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Reflections on FSU’s loss to UCF

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No. 15 Florida State’s 27-game home winning streak came to an end Saturday night as UCF knocked off the Seminoles 86-74 in a shocking result. Below are some observations from the game:

FSU took UCF and the Tucker Center for granted

Coming in this was a definite trap game for Florida State against UCF, which even after Saturday’s win over the Seminoles is only 93rd in the KenPom.com ratings of 357 schools (FSU slid to 25th). Semester was over, holidays just around the corner and playing a decent in-state team with many kids that never got offers to play at FSU. The ingredients were there for an upset, but no one thought the Seminoles would lose. Because they never do in Tallahassee. 

The Knights had other ideas. They played excellent basketball in the second half, and made tough shot after tough shot to spark an upset. Three players scored at least 20 points for UCF, including 32 from Brandon Mahan. More on that later.

The Tucker Center has been magic for FSU the last few years. This is just the fourth time FSU has lost in the building in four seasons. However, it takes a certain level of intensity to protect the home court. Perhaps that is what has been most impressive about the Seminoles in Tallahassee. That they have always just found a way to win, to a point where it’s expected that every close game will end in FSU’s favor. On Saturday night, you can blame the lack of energy on a limited, Covid-19 affected, sparse crowd. Or on any number of factors, but bottom line is FSU got out-worked and out-hustled by a team that wanted it more. That’s an area the coaching staff will surely cover. 

Defense

Through the first four games, Florida State was playing excellent defense. While there were some issues stopping dribble penetration (FSU has almost always struggled to do this), the Seminoles were getting into the passing lanes and causing deflections or turnovers. 

Against the Knights, FSU struggled mightily to stop the drive and UCF consistently made the extra pass or got to the rim. This caused heavy rotations by the Seminoles, which led to open threes. Give UCF credit, they hit everything. They were incredible in the second half, hitting over 57 percent of their shots and 60 percent of their threes. And when they weren’t making contested or open jumpers, they were getting to the free-throw line and converting at a high rate. 

Leonard Hamilton mentioned to the media after the game he was disappointed with stopping the dribble penetration and felt his team has been able to get away with it against other teams up to this point. Not against the Knights and now FSU has to get back to the drawing board. 

Who is the point guard?

Five games into the season and FSU is still trying to figure out who is the best ball handler on the team. Trent Forrest and Terance Mann were such important players for the Seminoles over the last few seasons because of their steadiness with the ball in their hands. Especially Forrest, who was a pure point guard. This Seminole team doesn’t have a true PG, Scottie Barnes is not a natural “one,” even if he does handle the rock and pass well for his 6-9 frame. Barnes looked like a freshman against UCF, especially when the Knights went to their zone. He will continue to develop and learn to diagnose certain things when leading the charge. That being said, a lot was being counted on RayQuan Evans to step into a more natural point guard role. He hasn’t looked comfortable quite yet taking on a bigger role after being Forrest’s backup last season. Evans has been hesitant, not finished well, and hasn’t defended at a level that would make Hamilton happy. Too many times this season the offense looks stagnant, because no one is taking charge of the offensive set and the ball just gets tossed around until there’s five seconds left on the shot clock, leading to a contested shot. Evans is a key for FSU because there really isn’t anyone else on the roster that can truly be counted on as a natural, college point guard and Barnes is still learning. There are a lot of good shooters on the team and his progression this season will be very important to watch for the Seminoles.     

This and that

M.J. Walker continue to be spectacular in his senior season. Walker has matured his game to take advantage of over-pursuing defenders and his jumper has become better every season. He is also driving to lane more aggressively, getting to free-throw line and hitting timely shots when the Seminoles really need them late in games. He’s on his way to having an All-ACC type of final year in Tallahassee.

RaiQuan Gray continues to impress in each game this season. The quickness he has worked himself into has been fun to watch. He’s down in bad weight, developed his three-point shot, and still has great vision as well as elite ball-handling for his size. If he continues to play at this level, an NBA future isn’t out of the realm of possibility for him.

Free throws were again a cause for concern for the Seminoles. 16-26 isn’t going to get it done and might be the difference in a close win or close loss (UCF extended its lead late in garbage time as FSU fouled and pressed). 

FSU was outrebounded by UCF 32-25 and gave up 10 offensive rebounds on just 27 misses (37%), that led to 12 second-chance points. Hamilton said after the game his team wasn’t rebounding well and it showed against the Knights.

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