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Observations from FSU basketball’s exhibition win over Valdosta State

The positives and negatives from another night of preseason basketball.

The Florida State men’s basketball team got a little taste of its own medicine on Thursday as they hosted the Valdosta State Blazers in their final exhibition tune-up before the regular season commences next week, coming away with a 104-76 win.

VSU plays an up-tempo full-court trapping defense and an offense that’s unafraid to hoist quick shots— much like Florida State. Of course, the ‘Noles struggled often against full-court pressure last season, particularly with the second pass, which is key to breaking the press. FSU was better against the Blazers, typically hitting the diagonal cut toward center court that gets the ball ahead much quicker than dribbling, as well as in the middle of the court with momentum.

That responsibility fell to the same Seminole starting five that we saw a week ago. Highly touted freshman Jonathan Isaac once again got the start at forward for FSU, and led the way with a game-high 20 points. Michael Ojo started at center and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds, and Dwayne Bacon, who started at guard along with Terance Mann and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, led Florida State with five assists.

The ‘Noles continue to demonstrate a propensity for sharing the ball, recording an assist on half of their 38 field goals, and the player who looks to have developed the most as a passer is definitely Bacon, who’s really acquired a knack for finding others in the right position both on the break and in the half-court game.

XRM shot rarely against Southeastern a week ago, but was more assertive offensively, posting 14, second behind Isaac for FSU, while still notching four assists. Frosh CJ Walker again spelled Rathan-Mayes at point, and as Head Coah Leonard Hamilton said he would after the opening exhibition, Trent Forrest ran the point some as well. He’s less a natural there than Walker, but he’s a smart player who can give the Seminoles’ a bigger lineup by running the point at 6-5. Rathan-Mayes went 0-3 from three-point range, as consistency from beyond the arc continues to elude him, but the ‘Noles have gotten some help there from a surprising source: sixth-man Phil Cofer, who’s now made 3-4 from long range over the two exhibitions after working to add the three-ball to his offensive repertoire during the offseason.

Florida State turned the ball over 17 times total, which isn’t so terrible for facing Valdosta State’s pressure and trying to go as fast as FSU does— although the former certainly affected the latter, as the ‘Noles took substantially longer to get up shots than last week. Against Southeastern, the Seminoles took their first shot within 10 seconds on 72% of their possessions that were not interrupted by a foul or turnover before that mark. Against Valdosta State, that clip dropped to about 57%. Translation: until FSU can show the ability to not just survive the press but also punish it, teams looking to slow down the ‘Noles will probably roll out some full-court heat.

Of course, Florida State will go five-full on defense as well, as it did again on Thursday night, showing different looks by at times guarding the in-bound passer and on others switching off to clog up passing lanes or double-team. Isaac’s expansive length was particularly effective harassing the inbounder, on multiple occasions getting a deflection to plunge the Blazers’ offense into chaos before it could even get started.

FSU also went deeper into its bench on Thursday, going 12-deep instead of 10-deep. In addition to the aforementioned Cofer, Walker, and Forrest, Chris Koumadje and PJ Savoy also worked into the rotation. Koumadje hit another couple of smooth, indefensible jump hooks, while Savoy had to leave the game with an ankle injury after just five minutes of play, although he was walking around on it afterward; due to the injury, he was the only of the 12 players not to log double-digit minutes.

We also got our first looks at Jarquez Smith and Braian Angola-Rodas this season, as the former missed last week’s tilt because of an ankle injury of his own. Smith still looks to be carving out his role in this latest version of FSU hoops, while Angola-Rodas has a nice stroke from deep and plays good defense both on and away from the ball, and he was one of three ‘Noles with a pair of steals, XRM and Forrest being the others.

One issue that the entirety of the Seminole defense had was establishing position to grab rebounds, as Valdosta State snagged 18 offensive boards, which actually helped them take more shots than FSU, 77-68, in a frenetic game that included 37 total turnovers. No, that up-and-down style is not conducive to establishing rebounding position, but still, general disarray aside, VSU’s tallest player is 6-8, and Florida State should not be allowing that many second chances, even if many came on long rebounds from a Blazers team that launched 35 threes and only made nine.

However, FSU’s flaws were certainly not due to a lack of effort. At one point in the second half, with the ‘Noles, up 20+ points in this overblown scrimmage, Florida State brought the crowd to its feet when numerous players hit the deck diving for a loose ball in the VSU backcourt. It’s an exercise in futility to glean too much from the results of these exhibitions— but hustle like that, regardless of situation, could say a lot about the mindset of this team moving forward.