SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 25: Darius Theus #10 of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams goes to the basket against the Florida State Seminoles during the southwest regional of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Alamodome on March 25, 2011 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
With pre-season basketball set to kick-off tomorrow (6 pm – the Jam with Coach Ham), FSU season previews have been coming out from a variety of sources. Several common threads in recent previews are the 8 seconds shy the Noles fell from making the Elite 8 last year; the comingling with Duke as the only ACC program to win at least ten regular season games each of the past three years; the fact that the Seminoles have the 3rd most ACC wins since expansion; the solid recruiting classes brought in each of the past few years. All of that is great, but I don’t care about any of it. What I care about is this year. And this year starts tomorrow.
However, in order to consider what might happen this year, we do need to re-examine a few things from the recent past. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to prattle on about our accomplishments. I’m just going to lean on the data for insight – and that’s what this part of the review is covering. Part Two (up in about a week) will break down the roster, examine my favorite topic (the schedule), and provide a prediction for the season.
When you last saw the Noles, Chris Singleton was turning his head at an inopportune moment allowing a VCU layup in overtime in the Sweet 16. Then Derwin Kitchen raced down-court and failed to get a shot off in time. Well, the 2011-12 Seminole team will look very different, as Chris Singleton was a 1st round selection of the Washington Wizards, and Derwin Kitchen graduated. So what do the Noles have for this year? The roster looks like this:
IT TAKES 12 TO TANGO: The way in which Leonard Hamilton rotates players is a tad baffling. When it works, he looks like one of those guys who can multiply a pair of three-digit numbers in his head. When it doesn’t, it looks likes he’s doing nothing but pulling names out of a hat. Whatever it is, he plays a lot of guys. If you’re on scholarship, you play. There’s no turning a 12 man rotation into 8 come conference play and riding it out from there. If he thinks you can contribute, then you’d better be ready.
In a recent review I did - Virginia Tech – we saw that the Hokies returned less than 42% of last year’s minutes. That’s tough. 60% - 65% is about average, and if you’re on the upside of that figure than you can count yourself lucky. Here’s last year’s roster,with minutes played, and the returning players are in bold:
CLASS MATTERS: Shortly after last season ended I wrote a piece illustrating how offensive skills increase with experience. And that matters for this team, because this team is experienced. Just wait until we start playing: announcers and columnists are going to expound ad nauseum about the depth of experience on this roster. Six seniors they’re going to tell you. Six! And if offensive rating increasing the longer you’re in a system, then look out, FSU might have some offense. The problem is that out of those six, only three have been in the system since they were freshmen (Deividas Dulkys, Xavier Gibson and Luke Loucks), and those three have missed 17 games (and the associated practices) due to injury. Two of the other three have been in the system a year (Bernard James and Jon Kreft), and one is brand new (Jeff Peterson). If you were to add up the days those six have spent with the coaches it doesn’t match what four seniors would have accumulated had they all come to FSU straight out of high school.
We also have three juniors, though to be fair one is brand new (Kiel Turpin) and one has missed 21 games due to injury and didn’t play basketball for over a year prior to college (Terrance Shannon). The other (Michael Snaer) is legit. So yes, we are a team heavy with upper classmen, but no, we’re not nearly as experienced as people are going to lead you to believe.
THE RUNNING NOLES?: For years FSU has been a grinding team in a conference that likes to run the floor. Now, two things have changed. 1) After several seasons of being just around the NCAA average in tempo, the Seminoles jumped last season to 68.4 possessions per game, which was 78th in the country (out of 345, good for the top quartile). 2) The ACC – as has been well documented here at Tomahawk Nation – has been slowing down over the past four seasons. Suddenly, the Noles are faster paced than the average ACC team.
What does that mean for this season. Four new coaches are entering the conference (leaving
ATTENDANCE: Remember all those things I mentioned that other FSU previews are including (three 10+ win ACC regular seasons, etc....)? What effect has that had on attendance? If you went to the UF,
Luckily, FSU has gotten smarter about promoting tickets this year, and is pushing their variety of packages. Not only are they likely to sell a few more this way, but the fans who buy them will be more likely to show up. But this is still a football school, and football boosters get tickets they never use.
