We ran through our nonconference schedule at a level right about at most of our expectations. Not over-achieving, by any stretch, but pulling in the Old Spice crown, pitted against dropping the UF and OSU games, about balances out where we thought we would end up: a respectable, but not overly impressive, 12-2 final OOC record.
In the ACC, we've just pulled in that crucial 9th win and will be favored to pull in #10 this weekend. In terms of preseason expectations, I think a 10-6 mark is something all but the most optimistic would have readily accepted from the outset, while 9-7 would have still been swallowed, though somewhat begrudgingly, by most.
Going forward, to me, there is little doubt at this point that we will win at least 1 of our next 2, and we will draw a middle-ish seed in the tournament. We'll say 9 or higher. It would be great to climb above that 8-9 game to avoid a 1-seed in the 2nd round of the NCAAT, but a lot remains to be determined in terms of ACC seeding, and that will likely dictate how high we can achieve in both of our upcoming post-season tournaments.
So we evaluate the season in light of at least a 9-7 ACC record, 12-2 OOC, and a middle-tier seed in the NCAAs -- isn't that right about in line with expectations, balancing out those Sweet 16 hopefuls with those that thought we'd miss Toney too much to even make the Dance? The achievement has come by an unpredictable path; dropping so many home games in exchange for a surprising slate of road wins (at Carolina?), but now that we're close to solidifying an overall respectable performance, are we happy?
I think it's unavoidable to not see the talent and potential, offensively, and thereby lament our offensive efficiency. We should simply be more threatening than we are with the skill of the players on this squad. On the other hand, the defense has somewhat offset that disappointment, in achieving a level of consistent dominance beyond what most would have ventured to guess. The top defense in the NCAA by almost any measure, with a recent anecdote to demonstrate its prowess: Aminu -- 0 points? Again, on the whole, we are who we thought we were. It is the nature of this squad, and our fate as fans: very high-highs pitted against unbearably low-lows.
Going forward... much to the ire of some, Hamilton will surely be retained. To those that find this disappointing, I think you should be encouraged that he has, in fact, made changes to his crop of assistants over his tenure, which have clearly benefited the team, and helped us to continue advancing in our level of achievement. For instance, many rightfully credit the hire of Enfield as allowing us to finally get off/over the NCAAT bubble -- great defense coupled with solid free throw shooting is a decent recipe for success. Successively, some have indicated that Crawford's expertise led to the implementation of the new defensive wrinkles we've seen this year: most importantly, a menu of zone defenses to leverage our interior dominance. This tweaked defensive approach seemingly has allowed us to achieve at a level, defensively, to compensate for our youthful woes in FT shooting (noting that the development of Snaer in this area, highlighted by last night's closing act, should demonstrate that this is already improving and will not be a concern going forward, possibly aside from someone with the initials C.S.) Will we perhaps see one of our current assistants move on, and bring in a new face that can help our guards limit turnovers and manage the offense with more efficiency? I contend that simply dropping our turnovers by about 4 per game would make us practically unbeatable.
Regardless, I believe the future looks bright. While the professional future of some players keeps next season shrouded in some mystery, there are some things we can count on. First, we will assuredly have a strong frontcourt. Defensively, whether Alabi leaves or not (50/50?) will have some consequence, and while we will inevitably miss Reid's journeyman commitment to "doing the little things," the combined influx of Kreft and James, coupled with Shannon's prospective development as a 2nd year player -- in just his 2nd year off of reconstructive knee surgery -- should compensate for some of this (potential) loss. Offensively, whether Alabi leaves or not, Xavier Gibson is FINALLY showing the development we hoped for and is beginning to tap into his limitless athletic potential. Ultimately, Alabi's decision to go pro probably dictates whether we simply have a very formidable frontcourt vs. potentially (again) the best in the conference, and by a wider margin than this year. I do not believe our remaining recruit, Okara White, will have a huge impact, simply due to the depth we already have in the post.
Regarding the backcourt, Kitchen, Loucks, and Dulkys have suffered bumps along the road in their 2nd year with the program, but all will be back next year, and each of them has matured and improved in their respective roles. Snaer is almost assuredly a future All ACC performer. He already performs at that level, albeit with some inconsistency, this season, and there is no reason to believe he will not progress and improve consistency; it is clear he simply has too much desire and ability to not attain those goals. The final element for next year's backcourt is a big one, the young man by the name of Ian Miller. I believe he will bring every bit as much to the table at the PG position that Snaer has brought to the 2, though he will have the luxury of growing into his role without immediate, dire need (as Snaer has faced this season and handled admirably well). In sum, I believe the backcourt could very well perform as well as any other in the conference by the end of next season.
You surely have noticed one glaring omission from the above: Chris Singleton appears to be the X-factor for both the offense and defense for next season, to the point that his future determines whether we make a huge stride forward in 2010-11, or simply maintain a similar level of NCAAT quality, but not quite elite achievement. Currently, when he chooses to show up, there are few that can handle him. That same perspective, I believe, addresses the team's prospects for next year: if he chooses to return, I believe there are few teams that will be able to handle the Seminoles, and that is something even the most vocal critic of this program can get excited about.