an offensive revolution at FSU? (Geoff Burke- USA Today Sports)

Bacon’s decision to return to Florida State for his sophomore season was a recruiting victory in itself. His size and athleticism make him a top prospect regardless of class, but he has also significantly improved his three-point jump shot — from 28.1 to 43.2 percent — to become one of the better marksmen in college basketball. The sophomore wing’s astonishing rise in shooting from distance has correspondingly opened things up for his Seminoles’ teammates inside. For example, 83 percent of Bacon’s assists in the half-court have been to big men for dunks or layups as a result of defenders respecting his shooting ability. Those are the easy looks that allow a team like Florida State, which generally doesn’t shoot very well, to run an efficient half-court offense. Even Xavier Rathan-Mayes, the team’s assist leader the last two years, has gotten in on the act by dishing eight percent more of his assists on two-pointers than last year.

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 21st, 2016

morning5_ACCNote: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. Maui Invitational: North Carolina (#5) will be the favorite in the Maui Invitational, the marquee event of this season’s Feast Week. The Tar Heels will face host Chaminade in tonight’s opening round (ESPN2 – 11:30 PM) and followed by either Oklahoma State (#61) or Connecticut (#67) in Tuesday’s semifinals. With that draw, North Carolina should easily advance into Wednesday’s championship game (ESPN2 – 9:30 PM). Oregon (#9) and Wisconsin (#10) — two other top 10 teams — are on the other half of the bracket. North Carolina will look to add to its past success in this event, having won three previous titles in Lahaina in 1999, 2004 and 2008. Roy Williams’ team started its trip to the Hawaiian Islands late last week with an 83-68 win at Hawaii on Friday night.
  2. Legends Classic: The Barclays Center in Brooklyn will be the site of the next two ACC Tournaments so it is no coincidence that the facility is hosting four early season events that feature ACC schools this season. The Legends Classic is the first of those events, with Notre Dame (#33) joining a competitive four-team field. The Irish will meet Colorado (#51) tonight (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM), followed by Texas (#47) taking on Northwestern (#60). The winners will play in Tuesday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 6:00 PM). With these four teams so evenly matched, expect Notre Dame to compete in two close games with a chance to pick up a pair of quality wins.
  3. Global Sports Shootout: Georgia Tech (#106) is one of two ACC schools that chose not to play in a traditional winners-advance tournament. Instead, the Yellow Jackets’ exempt event — the Global Sports Shootout — consists of four separate home games against mid-level competition. The last of those games will take place on Tuesday night (ACCN – 7:30 PM) when Georgia Tech hosts Sam Houston State (#148). Josh Pastner‘s team is 2-1 in these games after dropping Friday night’s contest to Ohio (#84), but the Jackets handily defeated Tennessee Tech (#268) and Southern (#271). Junior center Ben Lammers has been a standout so far, averaging 16.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and an impressive 6.0 blocks per game.
  4. Battle 4 Atlantis: This will be Louisville‘s (#7) second appearance in the Battle 4 Atlantis event. In November 2012 the Cardinals lost to Duke in the finals of this event, although Rick Pitino‘s squad got its revenge in the Elite Eight by beating the Blue Devils handily on its way to the National Championship. As usual the Bahamas will host a highly competitive field, with all eight teams ranked among the top third of college basketball (per KenPom). Louisville faces the lowest-rated team in its opener against Old Dominion (#108) on Wednesday night (AXS – 9:30 PM). On Thanksgiving Day, the Cardinals will take on the winner of Wichita State (#23) and LSU (#87). On the other side of the bracket, Michigan State (#21), Baylor (#22) and VCU (#34) are all capable of making it to Friday afternoon’s championship game (ESPN/ESPN2 – 3:30 PM).
  5. NIT Season Tip-Off: Another ACC team will be playing in Brooklyn this week, as Florida State (#36) also ventures to the Barclays Center for the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Seminoles will battle Temple (#115) on Thanksgiving Day (ESPNU – 12:30 PM), and if they win that game, they will probably get a shot at West Virginia (#18) in Friday’s championship (ESPN2 – 3:00 PM). Two wins in Brooklyn would be huge for Leonard Hamilton‘s squad, as Florida State needs some impressive victories to put on its pre-conference resume. The Seminoles have not done so well in the non-conference phase of its schedule the last few years, so this represents a great opportunity to change that trend.
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Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 28th, 2016