THE BEST DEFENSE IN THE COUNTRY: Yes, FSU had the country’s best defense last season. They allowed 0.862 points per possession (ppp) (1 of 13 schools to allow less than 0.9). And yes, FSU led the country in defense the season before that as well. In 2009-10 they held opponents to an even more impressive 0.845 ppp (though in that season there were 23 programs which held opponents under 0.9). In fact you have to go all the way back to 2007-08 to find a season in which the Seminoles allowed more than 0.9 ppp (0.925). Curiously enough that was also the last time the Seminoles had an offense that could be considered anything close to high-major quality (but be patient - I’ll get to the offense. For now, I’m concerned with the defense).
The Seminole defense will be great, once again, and we’re predicting 0.88 ppp for this season, which should be good enough for top-10, and potentially top-5. Yes, we lose Chris Singleton – who may be the best defender to ever come through the program – and yes, we lose Derwin Kitchen who was underrated as a defender. But Leonard Hamilton has proven one thing in his career, and that is that he can prepare a defense. We’ll break down exactly how he does that later in the season, but for now just know that he likes to do three things - 1) pressure the ball 25-28’ from the basket, 2) have the bigs hedge on ball screens on the perimeter without switching defensive responsibility, and 3) attack the shot from multiple angles. Outside of Duke, FSU might be the best team in the country at forcing the worst shot in basketball: a long 2, and even that shot is usually contested.
Speaking of Duke, let’s revisit that ‘best defense in the country’ label. There are a number of announcers – Doug Gottlieb, Len Elmore, a few others – who tend to call a lot of nationally televised FSU games. And they’re always quick to jump on the defensive prowess of Leonard Hamilton coached teams (of course, they usually cite fuzzy stats like FG% to back their argument). But what they haven’t mentioned is that in the two seasons that FSU has legitimately had the best defense in the country – it’s actually been Duke that has had the best defense in conference-only games. Two years ago FSU finished 2nd in the ACC. And last year FSU finished 3rd. Ironically, the team that finished 2nd last season is one that fans and columnists typically point to as a team that doesn’t play defense – the North Carolina Tarheels. Of course, the reason people don’t think of
OH, THE PAIN: Do you want to hear about the offense? Really? If you read beyond this sentence then you can’t blame me for any short-term damage it does to your brain (or your bar tab). Last year FSU scored 1.031 ppp, which was 134th in the country. Considering that there are 345 Division 1 teams, that doesn’t sound too terribly bad. But let’s be honest – we’re not fighting recruiting battles with the SWAC or the Big South. We’re bringing in solid (and sometimes elite) high major prospects, and so we need to look at our offense against other high major programs. Limiting things to just the BCS conferences, FSU’s offense was ranked 65th of 75 teams. In other words, of the teams we’re recruiting against, 87% had a better offense. And we were a Sweet 16 team (the first ever team with an offense ranked worse than 100 to reach the Sweet 16, by the way).
Why were the Noles so bad? Three things: turnovers, 3-point shooting, and free throw shooting. FSU turned the ball over on 23% of their possessions. Had FSU limited things to the NCAA average (20.1%), then that would have meant two more possessions a game where something good could have happened. That doesn’t sound like much, but considering that on possessions when they did not turn the ball over FSU averaged 1.34 points. So an extra couple turnover free possessions equals 2.68 points per game. Obviously it’s not statistically accurate to just add that number to all of our final scores, but for fun, let’s do that. The UNC game where Harrison Barnes beat us with a three at the end? FSU lost that game by two. The ridiculously ugly game one of the ACC Tourney? The Hokies beat us by one. Our Sweet 16 game? It was an overtime game, and would that overtime have ever happened if we had given ourselves two more shots at the basket? So two possessions very well could have resulted in a 12-4 regular season, advancement in the ACC Tourney, and a shot at the Elite 8.
The Seminoles three point shooting was also atrocious. They only converted 33.4% of attempts. The NCAA average was 34.4%. There’s another 0.6 points a game. And the free throw shooting was terrible as well. FSU made 66.5% of freebies. The average across the country was 69.3%. Add another 0.6 per game. So if FSU were just average in those three categories – and this is amongst 345 teams, not just limited to the 75 high major teams – we’re looking at another four points a game. Those four points were the difference between a good team and one with a legitimate shot at a National Title.
The offensive prediction for this season 1.06 ppp, which should put us somewhere between 90th and 100.