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Notes: Osborne productive despite injury, Warley showing improvement

Malik Osborne wants to play and is trying to fight through an ankle injury. Figuring out how to manage his practice time and minutes during games is an obstacle the Florida State coaches could face for the near future.

“Right now, I’m a little apprehensive,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Visiting with the doctors, they don’t think that there’s anything to be overly concerned about. That changes in relation to the game, the bumps and bruises and the physicality. I constantly want to make myself aware of where he is. I just allow the doctors to advise me as to his condition. I’m always erring on the side of caution to make sure we don’t ever put youngsters in situations that are not correct.

“He’s not practicing very much at all out of caution, which obviously hurts his stamina.”

Florida State (13-5, 6-2 ACC) is riding a six-game winning streak, which includes victories over Duke and Miami that has vaulted the team to the top of the ACC standings heading into Wednesday’s game at Georgia Tech (9 p.m. on ACC Network). Both are quadrant 1 wins that are the foundation of the Seminoles’ resume, an argument for why they should be viewed as an NCAA Tournament team. 

But concerns over Osborne’s injury cloud the team’s long-term outlook. The veteran typically logs heavy minutes as a forward or smaller center and that versatility on the defensive end of the court has been valuable. Osborne is also averaging 8.2 points and 7.3 rebounds since FSU’s re-start on Jan. 1 at NC State, although he has shot just 25 percent from the floor (it helps that he is 21 of 22 at the free-throw line in his last six games).

“He’s extremely helpful with the way we play defense because he’s quick enough to contain perimeter players and is big and strong enough to battle the guys inside,” Hamilton said. “We had intended for him to be more of a perimeter player at the 4 position. But our big guys were slow coming around, and we wanted him on the floor. So we’ve had to make that adjustment. We have not been able to take advantage of his perimeter shooting ability as much as I hoped we would. He’s a warrior. High IQ. He gives us great leadership off the court.”

Hamilton and the coaches wisely rested Osborne against North Florida on Thursday in what was the middle of a three-game stretch within five days. He logged 32 minutes of playing time in the OT win over Duke and coaches were able to limit his minutes to 23 at Miami. 

The good news is there aren’t many tight turnarounds left on the schedule, giving Osborne at least two days off between gamedays all the way to Feb. 19. FSU plays at Duke that Saturday evening but would then play a rescheduled game at Boston College on Monday night. The bad news is he may have to play on a bad ankle through the remainder of the postseason, which is unforgiving in the ACC Tournament with back-to-back games and then (potentially) an NCAA Tournament with Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday games.

It’s plausible Osborne takes a night off or the coaches try to see if they can live with a mix of centers like Naheem McLeod and Tanor Ngom as well as walk-on forward Harrison Prieto against a weaker opponent. If the bigs can avoid foul trouble, it may work even with Osborne on the bench. But there’s also little margin for error the rest of the way as the Seminoles would need to win eight of the remaining 12 games to get to 21 wins ahead of the ACC Tournament and feel good about their resume of making the field of 68 for the NCAA Tournament.

Even with Osborne’s shooting struggles from the floor, there’s no doubting how much of an impact his energy and toughness means to the team.

“It’s just inspiring,” guard Caleb Mills said. “He’s still hurt. He’s playing on a hurt ankle. He’s producing. That’s really all you can ask for. Being a role model for our younger guys, showing what true toughness is like.”

Warley’s progress

Jalen Warley has faced plenty of pressure as a highly regarded point guard. There were plenty of expectations but Warley is coming off one of his better performances in the win at Miami. 

Warley had four points (on 2 of 4 shooting) with four assists, two steals, a rebound and no turnovers. His assist-to-turnover ratio this season is 1.9-0.8, which is quite good for any guard let alone a freshman.

“I am just so pleased with the progress that Jalen has made,” Hamilton said. “He’s playing great defense. He’s giving us tremendous effort. He’s long and lanky. He just liked what we’d like to have in our guards. He’s versatile. He’s improved his perimeter shooting tremendously. He’s a great finisher around the basket, he has a high IQ. He only needs experience. There’s no hesitation on anybody’s part in terms of when he goes into the game. I feel safe, I feel like the ball is safe in his hands. He’s aware of everything that’s going on.”

Mutual admiration

A few years ago, Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner sat in the interview room at the Donald L. Tucker Center and gushed about what Hamilton has done at FSU. To win games, graduate players and keep guys happy with such a deep rotation, Pastner argued there should be a statue of Hamilton in front of the arena.

Pastner praised Hamilton again before and after the teams faced off in the ACC Tournament title game last March, and he heaped praise once more on how FSU’s coaches have handled this team.

“He’s a Hall of Famer, should be in the Hall of Fame for all the success that he’s had at multiple programs,” Pastner said in a zoom call with ACC media on Monday. “They’re a really good basketball team and they’re starting to play their best basketball right now. I understand about playing a lot of young guys because we have a lot of young guys on our team. So I get it.”

Hamilton has watched Pastner’s rise through the coaching ranks and followed what he did at Memphis before arriving at Georgia Tech in April 2016.

“I remember being hired at 26 years old to be an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky,” Hamilton said. “Now in my fourth year of coaching, I’m an assistant at Kentucky at 26. And I actually thought that I was prepared to be a head coach. He was the head coach at Memphis at 31 years old. He had been at Arizona with the hall of famer Lute Olson. And he was coach (John) Calipari’s assistant at Memphis. I thought he was ready.

“I think he’s creative. He’s innovative. He’s energetic. He’s been able to create a defensive system that creates a lot of problems for people. I just think that he is he’s doing an outstanding job. And he’s one of the more challenging teams for us to prepare for because of his style, his defensive system and how much indecision his system creates for most teams that they play against.”

Thoughts on rankings

FSU is the ACC leader going into the last week of January and isn’t ranked in the AP top 25 or coaches’ poll top 25. The Seminoles are receiving votes, but Duke is the only ranked team. Rankings are really just a good discussion point, and they don’t reflect how good FSU has been playing in January.

The Seminoles aren’t rated as highly in the NCAA’s NET rankings — they are 58th — as North Carolina (51) or Virginia Tech (56), even though each has more losses. VT has nine losses, including a recent one at Boston College (156). The NET rankings will likely sort this out as more games are played, but the point of this is there may be a strong emphasis on head-to-head victories when looking at postseason resumes. FSU will face Virginia Tech at home on Saturday and play at North Carolina on Feb. 12. 

One more projection: KenPom.com has FSU winning its remaining six home games and at BC to finish the regular season at 20-10. Not bad for a team that was 6-4 in November and December.

It’s hard to see an ACC team win 21 in the regular season, pick up at least a victory in the league tournament and then be left out of the field. But to be safe, FSU wins over VT and at UNC would help strengthen the argument.

Quoting

This comment is a familiar one from Hamilton but it’s perhaps more appropriate in a season like this one with so many new pieces. 

“I don’t want to start making any declarations one way or the other because we’ve played eight (ACC) games,” Hamilton said. “And we need to continue to keep finding ways to win. We’ve won a lot of close games. Those games could have gone either way. I’m just being realistic. We’re at a point where we’re fortunate to have won some close games in our league. We don’t have any reason to stick our chest out and rest on anything. We got to continue to keep getting better if we are going to have some opportunities available for us at the end of the season.”