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FSU basketball preview: The defense

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NCAA Basketball: ACC conference tournament-Florida State vs Virginia Tech Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Before we talk defense, let’s remember what defense is supposed to look like. It’s been a while. Some of you are new. You may not remember the days when FSU was the standard bearer for how basketball was supposed to look on one end of the floor.

FSU played defense like few other teams. Starting in 2008-09, the Noles defense ranked 8th, 2nd, 1st, and 10th nationally. This from 350+ teams. For our football friends with their fewer FBS teams, that’s something like having a top-3 defense for four straight years.

There may be better clips out there, but this one is my favorite. It has everything you need to know about how FSU plays defense. Ball pressure 35’ from the basket: check. Guards in textbook help position halfway between their man and the ball, one step off the passing lane with full awareness of both man and ball: check. Switching a small to a big on a ball screen: check. Big fighting his way to front the post: check. It goes on and is beautiful to watch.

The best way to watch is to click five times, and spend each view focusing on a single Florida State player. If you’re only going to watch once, then I recommend going with Jon Kreft.

Kreft. Remember him? A backup. That’s the other key thing about this video. This is what Florida State’s defense looked like while being run by bench players:

So what went wrong? Why has the team been pedestrian on defense for four straight years?

Part of it can be blamed on recruiting. The class that just graduated didn’t have the skills to be elite on defense. Then there were the injuries. The past four years have been a nightmare. Complicating this was a team chemistry that seemed tepid at best.

So what’s to expect from this team?

Are the new recruits a better fit?

It’s hard to say from just two public scrimmages, but at the least they’ll provide something Seminole teams have not had recently, which is depth. This class also has more defensive potential. Jon Isaac, Trent Forrest, and Braian Angola-Roadas are really long and athletic. PJ Savoy’s father played professionally for 12 years. And while CJ Walker is small and maybe not the quickest player on the floor, he’s here because he’s tough and resilient.

Is there a Michael Snaer in the group? I doubt it – that’s an awfully high bar – but there is at least potential that they can all man up.

That leaves the returners, none of whom have played on an elite defense. But Michael Ojo and Phil Cofer are back – and that’s huge. Those are the two on the roster built to do the dirty work. Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes have the tools, but need to improve their effort. And then Jarquez Smith, Terance Mann, and Chris Koumadje all flashed potential last year, but need to make that leap.

So how good or bad will Florida State’s defense be?

They’ll be better – barring another bad injury year – but how much better? After all, FSU has five new guys.

Last year’s team was 62nd nationally. Sneaking into the top 50 seems to be the low end for this team simply due to the improved depth, where – if everything clicks – I think 20-25 could be possible.

They won’t be elite, but they have the potential to be really good.

Here was my offensive prediction. Tomorrow we’ll post the staff’s season predictions, as well as answers to some fun questions.