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FSU women's basketball state of the program part 1

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In this first article we will take a look at the recent past for a Seminole program that has made great recent strides.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014-15 Florida State women's basketball had what could only be termed a breakout season finishing with a 32-5 regular season record. The Noles finished #7 in the final USA Today poll which was FSU's highest ranking ever. FSU also earned national respect with the NCAA Tournament Committee rewarding FSU with a #2 seed in the tournament which was its highest seed ever. More importantly, the Seminoles also reached the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight for only the second time in school history.

In addition many program records were set. Those 32 wins were a school record. FSU finished undefeated (14-0) at home for the first time in school history. Florida State made the ACC Championship game for the first time ever. A primary reason for this success was that the Noles were dominant on the boards, shattering single season school records for total offensive rebounds (625), defensive rebounds (986) and total rebounds (1611). FSU was the only Division 1 men's or women's team to out-rebound every opponent in the regular season.

FSU vindicated their lofty status by playing well against stiff competition. The Noles set another school record with six AP Top 25 victories (#13 Duke, #25 Syracuse, #4 Louisville, #10 Louisville, #20 Florida Gulf Coast, and #9 Arizona State). The season ended with an 80-74 loss in the Elite Eight to South Carolina in a game that FSU mostly controlled but couldn't finish.

After such a successful season many Nole fans were thinking that the next year could be even better. After all FSU was bringing back a lot of talent from a 32 win team that was only two possessions short of the Final Four. Sure FSU was losing an extremely valuable starter in senior guard Maegan Conwright as well as coach on the floor Lauren Coleman but everyone else was returning. Also, Florida State would get a full year from All-ACC guard Leticia Romero who missed the first part of the season due to NCAA rules. The Noles seemed primed for a big run. Many were even whispering about the Final Four.

However, the offseason didn't get off to a great start as FSU unexpectedly lost two valuable contributors. Versatile reserve wing Morgan Jones decided to graduate and forego her final year of eligibility at FSU. Steady backup point guard Shakena Richardson decided to transfer to Seton Hall for more playing time and to be closer to family (Richardson is from New Jersey). To some these losses didn't seem too great as neither player was a starter at the end of the year. However, both players were very talented. Jones was a former McDonald's All-American and rated as the #9 overall best high schooler by HoopGurlz while Richardson was rated the #18 overall best prospect by HoopGurlz. Unexpectedly losing two 5* talents in one summer is never a good thing and since their departures were unexpected FSU didn't have time to replace them and only had 10 available players all year.

Even so there were still many positives to look forward to in the upcoming season. As mentioned before, Romero would be around for the entire season. In addition All-ACC center Adut Bulgak would be returning as well as uber-talented forward Shakayla Thomas. With core players Brittany Brown and Ivey Slaughter also returning the future looked bright for Seminole hoops. Even with Jones and Richardson leaving if FSU could stay healthy there seemed like there was enough talent still remaining in Tallahassee for a serious NCAA Tournament run in 2015-16.

As we know FSU failed to reach their ultimate goal of the Final Four but whether or not the year counts as a disappointment really depends on your perspective. Sure FSU didn't meet its ultimate goal but the team still accomplished an awful lot on the season. The Noles finished 25-8 (13-3 ACC) with a Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament appearance. FSU also finished in the top 20 of every poll (#12 USA Today, #17 AP, #15 RPI, #10 Sagarin). Even so, objectively this year saw a slight slippage from last year's breakout season. The team won seven fewer games, lost three more games and perhaps most disappointingly lost in their first game of the ACC Tournament to Miami.

Very few programs can maintain a consistent standard of excellence year in and year out. Vacillation can be expected in year to year results. However, due to FSU's rather short record as an elite or near elite program the question of whether the success of these last two years can be sustained is a fair one. In attempting to answer that question we can look to this past year for clues to help us assess future performance.

Observing the season overall, with only a few exceptions Florida State beat everyone they should have beaten and conversely lost to everyone they should have. In examining the eight losses, FSU didn't lose to anyone who finished outside the Sagarin top 30. The worst loss was to Sagarin #27 Florida on the road in the season opener. Conversely the Noles only had wins against two teams in the Sagarin top 25 (#24 Texas A&M and #25 Miami). FSU went 3-7 against teams that finished in the Sagarin top 25.

