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Column: Strengths mask shortcomings for FSU hoops

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Good teams find ways to win games despite their flaws.

Great teams do it with consistency.

The Florida State men’s basketball team is flawed, shortcomings that are evident even in victories. But 10 straight wins? This run has been nothing short of remarkable.

FSU is 17-2 and 7-1 in the ACC. The Seminoles have knocked off everyone in their path, from Louisville to Virginia and done it with defense, depth and exceptional guard play. Different stars have emerged each night. Perhaps no greater example than Wyatt Wilkes, who was 5 of 6 from 3-point range and scored a career-high 19 points in the win over Notre Dame.

“I think that’s what makes us Florida State,” said Wilkes, who played more with Patrick Williams out due to a toe injury. “And I think that’s why so many people are really interested in coming here to play. You see the camaraderie every single day. In practice, it’s not like, ‘Let’s get this guy the ball.’ It’s ‘If you’re open, shoot it.’ I think that’s what also makes us so hard to play against. … Just like in practice, if I’m open I’m going to shoot it.”

There’s a lot to unwrap about the game, about FSU’s strengths, the weaknesses, putting the season in perspective. Let’s get started:

Notre Dame doesn’t turn it over very much. The Fighting Irish lead the nation with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.86-1. They are typically passing well and finishing at a high rate of efficiency. Not so much against FSU – Notre Dame had 12 assists and 15 turnovers. Trent Forrest had four steals and Anthony Polite added three steals.

FSU for much of the season has not made 3-pointers with consistency. That light switch seemed to turn on a few weeks back at Louisville when M.J. Walker lit up the Cardinals by nailing 5 of 7 shots from beyond the arc. He’s a 45.4 percent 3-point shooter in his last five games, a streak that begins at Louisville. But it’s not just Walker. Devin Vassell has made 5 of his last 10 3-pointers. Anthony Polite has made 9 of his last 15 3-pointers. FSU was at 33 percent going into the Virginia game and is now at 35.6 percent.

Anthony Polite has made 9 of his last 15 3-pointers. (photo by Mike Olivella)

The Seminoles make free throws. Against Notre Dame, FSU made 13 of 14. The 77 percent shooting from the free-throw line is 24th nationally. In close games, every free throw counts.

FSU’s coaching staff is adaptable. They have simply looked down the bench and pushed the right buttons. Walker, Patrick Williams and Balsa Koprivica have missed games due to injury. The coaching staff went with a smaller lineup in Koprivica’s absence and won four games. Polite has been a dependable reserve. Wilkes’ performance is emblematic of a bench player who rarely gets big minutes – he averages 9.4 minutes per game – who comes through as he steps in for an injured player (Williams was out with a toe injury on Saturday).

The rebounding numbers from Saturday are encouraging. Notre Dame’s John Mooney had a double-double in 12 straight games – until he only pulled down five against FSU in 31 minutes. FSU isn’t a great rebounding team, but the Seminoles picked up 12 offensive boards on Saturday. Koprivica had six rebounds in his return. FSU’s rebounding will be better with Koprivica back to complement forward Malik Osborne and center Dominik Olejniczak.

Lots of positives. Some things that make you uneasy:

FSU has been finishing off teams. The Seminoles put away Wake, Virginia and Miami in the final minutes (or rallied at Coral Gables and then won in overtime). But FSU lost its composure in the last five minutes against Notre Dame. There were turnovers late, a few of them by RaiQuan Gray. He had one of his best offensive games with 13 points but a lazy inbounds pass and then being called for five seconds late were stunning lapses.

The Seminoles couldn’t buy a shot late, going 0 for 9 from the floor. A bunch of those were point-blank range and FSU just couldn’t get the ball to bounce the right way off the rim. FSU seemed tight late in the game. But then again the Seminoles altered shots and made stops as Notre Dame missed four in the final 16 seconds. Defense won that game late. But should it have been that close late? No.

FSU had 18 turnovers. Just too many. The Seminoles had 16 turnovers apiece against Virginia and Miami (a longer game with the overtime). It’s something to watch.

“I thought we had moments in the game where we played very, very good basketball,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “And I thought we had moments in the game where our inexperience showed. And I thought it almost cost us.”

Overall, take the positives with the negatives. 

If you were in the crowd for the home games against Virginia or Notre Dame, you saw quite the show. The Donald L. Tucker Center has become a venue filled with energy.

“I think we needed every yell that was coming from the stands,” Hamilton said Saturday night. “We needed all the energy that we could muster. That ball was bouncing around and I was on the sideline praying. So prayers were answered.”

And you’ve seen some good basketball, too. From a team that is far from perfect but is, right now, the class of the ACC.

What’s coming up are two road games that should be challenging. FSU just knocked off Virginia less than two weeks ago yet, in a scheduling oddity, must now go up to Charlottesville and do it again Tuesday (7 p.m. on ESPN). Then the Seminoles will face a road test at Virginia Tech. This team has been entertaining and games are closer than we think they should be. But they are ending the same, in FSU victories.

Will the winning streak continue? Will the strengths mask the flaws? We will see. 

The Donald L. Tucker Center was packed – 11,500 fans – on Saturday night. (photo by Mike Olivella)

Comments

  1. Dan DensmoreReply

    This week will be challenging. It will really unveil how good this team is. Hostile environments and they
    will have a bullseye on their back. This team is difficult to prepare for with all the moving parts. They have
    to take better care of the ball on the offensive end.

  2. Craig GilmanReply

    Yes, tough week ahead. I can easily see a bit of lull coming for this team but hoping they come out of it healthy and with some good road experience that will come in handy later in the season. Really enjoyed the atmosphere at the game on Saturday.

  3. Dan DensmoreReply

    I think this team is in bit of a “lull” right now. Just hope they can go 3-2 in these next five games. @UVA @VT, UNC, MIA and @Duke. Don’t need to be peaking right now anyways

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