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Hamilton's Offense: How Far Can FSU Go?

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Florida State, currently 5-1 in the ACC and a half game behind Duke, is recognized as having a poor offense combined with a defense that just might be the best in the country. The Noles are ranked 152nd in offensive efficiency, and 2nd in defensive efficiency. And bear in mind that 2nd out of 345 teams is elite level defense. There’s a common misperception that defense comes from having great athletes, while offense comes from great coaching. But there are a ton of teams that have athletes on the level of FSU, but yet, they aren’t as good on the defensive end. As Coach K has stated, "if defense weren’t a learned skill, every team would be good at it." So FSU fans should be thrilled about the defense, but what about the offense? What does being ranked 152nd in the country mean?

To find out what it means we looked to the NCAA tournament. Coach Leonard Hamilton has brought FSU from the depths of the ACC to a program where fans should feel like they expect to make the tourney. If not every year, then certainly at least more than half of all seasons. We have talent, though not on the level of UNC or Duke, and we have a coaching staff well versed in the rigors of ACC play. Regardless, this season we’re off to a 5-1 start in conference play and are currently on the 7/8 seeding line in most mock brackets.

So we examined FSU, and we examined the NCAA Tournament, since the hiring of Leonard Hamilton for the 2002-03 season. Here are FSU’s national rankings in offensive and defensive efficiency under Ham:

 
season oEff dEff
2002-03 183 21
2003-04 62 14
2004-05 114 75
2005-06 59 44
2006-07 22 55
2007-08 80 43
2008-09 100 12
2009-10 130 1
2010-11 152 2
 
   

As the table shows our defense has always been solid, if not elite. Remember, this isn’t football. There are currently 345 teams that we’re competing against for rankings so having a top-25 ranking in any category means more than it does in football. But a lot of those 345 teams are overmatched in out-of-conference play, so the top 200 tends to contain the majority of major and high-mid-major teams. (In all, in combined efficiency, the Big 6 conferences currently have 4 teams not currently ranked in the top 200).

Back to the table. Our offense was terrible in Ham’s 1st season, but then had an acceptable run before sliding in 2008-9. Of course the 08-09 season coincided with our defense suddenly becoming among the best in the country, as well as FSU making two consecutive NCAA tourney appearances. And this year there's a likely shot at achieving three tourneys in a row for the 2nd time in program history. So what’s better, our balanced teams in Ham’s middle years that were kicked off the bubble, or our defense-first teams that the NCAA committee has liked? Obviously, it’s better to make the tourney than not make the tourney (and yes, the committee sucks), but what happens once you get there?

We looked at every team with an offense ranked 100 or worse that received a seed of 12 or better for the past eight years. The cutoff for at-large teams is typically the 12 seed, with 13 and above making the tourney because they were the champions of some crappy conference. So cutting it off at 12 seemed logical. In all, 19 teams with an offense ranked 100 or worse have qualified since Hamilton was hired. Two of them were FSU. Here they are:

 
year team seed oEff dEff record
2002-03 Oklahoma St 6 118 6 1-1
2002-03 Cincinnati 8 105 14 0-1
2003-04 Richmond 11 107 11 0-1
2004-05 Iowa St 9 127 6 1-1
2004-05 Minnesota 8 123 10 0-1
2004-05 Nevada 9 132 15 1-1
2004-05 Old Dominion 12 129 45 0-1
2004-05 St Mary's 10 102 73 0-1
2005-06 Iowa 3 129 1 0-1
2005-06 S Illinois 11 148 9 0-1
2005-06 Bucknell 9 126 27 0-1
2005-06 Seton Hall 10 102 81 0-1
2006-07 Illinois 12 111 3 0-1
2006-07 Old Dominion 12 103 47 0-1
2006-07 George Washington 11 148 60 0-1
2007-08 Kent St 9 109 46 0-1
2008-09 Florida St 5 100 12 0-1
2008-09 Dayton 11 150 27 1-1
2009-10 Florida St 9 130 1 0-1
 
   

Remember, currently FSU has the ranked 152nd in offense. Not a single team has qualified as an at-large with an offense that bad in 8 years. The teams ranked 100-150 have gone a collective 4-19, with none going past the round of 32. Had the teams simply held seed they would have won 6 games, so in essence, not many teams with an offense >100 make the tourney, and when they do they win less than they’re expected to. And none have made it to the Sweet 16. Keep in mind that FSU has 11 games left, so this year's data isn’t final. The question then is whether the Seminoles (in a league where 5 of the top-15 defenses reside) are going to improve their offense into the top-100 range, or will FSU - assuming they make the tourney - count on being the first team in Ham’s era to make a decent tourney run despite having a bad offense?