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Notes: Defense, depth priorities for FSU and UNC Greensboro

Florida State and UNC Greensboro are more similar than they are different. Among the common philosophies: There is an emphasis on using depth and defense.

“The thing that’s the most similar — we both value the defensive side of the ball first,” UNCG coach Wes Miller said. “Our teams year to year are built around the defensive side. That’s how we’ve tried to do it here at UNCG. That is how coach Hamilton has done it at Florida State over a much longer period of time. The mentality, the value system, defensively, that’s very similar.”

Miller, 38, is very familiar with what Leonard Hamilton has done at FSU. He played at North Carolina in the mid 2000s, was a career 37.4 percent 3-point shooter and helped the Tar Heels win the 2005 national title. As the UNCG coach since 2011, Miller has built his program using what he learned from Roy Williams but there are definite pieces that resemble what Hamilton has done at FSU.

“I think they played a similar style to the way we like to play,” Hamilton said. “They play a lot of people, they pick up full court, different presses, they mix a little zone in. They’re very quick and sound fundamentally with a man to man.”

As each coaching staff has had time to review film and scout the opponent ahead of Saturday’s first-round game (12:45 p.m. on TruTV), the mutual respect is evident. Miller gushed, saying “they’re not good, they’re really good.”

“I think they have a really good chance to make it to the final four and to be the last team standing in this tournament,” Miller said. “That’s about as high praise I can give to anybody to think that they’re capable of that.”

FSU’s propensity to turn it over — 18 in a win over UNC in the ACC Tournament semifinals and 25 in a loss to Georgia Tech in the final — is a cause for concern as it’s a clear weakness for the Seminoles against a clear strength for the Spartans. UNCG hasn’t faced schools from the ACC or SEC this season, an abnormality of the COVID-adjusted scheduling in the sport, so it’s hart to figure how the Spartans will match up against FSU.

But UNCG does have the Southern Conference player of the year and defensive player of the year in Isaiah Miller, a 6-1 guard who will present a challenge on both ends of the floor. The Spartans also have nine players who average 10 or more minutes per game, with seven averaging six or more points. That should sound familiar: FSU has nine players who average 10 or more minutes, with five Seminoles scoring nine or more points per game (M.J. Walker, RaiQuan Gray, Scottie Barnes, Anthony Polite and Balsa Koprivica).

UNCG’s coach went a little deeper in explaining differences overall in his defensive philosophies compared to FSU’s.

“The way in which we do it’s probably a little bit different from an X and O standpoint,” Wes Miller said. “They have such size and length and they recruit to their defensive system and their ability to switch everything. We do pressure and deny as well. But their ability to deny way up the line, way up into the passing lane, is something that’s very unique in all of college basketball. And it’s certainly different than how we teach. And the reason is that they can do that because of what the size is behind them. The way they switch, I think is totally unique.”

Beyond the FSU-UNCG matchup

FSU is a No. 4 seed and shouldn’t be looking ahead. But it’s what the media does and fans of course do it too when they fill out brackets for the NCAA Tournament. It’s notable that a few ESPN analysts have FSU making a deep run, including some who have the Seminoles going to the Final Four.

“I’m really high on Florida State,” ESPN and ACC Network analyst Seth Greenberg told the Osceola. “I have been all season long. Early in the season I thought they were potentially a Final Four team. The ball handling has kind of given me a little bit of reason to be concerned. It’s not like they can’t handle the ball. It’s like at times they just get careless. 

“Look, I think that’s a bracket they can get to the Final Four. I really do. I think this could be the year Ham gets to the Final Four.”

It’s worth mentioning Greenberg picked No. 3 seed Texas to win the bracket FSU is in (which is headlined by No. 1 seed Michigan and No. 2 seed Alabama). But it perhaps illustrates how wide open the 16 teams in that part of the bracket are and what the Seminoles could accomplish.

Look for more from Greenberg as part of our Tuck Talk podcast that will preview the NCAA Tournament.

FSU connections in Big Dance

There are FSU connections as well as those who have coached alongside Leonard Hamilton in the NCAA Tournament. Dennis Gates, an FSU assistant from 2011-19, will lead No. 15 seed Cleveland State against No. 2 seed Houston on Friday. 

Andy Enfield and Southern Cal will play the Wichita State-Drake winner. (Enfield was an FSU assistant from 2006-11 before jumping to Florida Gulf Coast and then USC.) If Enfield and USC advance, they will face Kansas and Bill Self — who was an assistant with Hamilton at Oklahoma State in the mid 1980s.

Another connection is Ohio State guard C.J. Walker, who played at FSU from 2016-18. Walker averaged 6.5 points and had 129 assists in two seasons at FSU, and he has averaged 8.7 points and 9.4 points the last two years with the Buckeyes.

“He was a high-energy, fearless, competitive, passionate player even as a freshman,” Hamilton said. “He really made a huge difference in our team, and I’m glad to see him having the level of success at Ohio State that I was absolutely sure that he would.”