There are a few reasons that stick out when trying to explain the slight dropoff in performance FSU experienced this year when compared to last year. The first is a lack of depth. Depth was one of FSU's main strengths in 2014-15. The Noles went at least 10 deep with quality (and in most cases) experienced talent. When Jones and Richardson left that talent base was unexpectedly depleted. Fortunately the Seminoles stayed relatively healthy all year but the absence of those players was still felt. Had Jones stayed she would have been the first wing off the bench (not counting Shakayla Thomas who was really a starter). With Jones gone that duty fell to freshman Maria Conde. Conde played well in her first year in Tallahassee (3.9 pts, 2.1 rebs) and she has a bright future but Jones was an experienced and versatile talent (6.5pts, 3.7rebs in 2014-15). As those numbers suggest, a senior Morgan Jones is a clear upgrade over a freshman Maria Conde and that is no disrespect to Conde.

Richardson's departure was also an issue. Her decision to go to Seton Hall was a good one for her personally. She played more minutes (28.4 for SHU vs. 11.7 for FSU) and scored more points (12.4 for SHU vs. 3.0 for FSU) while almost doubling her assist total (175 for SHU vs. 90 for FSU). However her decision left FSU in a bit of a bind. Suddenly the Noles only had one proven point guard on the roster in Leticia Romero. Because Romero obviously can't play 40 minutes a game the Seminoles had to develop a backup. That duty fell to senior Emiah Bingley. Bingley actually started most games for FSU on the wing but when Romero took a break she filled in at the point. That is not her natural position. This wasn't a huge issue on the surface because Bingley generally did well subbing for Romero. The issue was that playing so much at the point took Bingley away from doing what she does best offensively which was knocking down open threes. Bingley played 357 more minutes this year than last year and yet only had seven more made threes this year. Her 3PT FG average fell from .361 to .336.

A second problem for FSU this year was that the team struggled on the road against good competition. In fairness, this is an affliction that strikes most teams. It's hard to win on the road. However, we are holding FSU to a high standard because the goal was a Final Four. Final Four teams can beat quality competition on the road. The Noles have been outstanding at home. In the last two years only #2 Notre Dame has beaten FSU in Tallahassee (73-66 on Feb 22). FSU lost eight games this year and seven of them were on the road or at neutral sites. We can expect that FSU will continue to be tough at home. If they can learn to win more consistently on the road that will go a long way toward FSU rounding into a Final Four caliber team.

A third issue for the Seminoles this year is that the team didn't experience enough internal improvement. The only players on the roster who unequivocally had better seasons in 2015-16 were Shakayla Thomas and Brittany Brown. This is not to say that they were the only players who played well. There were several players who played well for Florida State on a consistent basis but the Seminoles needed more players to increase their production to get to the Final Four. Remember, they didn't make it with a deeper team in 2014-2015 so to make it this year required even better performances and unfortunately FSU didn't get them often enough from enough players.

The following chart compares the 2014-2015 statistics to the 2015-2016 statistics for all returning players.


2014-2015

2015-2016

Bulgak

12.3 pts 9.5 reb

12.7 pts 7.8 reb

Romero

11.0 pts 5.3 ast

11.6 pts 4.6 ast

Slaughter

10.8 pts 6.1 reb

8.4 pts 6.5 reb

Thomas

10.0 pts 4.8 reb

16.4 pts 5.5 reb

Brown

6.9 pts 4.5 reb

8.9 pts 5.7 reb

Bingley

4.3 pts .361 3pt

6.1 .336 3pt

James

2.5 pts 2.4 reb

5.8 pts 3.4 reb

Degbeon

1.9 pts 1.2 reb

1.6 pts 1.3 reb

As the chart demonstrates, FSU got quality contributions from several players in 2015-2016 but with the exception of Thomas and Brown they weren't appreciably better than 2014-2015. Again, the team didn't have a bad year (Sweet 16 is nothing to sneeze at) however these are some of the reasons why the Noles didn't achieve their ultimate goal of a Final Four.

Florida State has now established itself as one of the top programs in the country. There are only a handful of programs that are clearly superior to the Noles right now. In addition FSU has the look of a program on the rise. In upcoming articles we will discuss some of the keys going into the upcoming season as FSU welcomes a #7 nationally ranked recruiting class along with junior Imani Wright becoming eligible. We will also discuss some of the news affecting the program this summer.