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Inside the numbers: FSU’s path to offensive efficiency

Beyond height, length, athleticism and willingness to bring intensity on the defensive end of the court, Florida State basketball coaches seek an unselfish mindset among the high character attributes. That quality leads to another point of emphasis: How often the Seminoles pass the ball in the half-court offense will be reflected in their efficiency.

Many college basketball coaches have long underscored the need to pass to find an open shot. The Seminoles’ coaches looked to quantify it. While each scouting report varies widely based on the opponent and other factors, what is an optimum number of passes per game for FSU? 

“The number we keep as a baseline is 225,” FSU assistant coach Stan Jones said. “It was kind of a takeoff of the Golden State Warriors. They started a trend. In years back, when I first started coaching, you could tell guys, ‘We’re not moving the ball enough.’ And they would start moving because the coach-player dynamic was different. Now you have to have facts in front of them that they can look at. ‘Oh, I guess we’re not moving the ball the way we need to get the kind of shots that we need with the talent that we have.’ ”

Hitting 225 passes in a game does not guarantee a win, of course. During the course of a first half, players aren’t counting passes and aren’t thinking about getting halfway to 225. But it is discussed at halftime, postgame and at points throughout the week.

“We’re cognizant of it,” redshirt junior forward Wyatt Wilkes said. “Especially at halftime, we’ll get that paper with the number of passes on it. Every game is organic. We won the last game (vs. Clemson) with 192 passes, which is off what we really want but we were getting really good shots early. Games where maybe we’re not getting those early shots that are wide open or high-percentage early-shot-clock shots maybe we’ll have 275 passes.”

FSU (9-2, 5-1 ACC) has found success in its last four games for a wide variety of reasons. Defensive principles have been emphasized, including from “help” defenders. Free-throw shooting is up considerably in the stretch. The bench has been productive, too. From the starting five through the bench, FSU sends reinforcements in waves with little to no drop-off.

The Seminoles weren’t awful as the calendar flipped to 2021. They were 5-2. But there were definite problem areas. Since then? FSU has also been shooting at a high rate, beginning with the most efficient game in program history — a win over NC State on Jan. 13 — to begin a 4-0 stretch.

FSU vs. NC State: 41 of 58 (70.7 percent) from floor, 12 of 18 (66.7 percent) from 3-point range, 11 of 11 (100 percent) from free-throw line.

FSU vs. UNC: 24 of 50 (48 percent) from floor, 8 of 16 (50 percent) from 3-point range, 26 of 27 (96.3 percent) from free-throw line.

FSU at Louisville: 31 of 62 (50 percent) from floor, 9 of 21 (42.9 percent) from 3-point range, 7 of 10 (70 percent) from free-throw line.

Clemson at FSU: 29 of 60 (48.3 percent) from floor, 12 of 28 (42.9 percent) from 3-point range, 10 of 14 (71.4 percent) from free-throw line.

This type of efficiency is quite impressive. Wilkes says the topic of total passes may not come up daily but definitely does on a game day and during film review.

While the Seminoles had to pause the season for two weeks, postponing three games due to the pandemic, the break allowed coaches and players to rest, hit the reset button and re-evaluate core fundamentals of the program.

“The pause helped us to some degree because we were able to come back and have four or five practices before we played our first game back that helped us get back in shape and have a short minicamp on fundamental review as well as game preparation,” Jones said.

At the core of FSU’s principles is the necessity for time on the court for coaches and veterans to guide newcomers in the offseason. With FSU losing a pair of lottery picks in Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell as well as Trent Forrest and Dominik Olejniczak, time was needed to build chemistry between the core of the roster as well as Scottie Barnes, Sardaar Calhoun, Quincy Ballard and Tanor Ngom.

“They did not get the normal summer that we would have when you rep and rep and rep,” Jones said. “They’ve been having to learn all of the intricate details of what we’re doing as well as learning how you change things up from game plan to game plan based on another team’s defensive system. That’s a little bit overwhelming when you’re a new player that has never been in a situation where that amount of details were forced on them.”

But that’s an aspect no basketball program had, with limited on-court time in the summer and no exhibition season. FSU would also normally play roughly a dozen non-conference games before hitting the meat of the ACC schedule, but this season will play its 12th game on Wednesday when the Seminoles play host to Miami at 6 p.m. (ACC Network).

What the Seminoles have shown in the last four games is the result of increased on-court time and the meshing of veterans with the four newcomers. And giving players a number to target, pointing it out in game or the day after as part of film review, is a critical method of ensuring that the Seminoles are getting a passing grade.

“It’s kind of an analytical baseline for us to be able to at any point, during a media timeout or at halftime, ‘This is why our shooting percentage is this.’ This is a big factor to it because we’re not getting the ball side to side and from baseline and out, causing the defense to collapse and expand so we can get the gaps we need and find the shots we’re really good at,” Jones said.

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