Last off-season I tuned in to an ESPN radio affiliate out of Alabama, where Coach Hamilton was being interviewed. After exchanging pleasantries, the host got down to business, beginning his first real question with, “if this team gets to the tournament...,” and right there, Ham did something he rarely does: he cut off the question.
“Let me explain something,” he said. “There’s no if. This team will be in the tournament.”
That sort of confidence certainly wasn’t widespread. The team would begin the year unranked. The media would pick them 8th in the ACC. And no staff member at Tomahawk Nation would peg them for more than 10 conference wins.
The reason is that they’d been an 8-10 ACC team the previous season, and then lost their three best shooters from a team which hadn’t shot the ball particularly well.
Later in the interview Coach Hamilton would explain that the major task for the staff, aside from preparing so many new guys, would be scheming an efficient attack despite the lack of the most important skill in basketball: shooting. “It’s a big challenge,” he said, “but I think we’ll do alright.”
From the first game versus Charleston Southern, it became apparent that other coaches were going to pack their defenses into the paint and force FSU to beat them over the top.
But FSU never relented. They didn’t become a jump shooting team (291st in 3-pt attempts). They focused on playing at a breakneck pace, and when that didn’t work, they figured out how to attack in tight spaces.
The end result was an offense rated 31st nationally, which is the 2nd best FSU offense since advanced data became available roughly 20 years ago.
Still, that lack of 3-pt shooting proved costly. There are games when you won’t turn the other team over. There are games where they won’t put you on the line. There are games where the other team goes nuts from three. And the only real recovery is to launch (and make) a lot of 3s.
When FSU did that, they were nearly unbeatable. There were 10 games when FSU shot 40+% on 3s, and the Seminoles won nine (hi, Shizz Alston!). There was one where Notre Dame made a ridiculous 15-21 (71%), and FSU still won, because the ‘Noles made 41%.
But when it didn’t happen, there was a problem. And on nights where a bunch of other things go south, then you end up with the Xavier game. For the year, the Seminoles made 34.7%, which was just below the national average of 35.0%.
Still, the attack was impressive. Out of 351 Division I teams, there wasn’t a single team that had a more efficient offense than FSU unless they were better from the arc. Cincinnati was the only team to even field a top 50 offense while shooting worse from three than Florida State.
So when Coach Hamilton said that they’d need to scheme how to have an efficient offense without shooters, they undoubtedly succeeded. (The recruiting that led to a lack of shooters certainly needs to be critiqued, but that’s for another day).
So what about the future, when FSU won’t have Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Isaac, or most likely Xavier Rathan-Mayes to bail them out?
PJ Savoy (40%) and Braian Angola-Rodas (42%) certainly showed flashes, but it will be interesting to see how well that translates when they’re a focus of the defensive scouting reports. Several of the incoming freshmen can stretch defenses, but with freshmen you never know until they are faced with Division I competition and coaching. Terance Mann, CJ Walker, and Phil Cofer are all capable, but will their shots continue to develop?
In is an interesting question for next year, and for now there is no answer. Luckily, this is the year that the team gets a foreign trip, and I’d anticipate a lot of experimentation with lineups. FSU has a stable of players who can slash and score, but will they have the shooters to open up the middle?