Yesterday we relayed several interesting and funny quotes from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte (links to the coaches’ and players’ press conferences can be found here). Most of the buzz around the second floor of the Ritz-Carlton was about the condition of Duke freshman forward Jayson Tatum‘s foot — injured in practice the previous day — but we found out that afternoon that the phenom’s injury was relatively minor and he is expected to return to action in a couple of weeks. Nevertheless, there were a few key themes from the day, which we will explore below. We also present the preseason award results as voted on by the participating media in Charlotte.

LOOKING FOR LEADERSHIP

North Carolina's Joel Berry discussed his role as a leader during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II discussed his role as a leader during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

A number of ACC programs need to replace their primary leaders from the year before. Here’s how some of the players and coaches from those affected schools see that crucial dynamic working out for their team this season.

  • North Carolina – Even with Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige now departed, Roy Williams still has some veterans to call upon. Among his senior class of Tar Heels, Williams anticipates that Nate Britt is the most likely to step into a primary leadership role. With a smile, Williams commented on his other seniors: “Isaiah [Hicks] hardly talks at all; Kennedy [Meeks] probably talks too much, so they listen to Nate a little bit more than anybody else.” The coach also believes that junior point guard Joel Berry will step up as well after his stellar postseason play last year. For his part, Berry thinks North Carolina needs a collective leadership group, saying, “So I think a lot of people are stepping into that role. If we can get everyone on the team talking and trying to see what’s going on the court, what’s going wrong, what’s going good, I think that will be great for us as a whole.”
  • Virginia – Recently we wrote about what Tony Bennett faces this year without the extraordinary all-around services of Malcolm Brogdon. As London Perrantes quipped, “Yeah, I mean, it felt like Malcolm’s been here for 10 years. So not having him is probably going to be a huge change.” As a senior point guard, much of Virginia’s leadership vacuum will have to be filled by Perrantes, but he won’t be the only player expected to step up. When asked about that issue, Bennett responded, ” I think there’s an eagerness or an excitement for the opportunity for guys like Devon Hall, Darius Thompson, Marial [Shayok]. You know, London has been a key figure to this. Isaiah [Wilkins] has played a lot, but these other guys who have been more in a supplemental role, I think they’re really excited for the opportunity to have it be their team and have a bigger role than they were on in teams past.”

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ACC Burning Questions: Florida State Seminoles

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 25th, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will the stable of talent Leonard Hamilton has assembled in Tallahassee finally manifest into an NCAA bid?

The preseason hype swirling around the Florida State basketball program has seemingly become a summer rite of passage. But sure as we are to be inundated with grand proclamations of Leonard Hamilton‘s crew becoming a factor in this season’s ACC title race, it is almost as certain that results will fall significantly short of expectations. Heading into his15th campaign at the helm, Hamilton once again has a roster that appears capable of earning the Seminoles’ first NCAA Tournament berth since 2012. In light of recent disappointments, however, it would be prudent to exercise a cautious approach with this bunch.

It's Dwayne Bacon's team now that classmate Malik Beasley left early for the NBA. (Greg Oyster, 247Sports)

It’s Dwayne Bacon’s team now that classmate Malik Beasley left early for the NBA. (Greg Oyster/ 247Sports)

Upon his arrival on campus last year, the popular belief was that McDonald’s All-American Dwayne Bacon was a one-and done player. And while classmate Malik Beasley parlayed his immediate success into a first-round NBA Draft selection, Bacon opted for another year of seasoning. From a physical standpoint, Bacon’s size and strength are commensurate with that of typical NBA wings – the issue is with refining his skill set. The freshman led the team in scoring and rebounding, crossing the 20-point threshold an impressive 12 times despite only shooting 28 percent from behind the arc. He will be relied upon to make the leap from productive freshman to an all-ACC performer this season. He has the talent and pedigree to do just that.

