Subtract Mfiondu Kabengele, Terance Mann, Phil Cofer, David Nichols and P.J. Savoy.
Even with Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell and M.J. Walker returning, it felt like a good group that would anchor a roster. But with so many newcomers, how would it play out – especially with earlier ACC games for the first time ever?
There were bound to be growing pains, right? To some extent, yes. But the big picture? Nothing but an impressive start for the Florida State men’s basketball team.
FSU (14-2) is off to a 4-1 start in the ACC, including four straight league wins – all by double digits. That includes a huge win over KenPom.com’s No. 6, Louisville, on the road. FSU has also defeated KenPom No. 22 (Purdue), No. 23 (Florida) and No. 48 (Tennessee). The Seminoles also have ACC wins over the likes of Georgia Tech, Clemson and Wake Forest, which are ranked between 85 and 95 in KenPom. The only two losses came at Indiana (No. 47) and in a foul-plagued, season-opening performance at Pittsburgh (No. 67).
Maybe you’ve watched every minute. Maybe you’ve only kept up with the bigger games. And maybe you’re just now only making basketball the focus now that football season and most of the bowl games are complete.
Regardless, it’s a good time on an FSU men’s basketball bye weekend and near the midpoint of the 2019-20 season to take stock of the Seminoles. And, yes, if you haven’t bought in, it’s time to buy in.
With 16 games in the books, there are 15 remaining in the regular season. The next one is a home game against KenPom No. 36 Virginia on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Let’s take a look back at FSU to this point:
Depth: Leonard Hamilton loves saying that the strength of his team is the sum of its parts. So it’s worth starting here: 10 players average 10 or more minutes per game. Vassell leads the team in scoring (12.3 points), steals (26) and blocks (19). He looks like a future NBA player, so enjoy him while he’s here. With Vassell, Forrest (12.2 points) and Walker (11.6 points), the Seminoles have arguably the most talented backcourt in the ACC. Patrick Williams has been a valuable contributor off the bench (8.8 points, 3.3 rebounds). Forward Malik Osborne is the team’s leading rebounder (5.2) and an efficient 3-point shooter (12 of 30, 40 percent). Guard Anthony Polite stepped in to start five games and has delivered quality defense, whether that’s been as a starter or reserve, and he’s already made more 3-pointers (18) than last season.
Generating steals/turnovers: FSU leads the ACC with 152 steals (9.5 per game) and has had 89 blocks (second to Duke’s 99). Great defensive plays spark fast breaks and create offense. It’s the Hamilton way and this team has clearly bought in. Five players have at least 15 steals. And five players have at least 10 blocks. FSU is among the top 10 teams in the nation in creating turnovers.
Free throws: FSU shoots 75.9 percent from the free-throw line, tops in the ACC’s best. Forrest, Walker, Williams and RayQuan Evans are among the regulars who shoot 80 percent or more from the line. Free throws are a reflection of composure, mechanics and repetition. The Seminoles make free throws consistently. FSU could get to the free-throw line more, Hamilton has noted. But in close games, the Seminoles are making the shot when they get there.
Health/Rebounding by centers: Balsa Koprivica has a high ceiling and has been productive when healthy, averaging 6 points and 2.6 rebounds and is making 80 percent of his shots from the floor (33 of 41). His post moves are refined and, if you’re looking for a guy who has made tremendous progress since October, it’s Koprivica. Graduate transfer Dominik Olejniczak (3.7 points, 2.2 rebounds) has not made as much of an impact but is an efficient shooter (23 of 38, 60 percent) from the floor. Why is this in the “question mark” category? It’s nit-picky. Neither of the 7-foot centers are aggressive rebounders and because of that FSU is a poor defensive rebounding team. And FSU is in a difficult spot if Koprivica’s injury has indeed evolved from short term to long term. There are positives here but also question marks, especially as FSU gets into an ACC schedule that will feature some talented forwards and centers.
Consistent 3-point shooting: FSU is shooting just 33.9 percent from beyond the arc, which is 131st among the 350 Division I schools. Vassell can be counted on as a consistent 3-point shooter (37 percent), Walker has been streaky (36.2 percent) and Forrest (33 percent) is improving. FSU made 10 or more 3s in just four games, wins over Chattanooga, Chicago State, Clemson and Louisville. But FSU has made just six or seven 3s in eight games. To win close games, an extra 3-pointer here and there is more than three points. It’s confidence and momentum, especially on the road. Some positives here. Definitely some room for improvement.
Foul trouble on road: FSU ran into severe foul trouble in the season-opening loss to Pittsburgh and in the win on Wednesday over Wake Forest. It’s worth mentioning that the crews in both games were whistle-happy. The Demon Deacons capitalize on driving and getting to the line, so they were able to get Olejniczak in foul trouble and make 24 of 32 shots from the free-throw line to keep that game close until late (and remember that Koprivica was out for the Wake game). Walk-on forward Harrison Prieto played 10 minutes and delivered four points and two rebounds at Wake. If not for Prieto, that game is tight and a potential loss.