Analysis: FSU hoops at holiday break

Florida State is 5-1 at the holiday break with the re-start to the ACC schedule beginning on Tuesday at Clemson and Jan. 2 vs. Duke in Tallahassee. The Seminoles are off to a 1-0 start after a mid-December win over Georiga Tech, but they also drew two of Kenpom.com’s top ACC opponents with the No. 12 Blue Devils and No. 20 Tigers (Virginia is No. 14 and had been on break, while UNC trails at No. 21 and FSU is No. 26 going into Sunday’s games).

The Seminoles’ game on Tuesday is at 7 p.m. and will be televised on regional sports networks (full list here).

We will take a look at areas of strengths and improvement for the Seminoles through six games.

M.J. Walker has played like a No. 1 scorer

Walker is averaging 16 points per game, but he has been very efficient — 40.7 percent from the floor, 41.9 percent on 3-pointers, 92.1 percent from the free-throw line. For the most part, he has let the game come to him but has at times had to force things with drives to the basket or jump shots when others on the floor have been reluctant to take shots. One problem area for Walker is he has 18 turnovers and just 11 assists.

Supporting cast develops into major contributors

Where would this team be without Anthony Polite? Not many fans would have projected Polite as the No. 2 scorer (11.5 points) and No. 3 rebounder (5.3) in the preseason (although he’s just 9 of 17 from the free-throw line). RaiQuan Gray (7.8 points and team-leading 6.5 rebounds) and Balsa Koprivica (10.2 points, 5.5 rebounds) have been productive in expanded roles.

Scottie Barnes’ vision is special

Barnes has exceptional vision and basketball IQ as well as a fearlessness when driving to the basket. He is fun to watch with the ball in his hands although he is still growing into the point guard role. Barnes isn’t a shooter, not this early in his career, and oddly is making 44.6 percent of shots from the floor but just 41.7 percent of shots from the line. Free throws are rhythm and repetition and Barnes just needs to refine it in the gym.

On the line

FSU is shooting just 69.2 percent from the free-throw line (opponents make 78.3 percent). Most nights, the Seminoles are on and others they have really struggled.

vs. UNF, FSU made 15 of 21 (71.4 percent)

vs. Indiana, FSU made 11 of 21 (52.3 percent)

vs. Florida, FSU made 23 of 30 (76.6 percent)

vs. Ga. Tech, FSU made 12 of 16 (75 percent)

vs. UCF, FSU made 16 of 26 (61.5 percent)

vs. Gardner-Webb, FSU made 24 of 32 (75 percent)

The Seminoles will consistently be able to drive the lane and generate fouls but has to make the shots. In tight ACC games, and many of them will be, free throws will make the difference.

Big questions

FSU coaches and players have done a good job of masking deficiencies and picking up some confidence with wins over Florida, Indiana and Georgia Tech. With the areas of improvement below, are these are long-term issues? Are they byproducts of a quirky preseason with no exhibition games? Are they the result of a tired team that played four games in 10 days before the holiday break? It’s really too early to definitively say but it’s worthy of discussion.

It’s also worthy of mentioning that the college basketball powers are still figuring things out, with programs like Duke (3-2) and Kentucky (1-6) on unstable footing.

Areas of improvement

The Seminoles are still building chemistry and figuring out roles. In the early games, FSU’s bench isn’t yet productive or consistent enough (just 10 points in loss to UCF). Malik Osborne’s jumper isn’t falling consistently. We need to see more from junior-college transfer Sardaar Calhoun (who is averaging 10 minutes per game) and Wyatt Wilkes (who is streaky good when he’s on).

The defense, the rotations and switching, will take time to develop but coaches can drill it down in practice. That will take time. It’s fair to think the defense will come around, one that will force more steals, and that improvement will be evident in January and February. This does not appear to be a shot-blocking team, but neither was the 2019-20 team.

Is Barnes the long-term point guard or will RayQuan Evans be able to find his footing? The answer should be yes. FSU will need both to be dependable options to find success in the ACC. Evans doesn’t look comfortable right now, which is an early surprise. The halfcourt offense isn’t a thing of beauty, with the shot clock often wearing down and resulting in a contested shot.

The Seminoles are an aggressive offensive rebounding team but had just eight offensive boards in the loss to UCF, losing the rebounding edge 33-25. FSU’s rebounding isn’t up to where you would expect from prior Hamilton teams. But like many other questions it is too early in the season to make a good judgement.

FSU’s full 2020-21 stats can be viewed here.

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