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Basketball Breakdown: FSU salts away double-digit road win over Tulane

’Noles grabbed their first road win of the young season.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a thoroughly dominant win against UF, the FSU men’s basketball team traveled to New Orleans for a true road test against the American Conference’s Tulane Green Wave. Favored by 14.5, Florida State started as one might expect in an early season road game coming off a big home win—sloppy. However, Leonard Hamilton switched things up after halftime, throwing a zone at Tulane that provided utter confusion for a solid 10 minutes. This was long enough for FSU to extend the lead to 15 and keep the Green Wave at an arm’s length the rest of the game, good enough in the end for an 80-69 win.

Above the Rim:

  • As noted above, the game was ragged at the start for both teams. The first half featured more turnovers than a bakery, with FSU posting a 23% TO rate, while Tulane was above 33%. Several of FSU’s turnovers came as players went to the hoop for wide open layups, only to fumble the ball away.
  • The refs must have been getting paid by the whistle because they came fast and furious. In fact, FSU went to a walk-on big man (Harrison Prieto) midway through the first half, as the Seminole scholarship bigs (Christ Koumadje, Mfiondu Kabengele, and RaiQuan Gray) combined for 7 fouls.
  • The defense came out disruptive, once again. Now, the Seminoles had some moments where the Tulane big men (featuring several capable perimeter shooters) were able to stretch the court and knock down jumpers, but, overall, FSU took Tulane out of what Mike Dunleavy wanted his team to do. The ’Noles jumped passing lanes, swatted shots, rebounded well, and just generally created havoc.
  • The offense really is flashing some potential. There are several shooters on the perimeter, a couple of strong slashers, and plenty of length and athleticism to grab offensive rebounds (hello 38% offensive rebound percentage!) and lobs. But perhaps the biggest asset is the number of willing and capable passers. Through two games, the ball isn’t sticking to any one player, and the ball-reversals and drive-and-dish kick-outs have been sharp.
  • The margin of victory was 11, and that’s important this year. As Josh detailed before the game, margin of victory is now a component of the new “NET” formula used by the committee to select and seed NCAAT teams. It’s still just one component, but it’s relevant, nonetheless. However, the MOV factored in is capped at 10. That means anything more than a 10 point win looks the same, but 10 is absolutely better than 7. After leading by double-digits for most of the second half, it would’ve been a downer to only win by 6 or 7. However, the ’Noles hit their FT’s down the stretch, got a few stops, and finished the job.

Court Level:

  • PJ Savoy is much more active on both ends of the floor so far this season. His shooting touch has obviously come out hot, but he’s doing more than just standing in the corner waiting for the ball. He’s playing good defense within Hamilton’s defensive principals, cutting to the basket (even if he fumbled the pass out of bounds), and moving without the ball. And did I mention hot shooting?
  • Trent Forrest is becoming a tremendous defender. He harasses ball handlers all over the court, routinely picking their pocket. And he’s like a top-notch defensive back in football, jumping into passing lanes to ignite the fast break. On the other end of the floor, Forrest continues to look confident and in control running the offense. And best of all, he hit 3-4 free throws in the final minute to extend the final margin over 10. And this isn’t bad, either:
  • Terance Mann hasn’t looked dominant in any one area so far this year, but he does so many things well. Need an offensive rebound? Mann’s there. Need a nice hustle play on defense? Terance does it. Need someone to attack the rim late in a possession. T-Mann obliges. And he even hit a three for the second straight game, after only making 13 last season.
  • M.J. Walker continues to look far more confident than last year. His awareness on defense is leaps and bounds better, resulting in crisp and timely rotations. And he’s shooting the ball with a Savoy type of swagger. Most importantly, he’s displaying a willingness to dive all over the floor for loose balls, something not always demonstrated by 5* recruits. This wasn’t the best offensive game for the sophomore, but despite being off with his stroke, he still found ways to make an impact on the game, and that’s a big step for a youngster.
  • Anthony Polite looks like he’s going to be a solid contributor this year. Nice athleticism and a strong basketball IQ allows him to be a solid defender in this system, which gets him playing time. And his quick release, range out to 23 feet, and capable ball-handling means he’s not a liability on offense.
  • Tulane’s Kevin Zhang gave the Seminoles trouble. He’s too big for guys like Forrest, Mann, or Walker to defend, and he’s too quick for guys like Koumadje, Kabengele, or Gray. This is precisely when Phil Cofer is missed. Now, the good news is Zhang is a legit player. He chose Tulane over some impressive offers. So believe it or not, FSU won’t face too many mismatches like him this season. Nonetheless, if FSU wants to be an elite team, Cofer’s health is crucial.
  • Gray still looks to be finding his way a little bit on the young season. He flashed his high basketball IQ with a nice dish to Walker for 3, but then got caught late on several defensive rotations and blew an easy layup when it looked like he was surprised he was that wide open. Hiccups are to be expected for most youngsters, but FSU needs to start getting productive minutes out of the big fella as they prepare for potential matchups against ranked foes such as LSU, Villanova, and Purdue.

Looking Ahead:

Florida State, now 2-0, takes the week off before facing a better than you’d expect Canisius team at home on Monday, November 19th. Having a week of practice after two solid opening opponents should be fantastic for the development of guys like Polite, David Nichols, Devin Vassell, and Gray.