The FSU men's basketball team wrapped up its out-of-conference schedule with an upset of the school down in Hogtown, but began its 18-game ACC slate with a disappointing loss on the road to Clemson. The Noles met or exceeded realistic expectations during the first six weeks of the season, but the degree of difficulty is being ramped up big time.
With the gauntlet awaiting, we decided to do a round table discussion:
1. What is one positive surprise and one disappointment from OOC play?
Matt Minnick: The pleasant surprise for me has been the improvement on defense. I expected us to be better on D just because of increased depth, but I did not expect a top 25 defense (*editorial note, the Noles had a top 25 defense prior to the loss to Clemson, but it's now outside the top 40). And this, despite the Noles still struggling mightily with transition defense. I've been disappointed with our strength of schedule. I knew it wouldn't be outstanding, but as of this writing our OOC SOS sits at 226th in the RPI and 250th on kenpom. If FSU sits on the bubble come Selection Sunday that non-con SOS is a really good reason for the Committee to leave us out.
Curt Weiler: For me, the pleasant surprise has been how quickly this team has adapted to competing and winning in close games. Early in non-conference play, the Seminoles lost a pair of close games away from home to Hofstra and Iowa when they were just unable to get the important shots to fall late in the game, letting very winnable games slip away. However, in the six-game winning streak that they ended OOC play on, Florida State showed they can win tight games against good opponents when they defeated both VCU and UF after letting go of early leads they had in each game. The ability to win close games will be very necessary as the 'Noles enter ACC play. My disappointment through OOC play has been FSU's perimeter shooting. Through non-conference play, Florida State is shooting 31.0% from 3-point range, tied for 294th in the country and last in the ACC.
David Visser: I think we all expected big thing from Dwayne Bacon, as he was, by far, the most hyped of the newcomers. But I've been pleased with how well the others have contributed as well. Beasley has been the team's most consistent player, Terance Mann is a an energetic yet steadying force on the floor, Benji Bell is a smart player with great vision, and Chris Koumadje plays much tougher and meaner than many players with his height and slim frame. On the downside, the slow starts have become ridiculous, and I'm truly surprised, given FSU's youth and energy, how often they continue to occur.
Josh Pick: The pleasant surprise for me has been the consistent play of Malik Beasley. I knew he'd be good, but he's been great. He leads FSU in scoring, rebounding, 3-point shooting, and free throw shooting. The biggest disappointment has been the play of Montay Brandon. I thought the senior would be the team's best defender and a pleasant sense of production on offense. However, he started the year on the bench with a groin injury and hasn't seemed to recover his explosiveness.
Michael Rogner: I liked that we didn't lose any bad games. Last year we had four losses to teams ranked >100 by kenpom.com. This year it was a neutral site game to Hofstra (86), and at Iowa (11). The disappointing thing was injuries. We've seen how hamstrung teams have become over the past couple years of awful injury luck, and now we're without Michael Ojo and Robbie Berwick, and had a limited Devon Bookert, Montay Brandon, and Phil Cofer. And then Cofer missed the Florida game and may miss the rest of the season. It's nearly impossible to have an elite defense without a deep roster, and FSU doesn't have the deep roster we expected.
Andrew Miller: First of all, the 'Noles didn't suffer any terrible losses that could make or break their selection for the tournament. If they were able to come out of Iowa City, Iowa with a victory with how Iowa has looked recently, I think it could have given them a huge boost that they may need. Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasly have been everything they were advertised as and will be great centerpieces for ACC play. The disappointment had to be the Paradise Jam tournament where a first round loss cost FSU a chance to play some better teams in the tournament, leaving their OOC RPI SOS at 226 which could be the defining reason Florida State is left out of March Madness.
2. Based on what we now know, give me your predicted conference record and finish in the standings for FSU.
Matt: When I originally contemplated this question I was going with 11-7. And then we lost to Clemson and Phil Cofer had surgery. The first 7 ACC games are brutal--perhaps the toughest stretch of any team in the country--and we just put ourselves behind the 8-ball. We have to find a way to start at least 2-5 and 3-4 would be ideal. I'm thinking we knock off a couple top teams at home and find a way to finish 10-8, putting us 7th in the league.
Curt: I have tempered my preseason expectations a smidge and now think Florida State will finish ACC play with a 11-7 record, good enough to be on the brink of a Top 4 seed in the ACC tourney and a double bye.
