The Florida State basketball team entered Saturday with a less-than-stellar 0-2 ACC record and a looming matchup with the Miami Hurricanes, a veteran-laden squad which had jumped out to a 12-1 record and No. 12 ranking in the top 25. It was evident coming into the game that the Seminoles would need an impressive all-around performance to compete with a talented UM team in their house. Instead, the 'Noles struggled with shooting, ball security, and elsewhere, falling 72-59 and starting ACC play 0-3 for the first time since the 2006-2007 season.
The most disappointing aspect of the Seminoles' performance could be that some undesirable trends seem to have arisen. They were plagued by many of the same issues that doomed them in their first two conference games.
The first of these trends was a slow offensive start. Florida State started the game 1-9 from the floor, spotting Miami a 10-2 lead, and had to play from behind for the third time in as many conference games. From there, FSU was able to cut into the lead, making it a one-possession game on three separate occasions, but failed to bring it all the way back, never leading or even tying the game.
This has been another trend of Florida State's early conference play and can likely be attributed to the slow starts. In all three conference games, the Seminoles have erased the early hole they put themselves in before allowing a run that put the opposing team right back in the driver's seat, which proved to be the difference in each of those games. Against Clemson, Florida State evened the score at 54 with just over eight minutes left before allowing the Tigers to go on a 14-5 run that put them in control. The same was true against UNC when the Tarheels sparked a 17-6 run after Florida State cut their lead to two in the second half. This happened for the third time in as many games on Saturday when the 'Canes went on a eerily similar 19-7 run immediately after FSU made it a one-possession game early in the second half.
An additional reason why Florida State never seemed fully competitive in Saturday's loss was lackluster performances from their freshmen phenoms, Bacon and Beasley. Those two combined to shoot 9-28 (32.4%) from the floor. However, their stats only tell half the story. The other, less forgivable half of the story was their questionable shot selection. The freshmen regularly drove into the lane and put up heavily contested, low-percentage shots when they had a teammate with a significantly better shot opportunity. These issues were compounded by the fact that this lackluster shot selection spread like wildfire to the rest of the team, making the comeback that FSU was attempting nearly impossible. Thankfully, this has not yet established itself as a trend for the Seminoles. If it does, it may well doom their season.
When aiming to reduce a deficit and/or upset a ranked team on the road, productive perimeter shooting is a near necessity. Unluckily for Florida State, they finished a miserable 2-19 (10.5%) from outside the arc. All the usual contributors from outside were off their game. Devin Bookert and Dwayne Bacon hit the Seminoles' only three pointers and did that on three and four attempts, respectively. The usually-consistent Malik Beasley was 0-4 from the perimeter and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who almost singlehandedly led the 'Noles to a win at Miami last season on 6-11 from outside the arc, was 0-3.
FSU had a period of dismal outside shooting in non-conference play before shooting a respectable 15-41 (36.6%) in the losses to Clemson and UNC. As such, whether the dismal three-point performance against Miami was an anomaly or the beginning of another downward trend is still up in the air.
In an effort to try something new, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton spent the majority of the game in a new 2-3 zone defensive scheme. Although this proved successful at times, there were also moments where multiple defenders looked like they had no clue what they were doing. The mixture of a young team still learning how to defend at the collegiate level and a new defensive scheme that they had not previously used proved too much for Florida State and the growing pains were very evident at moments as the Hurricanes had a number of easy baskets in the paint. Miami also had many open looks from the perimeter but were often unable to take advantage, finishing 6-24 (25%) from outside, well below their season average of 38.4% from three-point range.
It wasn't all gloom and doom for Florida State though. One bright spot for the Seminoles in the loss to Miami was their improved rebounding. Fresh off a delightfully bad performance on the glass that saw them get outrebounded by UNC, 50-33, and allowed the Tarheels to corral 18 offensive rebounds, they held their own against the 'Canes, limiting UM to seven offensive rebounds. However, that number is misleading as four of those offensive boards were awarded in the box score as team offensive rebounds, meaning a shot was blocked out of bounds or something similar. As such, Miami only managed three true offensive rebounds, a vast improvement from earlier this week against North Carolina. This showed that, going forward, there is still hope in the frontcourt, even after the announcement that Phil Cofer is out for the season.
With FSU opening ACC play 0-3 for the first time in nearly a decade and some negative trends beginning to develop during the toughest stretch of their season, there's no denying that these next few games are crucial for the Seminoles. This young team, which has looked very much the part over the past week, has some work to do if they have aspirations of returning this program to the NCAA Tournament.