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Fire coach Hamilton? Deconstructing the Florida Flambeau

99% of Tomahawk Nation readers aren't rabid basketball fans. But there are a few of us. A few who read and comment in every hoops discussion. I'm in that group. And as long as I've been a member of Tomahawk Nation there's been a consistent debate about firing coach Hamilton. That debate has been going on for years, and before TN I participated elsewhere. Every basketball thread on this site (and every other active FSU site) devolves into a fire Ham debate. And so, as a basketball writer here, I do my best to inject reality into the discussion, but nothing more. Because frankly, I don't care. Fans don't decide the fates of coaches, unless you happen to have a lot of money. I just do what I can to help Bud carry on the TN tradition of having the best informed FSU fans around. So I trudge through those debates. Over and over and over and over.

And because it doesn't matter, I've never written about it. Until now.

An assistant editor at the Florida Flambeau wrote an article this week stating that Ham should be fired if he can't get the offense fixed by season's end. And we all know that that is not going to happen. Only four of coach Hamilton's 9 FSU teams have had solid offenses (top-80 of 345) and only 1 had been elite (top-25). And this isn't one of them. And it's not going to be. So in effect, the author was saying he needs to go. And if the author thinks he needs to go, then clearly he thinks that is the best way for the program to move forward.

Readers making comments in a thread are one thing. Editors from newspapers that have a circulation of 25,000 are another. And so I have to respond. I have to inject reality. And so, word for word, here is his article, and here is my response.

They say defense wins championships. But, I'm sure those same people said, "The team with the most points at the end of the game wins."

Such an easy concept to grasp but yet it has seemed to escape the game plan of Florida State basketball head coach Leonard Hamilton. Hamilton's bread and butter is defense, and he even released a new slogan for his team this season: "Junkyard D".

Agree completely. The offense has been bad, and the slogan was assigned to this team. It probably would have been more in the realm of journalism to state that 4 of 9 offenses have been top-80 in order to avoid the appearance of wanting to fire him because of a handful of games rather than his resume, but whatever.

The Seminole defense has lived up to the name. FSU is tops in the ACC in opponent field goal percentage and blocked shots, holding opponents to a .364 shooting mark and averaging 6.6 blocks per game.

All true. Though I'd prefer the writer use more meaningful statistics like eFG% and block%, but that's nitpicking. It's unfair to expect all sportswriters to have a solid understanding of the statistics of the sport they are speaking about.

Unfortunately this supposed malicious defense has not translated into victories. It seems Hamilton has allocated so much practice time to defense that the offense is expected to be terrible.

Okay, here's where our thoughts begin to diverge. How a team with a terrible offense is 10-6 if the 'malicious defense' isn't translating into victories is beyond me, but the larger point is that FSU isn't winning. Sure, FSU has lost some games, but they also have solid wins over UCF (who beat UConn) and UMass (Virginia Tech came after this article was written). Certainly not world beaters, but both will be critical RPI top-100 wins. It's not like FSU has slipped to pre-Ham levels where they hadn't once finished better than 7th (out of 9 ACC teams) in eight years, and were losing home games to Furman and Western Carolina in front of dozens of rabid fans.

Florida State's roster is loaded with big me—seven Seminoles are six foot eight or taller—but the team still relies on perimeter shooting. Most recently against Clemson, FSU would pass the ball several times on the perimeter using patience to finally set up an open shot. When the open shot was available, they could not cash in.

Lots of stuff going on here. Yes, it's true that FSU has seven players at 6'8 or taller. However one of them (6'11 Kiel Turpin) is a redshirt, another (6'8 Antwan Space) broke his foot before the season started, and since he's a freshman who needs to learn the system he's essentially done until next year, and another (6'8 Terrence Shannon - who also happened to have the highest offensive rating on the team (irony alert!)) was lost for the season when he dove for a loose ball in the UConn game which FSU lost in overtime. So in reality, four Seminoles are 6'8 or taller....

....but the team still relies on perimeter shooting. A) that's simply not true. FSU is 197th in the percentage of shots taken from beyond the arc. And B) if the author not only watched the games but also understand what it was that he was seeing he'd know that every team FSU faces collapses their defense focusing on the interior players and attempting to dilute FSUs impressive ability to grab offensive boards. Teams are running under screens and fronting FSUs bigs with backside help.

As for the Clemson game, if the author thinks it's justifiable to hire and fire coaches based on whether or not their players make open three point shots in a single game, then he certainly has that right.

To beef that up with stats, FSU is the worst 3-point shooting team in the ACC, converting just 30 percent of their long distance attempts. Their 70.6 points per game is fifth in the conference and is fractions of points away from dropping to seventh. The poor shooting is not limited to behind the arc; as a team, FSU makes a measly 44 percent of their shots.

