Florida State plays at North Carolina on Saturday (2 p.m. on ESPN) looking for a significant upset and halt a five-game losing streak, the longest for the Seminoles since dropping five games in Feb. 2016. We take a look at a few storylines for FSU, injury updates and coach Leonard Hamilton’s thoughts on the matchup with the Tar Heels.
Uncertainty over Polite’s return
Hamilton underscored that he thinks forward Malik Osborne (ankle) will be out for the remainder of the season. There is some question over the timeline for Anthony Polite (wrist) to return.
“It is extremely doubtful that Anthony will be back at all,” Hamilton said. “He keeps telling me that he’s going to be ready. But I don’t have very much confidence that that’s going to happen.”
Polite and Osborne remain active with the team during games and in practices. Osborne is widely viewed as an energetic, positive leader and the glue of the 2021-22 team. But it’s also clear he is trying to light a fire under what is a short-handed yet talented group.
“I came in the locker room the other night after our loss (to Pitt),” Hamilton said. “Malik was in there being extremely vocal and using his experience and wisdom that he’s gained over the years, aggressively talking to the team. When we came in, normally after a game the coaches would have a brief meeting in the locker room before we address players. And as I was coming in the door, I thought maybe one of the coaches had walked in there before me and was giving them the advice. He’s been around. He understands the strengths and weaknesses of our team and what we should and should not be doing, how well we are executing the game plan. And he was verbalizing that about as well as a coach could.”
FSU’s leadership, Evans’ role
RayQuan Evans has had an emotional season, losing his brother in November, taking time to spend with his family but also dealing with grief in the past few months. On the court, he has been inconsistent. There have been clutch moments in January victories over Duke and Miami but Evans is also shooting just 32.4 percent from 3-point range although he’s a modest 41 percent from the floor.
Without Osborne and Polite, Evans’ play as point guard is critical for helping set up the half-court offense but also communicating on both ends of the court and leading. It’s clear Evans, as well as other younger players around him, can do more.
“There’s no doubt that there’s an adjustment for Evans, being basically the most experienced guy on the floor all the time,” Hamilton said. “And he’s had adjustments and challenges that he’s had to go through this year in addition to leading the most inexperienced team we’ve had probably in the last eight or nine years. A lot of that falls on his shoulders, and he’s doing a pretty good job. There’s no doubt about it. We think he is a really good shooter, but as a team we have been inconsistent with our perimeter shooting. And I think a lot has to do with our execution of moving the ball, creating for each other, moving your bodies and adjusting to being the first-year player in our system.
UNC drilling 3s, Bacot a double-double machine
FSU has struggled to defend the 3-pointer this season, with Virginia Tech (18 of 25, 72 percent) and Clemson (6 of 14, 40 percent) each having productive recent performances in wins over FSU. The Seminoles also allowed Pitt’s Ithiel Horton to make 7 of 13 (53.8 percent) of his 3s, although the rest of the Panthers were 1 of 12 from beyond the arc.
UNC is 11th in Division I, making 38.4 percent of its 3s — not far behind the ACC-leading Hokies (42.1 percent). The Tar Heels have a wealth of perimeter shooters, from Caleb Love (41 percent) to Brady Manek (40.7) to RJ Davis (41.2) and Leaky Black (42.9). Manek has made 55 3-pointers, while Love has connected on 50.
“They have four guys shooting 40 percent from 3 and they got a guy inside (Bacot) that has had 18 double-doubles,” Hamilton said. “So they present challenges on the perimeter and challenges on the interior. There’s no question that we have to be at our best defensively because they have proven they are a good 3-point shooting team. And obviously Bacot is a load inside.”
Bacot is among the ACC’s best, along with Duke forward Paolo Banchero and Wake guard Alondes Williams. UNC’s 6-foot-10 junior forward averages a double-double with 16.3 points and 12.3 rebounds, and his propensity to score and rebound is even more concerning when factoring in FSU’s injury concerns at forward and center.
“Bacot has great footwork, has great hands, he’s athletic,” Hamilton said. “He has great touch, a great feel for the game. And he passes well out of double teams and traps. He runs the floor very well. He has that ‘it,’ instinctive rebounding ability, a quick jumper. And if he misses a shot, he has that ability to be focused to go right back up and get it.”