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ACC M5: 10.17.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 17th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. North Carolina on Friday night held its annual ‘Late Night With Roy’ event to tip off the new season. After the usual light-hearted fare featuring various dance, skits and skills contests, the Tar Heels conducted a scrimmage that needed overtime to settle the outcome. Earlier last week, Roy Williams hosted a preseason media day where the main topic of interest was how the team will adjust to the losses of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. Williams described the situation as such: “Because it’s not two out of eight. It’s your two best. Markedly, maybe you could say your two best in every part of the game. It’s not just a numbers game.” The good news is that there is plenty of experienced talent still on hand with three seniors and three juniors comprising the expected top six players in Williams’ rotation. In fact, there are only 16 McDonald’s All Americans from the 2013 and 2014 classes still playing college basketball, and five of those will be suiting up in Carolina blue and white this season.
  2. Louisville also recently conducted its preseason media day and Rick Pitino seems to be very excited about his group this year. He’s expecting a lot of improvement from his sophomore class and is also happy with his team’s depth — particularly along a front line where as many as seven players may see regular minutes. We found it interesting that Pitino said the Cardinals may need to stray from their typical defensive zone trapping pressure game. Rather, he claims that this year’s team will play about 95 percent man-to-man defense because of their relative inexperience. What we find odd is that last year’s group — which finished second in  KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings — had relatively the same level of experience and were able to execute Pitino’s multiple defensive looks just fine. Considering his track record in teaching defense, we will naturally trust the head coach to make the right call. After all, he has coached eight top-five defenses in the last nine years.
  3. It was throwback night in Tallahassee last weekend when Florida State held its annual tip-off event known as ‘Jam with Ham’ on October 7. The festivities were conducted in Tully Gym on campus, the Seminoles’ home court until 1981. Leonard Hamilton hopes some of the residual magic from that building — the 1972 NCAA runner-up Seminoles called it home — rubs off on this year’s version. Highly-touted freshman Jonathan Isaac flashed his talent and versatility in the scrimmage, and this may be Hamilton’s deepest team in years. The Seminoles are expected to return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2012.
  4. Most of the talk during N.C. State’s recent media day concerned the Wolfpack’s two most highly-rated newcomers, point guard Dennis Smith and Turkish center Omer Yurtseven. Mark Gottfried is plenty impressed with Smith, calling him “the best guard in the country, period, hands down.” As for Yurtseven, there’s no timetable for when the NCAA will rule on the big man’s eligibility but his availability may be more crucial than first contemplated because of the status of the Wolfpack’s two senior big guys. Gottfried said that he plans to redshirt Lennard Freeman so that he can fully recover from a lower leg injury. The coach also said that Beejay Anya weighed 344 pounds just a few short weeks ago, making it unlikely that he would be in condition for major minutes from the outset.
  5. On October 1 we learned that Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear was not going to be ready when the Hokies started practice because of offseason foot surgery. Last week, head coach Buzz Williams announced that the sophomore big man may in fact miss the entire season. This development would be a big blow to the Hokies’ frontcourt, leaving them short on depth and height in the paint. Williams often played small-ball last season as Virginia Tech closed strong in conference play (winning its last five ACC games), using 6’7″ Zach LeDay and 6’6″ Chris Clarke in the post. But the 6’10” Blackshear also got plenty of minutes when the Hokies needed a tall body on the floor to combat the ACC’s top post men. If he can’t play, then Williams will need 6’10” freshman Khadim Sy to grow up fast.
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ACC M5: 02.17.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 17th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Sports Channel 8: One of the best rivalries in sports is here! And, weirdly, it feels much less hyped than usual. Maybe that’s because of Duke‘s skid a bit earlier this season or because the Carolina Panthers held local media’s attention much longer than usual. Either way, I think tonight’s game will shape up poorly for Duke. There are three scenarios at play in my mind. 1) Duke keeps the game close but runs out of gas the last six minutes (most likely); 2) North Carolina blitzes Duke out of the gate, shredding the zone and back-dooring the overplay man-to-man; 3) Duke makes a lot of threes and Mike Krzyzewski throws a bunch of junk defenses at the Tar Heel guards to get the win (least likely). The Blue Devils are really talented, but North Carolina should be able to run them into the ground on the offensive end of the floor.
  2. Orlando Sentinel: Devon Bookert and Boris Bojanovsky have been playing much better lately. Their improved play unfortunately wasn’t enough to get past Miami on Sunday, but the Seminoles are still clinging to a spot in the at-large field. From my perspective, taking care of business against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech plus another win against either Syracuse or Notre Dame is enough to get Leonard Hamilton back into the Big Dance. What would make a world of difference is if Xavier Rathan-Mayes found himself over the next few weeks. His efficiency hasn’t dropped from last year but he’s using a lot fewer possessions so maybe there’s some slack there.
  3. Winston-Salem Journal: This is great context from Dan Collins about Bryant Crawford‘s turnover woes (Bobby Hurley, Ed Cota and Chris Corchiani all finished with more than 400 turnovers for their careers and are the top three assisters in NCAA history). Lots of turnovers means the team relies on you to make lots of plays, so in the long run, this season should do Crawford a lot of good. Assuming he can eventually get the game to slow down, it will pay off handsomely. On an unrelated note, the Demon Deacons suffered another gut-wrenching road loss to Pittsburgh last night despite a great game from Codi Miller-McIntyre (Pitt’s James Robinson also gave a herculean effort).
  4. U Sports: Speaking of which, Pittsburgh is in serious trouble. The Panthers have only three wins over likely NCAA Tournament teams this season, and one of those was against Syracuse without Jim Boeheim. Ken Pomeroy doesn’t favor the Panthers in any of their remaining games (although he predicts that they win two), but needing two overtimes to beat Wake Forest at home doesn’t bode well for upcoming games against Louisville and Duke (much less a road trip to the Carrier Dome). Barring an unlikely turnaround or a serious ACC Tournament run, Jamie Dixon’s squad looks like an NIT team.
  5. Streaking the Lawn: This is a good look at what Virginia needs to do to earn a double-bye in Washington, DC, in a few weeks. The top of the ACC is very crowded and will become even more so if Duke manages to beat North Carolina tonight. Six teams hold four losses or fewer, although Louisville no longer counts for ACC Tournament consideration. And thanks to unbalanced scheduling, there are six games left featuring teams vying for the double-bye. Hold on to your butts!

