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Florida State basketball keys to the season, part 2

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In part one of this five part feature, we looked at the importance of interior defense. Now we're on to what needs to happen after getting the stop.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

College basketball has 32 conferences. The ACC might be the biggest of those conferences (no conference has more teams), it might be the best conference (for the first time in several years), but it's also the slowest conference. ACC teams averaged 61.8 possessions a game in league play last year. The next slowest was the Mountain West at an even 63. The last major conference to play as slow as the ACC was the 2008-09 version of the Big Ten.  As far as I'm concerned, playing this slow isn't a style, it's a problem.  The current rules allow teams who want to slow it down to dominate the tempo. It is much easier to slow teams down than it is to speed them up.

In the past decade college basketball has been getting consistently slower. The ACC is out(under)pacing the NCAA's decline. Last year the NCAA changed the rules to make it more difficult to guard people, and the tempo rose slightly though this was more attributable to an increase in free throw rate than in any actual execution.

NCAA Tempo

FSU is not one of the problem teams. During their 4 year tourney run FSU's offense was among the 40 fastest in the nation every year (out of 350 D1 teams). The overall game tempo was about average because the Seminole defense forced such long possessions from the opponent. Since then, FSU has been faster than average but haven't had the depth to really get out and run as much as Ham would like.

Now that has changed. During Monday's exhibition game FSU was running off of made baskets. They are more athletic than most teams, and now have the guard depth to substitute liberally, so it's off to the races.

Sort of.

Unfortunately there is a huge problem, and that brings us to the 2nd key of the season.

TAKING THE CHALLENGE

"I'm hungrier than those other guys out there. Every rebound is a personal challenge." Dennis Rodman

In order to run, in order to put tremendous pressure on the defense before three seconds have elapsed on the shot clock, you have to be able to get defensive rebounds. And FSU, quite simply, cannot.

Florida State is an elite offensive rebounding team, but terrible on the defensive end. Last year they were 329th in the nation, and 14th in the ACC.

Part of the problem is caused by how Ham defends the post. He always fronts the post - meaning Kiel Turpin or whoever will play in front of their man when he attempts to gain post position - to make post entry passes more difficult. And he always has weak-side defenders attacking any shooter who gets close to the basket. This leaves FSU out of position for rebounds.

Rebounding is also complicated by the fact that Ham prefers a 3-guard lineup. But FSU's guards are huge this year, and they need to rebound.

Kiel Turpin is back, which could help, but he wasn't a particularly good defensive rebounder when he was healthy. His 13% DR% was below Michael Snaer's 13.7%. Last year Okaro White grabbed 16.7% of defensive rebounds, which is where Turpin needs to be. Michael Ojo was slightly better at 18.1%, but he doesn't play many minutes.

FSU absolutely needs players to step up. Montay Brandon was a much better rebounder as a sophomore than he was as a freshman (12.3% v s 8.5%). Devon Bookert was a bit better (10.5% vs 8.6%). And Aaron Thomas has posted nearly identical 11% seasons. All three of them need to be better. One of the reasons I always raved about Derwin Kitchen is that he grabbed 15% of the defensive boards for his career. That's where Montay, XRM, and AT need to be.

The other wildcard is what happens with the power forwards. Jarquez Smith is an outside-in guy, who plays with more finesse. Whereas Phil Cofer is as tough as they come, which is no surprise considering his father was a Pro Bowl linebacker. If Cofer separates himself through rebounding, don't be surprised if he plays more minutes than the offensively gifted Smith.

FSU doesn't need to be a great defensive rebounding team, but if they can get three or four more per game than they got last year, that's that many times the other team doesn't have a second chance, and it's also that many more times FSU can get out and run the break.