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FSU basketball preview: the offense

FSU basketball tips off in just six days

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

A lot is being made of FSU returning their top seven scorers and 87% of the minutes. But what exactly are they returning? Last year’s offense was awful. They ranked 163rd nationally in offensive efficiency. Leonard Hamilton has coached 13 seasons at Florida State and you have to go back to his very first season to find an offense as bad as the one that took the court last season. They were careless with the ball (323rd in turnover%), were the worst 3-pt shooting team in Ham’s tenure (298th), and managed to be pedestrian on the offensive glass, which is typically the one place where Florida State teams can be counted on to excel.

So it’s not that big of a deal that FSU is returning almost all of the same players, right?

Well, not exactly.

FSU was in a bizarre spot last season, especially after the dismissal of Aaron Thomas. They had talented pieces, but their weaknesses were such that it rendered those pieces largely ineffectual.

Enter the 2015 recruiting class.

The five player class not only brings a tremendous infusion of talent, but they also fill the exact holes that caused Florida State to struggle.

Without Aaron Thomas, the Noles featured just one long range threat. Devon Bookert is one of the best shooters ever to play in garnet in gold, but it was hard to find him good looks. With no shooters on the floor, opposing defenses collapsed everything, shrinking the amount of floor they needed to defend (except for someone chasing Bookert). This made it difficult for slashers like Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Montay Brandon to find driving lanes, and it made it almost impossible for the post players to get clean looks before the double-teams arrived.

Newcomers Dwayne Bacon, Terance Mann, Benji Bell, and Malik Beasley all come to FSU with the ability to score. They can all stretch defenses. They can all handle the ball when necessary.

Where last year’s team featured no depth and few long range options, this year’s team is deep and suddenly there are multiple guys that can stretch a defense.

The returning players have all had an offseason to get better, and thanks to the new guys they’ll be taking the court against defenses much more spread out than what they faced last year.

Expect FSU to take advantage and keep multiple shooters on the floor at all times. The offense is built around the pick-and-roll, and Coach Hamilton likes to have at least three guys on the floor who can run it - hence his long obsession with combo guards. Florida State will run a lot of action with four or even five guys on the perimeter. They won’t hesitate to pop Jarquez Smith or Phil Cofer for 3s. We even expect Boris Bojanovsky to attempt some 3s this year, which is something he’s never done in college.

In addition to stretching opposing defenses, the new guys will help accomplish two other important things.

First, having real depth will allow FSU to practice full speed at all times. It was difficult to get much work in last year, especially late in the season, when XRM, Bookert, and Brandon were all playing 35+ minutes a game. Iron sharpens iron, and allowing the players to go at each other full speed every day is the quickest way to get better.

Second, these new guys are athletes. Mixed in with all of the impressive athletes already on the roster, FSU will be able to run. Opposing defenses will key on this all year. Get used to it. They’ll all try and slow Florida State down. One thing Leonard Hamilton has always done well is teach transition offense. And this team should be able to do that. Last year, only 23% of FSU’s shots came in transition. I’d like to see that number closer to 30%. That’s a couple additional buckets a game.

This will be a new looking offense, it will be fun (at times) to watch, and it will have a pretty high ceiling. If XRM takes control, and the older guys buy in, and the new guys understand their roles, then this could easily be an offense that ranks in the top 30 or so in the nation.

If the players struggle to mesh, then something up to around No. 75 in the nation is more realistic.

A few years ago FSU was a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament with the No. 81 offense. When Al Thornton was a senior they missed the dance with the No. 20 offense. The difference is that one team played elite defense and one didn’t. So what about this team?

We’ll look at the defensive projections tomorrow.