Excellent, beef away. FSU, indeed, is tied for the worst shooting 3-point team in the ACC. So it's a good thing the Noles are 197th in attempts. As for a per-game average, that's completely meaningless. In basketball, tempo is king. Each team gets the ball the same number of times, so it's essential to score more than they do when you get the ball. In that regard, FSU is even worse than the author understands. It's just hidden by being more uptempo than most ACC teams. The Seminoles currently are battling it out with Clemson, Wake, and Georgia Tech as the four teams wresting for the 8-11 spots (BC is so bad they're out of it), and FSU is currently 10th.

FSU indeed makes a 'measly' 44% of their shots. But how bad is that? Translating that to a meaningful statistic (eFG% - which gives greater weight to 3-pt shots since they're worth 50% more points) FSU has an eFG% of 49.3% which is slightly above the national average. So how does a team with a slightly above average shooting rate end up with the 10th ranked offense in the ACC? Well, the author never addresses that (hint, it involves no-look passes to the cheerleaders).

The team’s struggles can be because of the losses of Derwin Kitchen and Chris Singleton, two locker room leaders. But I doubt this because 27-year-old senior Bernard James is on the roster along with three other seniors and two grad students.

Leonard Hamilton has made the game of basketball boring for his players. It is no longer fun. With all the focus on defense, Hamilton has vacuumed all the excitement away from offense.

This, for a writer, is inexcusable. The game is boring for his players? If so, that's a HUGE indictment against this staff. Where is the source to back this up?

FSU's leading scorer, Michael Snaer, averages 13.2 points per game. That is No. 14 in the ACC—three pairs of players ahead of Snaer are on the same team and he is the only Seminole in the top 25.

Who cares, basketball is a team sport.

Hamilton's offense this season, to say the least, has been embarrassing so far. FSU has the worst assist-to-turnover margin in the ACC.

More meaningless stats but I'm not going to argue. However you look at FSUs assist rate it is bad.

In two games this season against Ivy League opponents, Hamilton's offense had its worst outings.
Versus Harvard, the ’Noles scored just 41 points. Against Princeton, they scored 10 points in the first half.
Through 15 games a year ago, FSU started off 11-4. This season the ’Noles are 9-6, which includes those inexcusable losses to Harvard and Princeton.

A loss to Harvard is 'inexcusable'? Based on what? The name on their jersey? Last I checked Harvard was 14-2 and is in the top-25 of the Coaches Poll.

As to last year, FSU did begin 11-4 (or 11-5 if you count the next game where they got completely waxed by a non-Tourney Virginia Tech team). Though FSU did that against a much weaker schedule and lost a game (to Auburn) that was far worse than any loss this season. Schedule's matter. Last year at this point FSU wasn't even in the bubble discussion. This year FSU is on the right side of that bubble.

Leonard Hamilton has been great for this program, there is no denying that. He has taken the Seminoles to three consecutive tournament berths including last year's unforgettable run to the Sweet 16.

But if the offensive woes cannot be corrected by season's end, it might be time to fire Ham.

Let me get this straight. For the 2nd time in program history FSU has been to three consecutive Tournaments. Attendance is up significantly. Since ACC expansion only Duke and UNC have won more games. The Noles just brought in two consensus top-100 players and have two more enrolling with the next class. On Saturday ESPN Gameday will be parking in Tallahassee for the 1st time ever and FSU will be playing in front of 12,000 fans. FSU is going to fire THAT guy? Because you don't like the aesthetics of his wins?

NC State, who has far more resources than FSU ran off Herb Sendek because all he did was tie the school record for most consecutive Tourney appearances (sound familiar?). NC State boosters threw their weight around attempting to land any number of high profile coaches, who all laughed at them. Why would anyone in their right mind coach somewhere where you get fired for making several consecutive trips to the Tourney? In the five seasons since then their best ACC record has been 6-10. They turned into a bottom feeder, and they brought it on themselves.

Wake Forest, who has far more resources than FSU fired Dino Gaudio because all he did in his three seasons was go to the Tourney in season 2 and season 3. Wake Forest boosters threw their weight around attempting to land any number of high profile coaches, who all laughed at them. They hired Jeff Bzdelik and immediately became arguably the worst team in ACC history.

College sports are all about money. Schools with the most money are the teams that consistently win. Unfortunately, the way schools account for expenses varies at every institution. So there's no way to compare exact expenses. But the revenues are trackable. In fact, the US Dept of Education requires it. So before FSU fires its coach it would be good to know what to expect. Certainly FSU isn't competing on a level playing field with Duke. Or UNC. Or Maryland. But what about the rest? Well, in the ACC, FSU is dead last. 12 of 12. So FSU, despite having the 3rd or 4th best program in the conference, should fire their coach because the fans don't like the way the offense looks? (the football equivalent would be Duke firing their head coach because he could only use defense to turn them into the 3rd best gridiron program in the conference) Who is going to explain that in the interview? Why yes Mr Stevens, we know you could go to some other program and double your salary, but we do expect you to come here instead and compete in the ACC despite having the fewest resources (and competing doesn't mean 3rd!) and if your competing doesn't look pleasant enough then you're canned.

There's a reason a common coaching axiom goes like this: if you start listening the fans, pretty soon you'll be sitting with them.