David: I'm going to deduct a pair of conference wins from my preseason prediction of 11-7. One is due to the loss in Clemson on Saturday, the other corresponds to an added loss I see occurring because of the recent Phil Cofer injury announcement. So I'll go 9-9, with an ACC finish of eighth.
Josh: I'll go with 9-9. The Noles start ACC with a brutal slate, but have some easier games down the stretch run. As long as the players don't lose all confidence early in conference play, they should be fine.
Michael: Prior to the year I went with 10-8, but the injuries are going to cost at least one game if not more. So I'll go 9- 9 with an 8th place finish.
Andrew: I may be giving them too much credit, but I think as the season goes on, the chemistry between the guys will only improve, leading to my gutsy 13-5 ACC record prediction.
3. Who finishes first in the regular season, and how many ACC teams put on dancing shoes come March?
Matt: Miami and UVA tie for first (both only play 5 games against the other ACC teams ranked in the kenpom top 12), but neither win the ACC title. 10 teams enter the ACCT with a shot to make the Big Dance, but only 8 actually make it.
Curt: Virginia will win the ACC regular-season title for the third straight year but does not win the ACC Tournament. I believe that when the dust has cleared and bubbles have been burst, there will be 9 ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament.
David: There's a good deal of schizophrenia at work in college basketball this year, which I think favors the proven regular-season approach of UVA-- which once again will result in neither an ACC Tourney title nor a deep NCAA run.
Josh: I honestly have no idea. UNC and Duke are the most talented teams, but they're dealing with injuries to Kennedy Meeks and Amile Jefferson, respectively. I'll go with Tony Bennett's Virginia Cavaliers.
Michael: It’s hard to pick against Duke or Virginia, but for the best team come March I’ll go with Louisville, assuming the injury to Trey Lewis isn’t serious. They’ve got that look to them. They remind me of those great Rick Pitino teams that walk on the court knowing that they’ll play harder than you will. Plus, they’re really talented. To win the ACC I’ll take Virginia solely because their schedule is easier than Louisville’s.
Andrew: I think Duke will end up winning the ACC Championship with NC State, Pitt, Duke, UNC, Miami, Virginia, FSU, Louisville and Notre Dame making the tournament.
4. Who is your projected ACC POY and ACC Freshman of the Year?
Matt: Malcolm Brogdon for POY and Brandon Ingram for FOY.
Curt: Grayson Allen for POY and Dwayne Bacon for FOY.
David: Yeah, this just feels like an award earmarked for Allen. But as far as FOY goes, I'll guess Bacon, even though Beasley may wind up with a better overall resume.
Josh: Grayson Allen will challenge for the ACC scoring crown, and he plays for one of the darlings on Tobacco Road, so he's my pick for POY. As I mentioned earlier, Malik Beasley is actually having a better season that Dwayne Bacon, but the latter has the bigger name and will win Rookie of the Year.
Michael: Who will deserve it? I’ll take Malcolm Brogdon or Anthony Gill. Who will win? Grayson Allen. Whenever anyone puts up those kind of numbers for Duke or UNC – despite being surrounded by much more talent than all the other teams – that player will win awards. Freshman of the Year will go to Duke's Brandon Ingram.
Andrew: Grayson Allen for POY and Dwayne Bacon for FOY.
5. What needs to happen in order for the Noles to meet or exceed your expectations in conference play?
Matt: Our perimeter shooting needs to consistently be at or above 35% and we cannot sustain any more front court injuries.
Curt: To compete with the big dogs of the ACC and avoid bad losses, the freshmen (Beasley and Bacon) and XRM need to play at a consistent level. If one of those three is off, it becomes very tough to pull an upset and if two of those three are not having a good night, the loss likelihood goes significantly up, regardless of who FSU are playing.
David: The 'Noles have been noted for their "Killer Bs," but unless FSU develops some kind of killer D, it may once again wind up in the killer NIT.
Josh: In order for Florida State to finish .500 or above in conference play, Xavier Rathan-Mayes needs to become more consistent on offense, Boris Bojanovsky needs to not disappear for large stretches of games, and the whole team needs to buy-in on defense. Otherwise, it's another season ending with the NIT.
Michael: To meet my expectations Montay will need to contribute more on the offensive end. We'll need at least two of "those" games from XRM, and Dwayne Bacon needs to be more aggressive from the tip, keeping FSU from some of those slow starts.
Andrew: To meet my 13-5 prediction will be a challenge, to exceed that may have to take one of the best seasons in Florida State Basketball history to happen.
What do you think about these questions? Share your thoughts in the comments.