EXTRA: This is a good podcast featuring Jerry Stackhouse talking about his recruitment to North Carolina.

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Florida State Newcomers Making Huge Impact

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 13th, 2015

In the 2014-15 season, Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State squad was severely hampered by a lack of depth on the perimeter. But, what was a weakness last year is now a strength of this year’s Seminoles. Led by a pair of explosive freshmen, Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley, Florida State (5-2) not only is more talented this season, but it may be one of the most balanced teams of Hamilton’s 14 years at the helm in Tallahassee.

Florida State's Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley are the nation's leading freshmen scoring duo. (youtube/Nation Hoops)

Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley are the nation’s leading freshmen scoring duo.
(youtube/Nation Hoops)

With no real quality depth last season, Florida State’s three primary perimeter players all averaged about 35 minutes per contest. Certainly that made it almost impossible for the Seminoles to play the way Hamilton usually likes his teams to play — using waves of athletes to pressure opponents. So far this year, only sophomore Xavier Rathan-Mayes is logging over 28 minutes per game and his time on the floor (30.4) is almost five minutes less than it was a season ago. Bacon and Beasley are each playing around 27.5 minutes per contest as starters and fellow frosh Terance Mann is coming off the bench for about 15 minutes of action each game. It’s fair to say that Florida State’s freshmen class has performed above expectations so far. Compared to the consensus top two rookie classes in the country (see table below), the Seminoles newcomers are outperforming Duke’s rookies and are statistically close to Kentucky’s.

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