The FSU basketball team has gotten off to a tremendous start, checking in at 8-1 and No. 10 in the nation. And they’ve done this versus the 2nd most difficult out-of-conference schedule faced by any ACC team (only Louisville has played a more difficult schedule, per kenpom.com), and without their leading returning scorer from last year.
Now Phil Cofer is practicing with the team, and is expected to make his season debut on Monday vs SE Missouri State. He missed the first nine games after injuring his foot in practice.
So - if he comes back in full health - how will his return impact the team?
Modern basketball is all about using ball screens to create mismatches in space. To create that space you need shooters on the perimeter, because when they’re a pass away from the ball the defender needs to be closer to shooters than to non-shooters.
Phil Cofer was recruited during the transition offensive era for FSU. We all thought he would fill the Okaro White role of a post guy who could stretch out when needed. Instead, he’s been developed into a spot up shooter who is flexible enough to punish teams in other ways when the matchups are right.
Last year he attempted the 2nd most 3s on the team, and knocked down 38%. This threat creates space for his slashing teammates (Terance Mann, Trent Forrest) to operate.
Quite simply, Cofer is the engine that makes the small ball lineup go. There are two basic ways to defend ball screens. You can hedge, meaning that the off ball defender jumps out on the ball handler and slows them down long enough for the primary defender to recover. But this opens up roll and pop opportunities for whoever set the screen. The other way - and the way that Coach Hamilton prefers - is simply to swap defensive responsibilities. The switch. Last year Cofer guarded every position on the floor. So he can switch with anyone, and he’s the only player on FSU’s roster who can do this (Mfiondu Kabengele and Terance Mann are often asked to, but their effectiveness is limited against certain types of players).
So you have lineup possibilities like Fi, Cofer, Mann, MJ, Nichols that have the size to defend anyone, but the quickness and shooting to be a load offensively.
I can already picture the end of the season (hanging multiple banners, am I right?!!), and it looks like a dejected Florida State team walking off an NCAAT floor after losing a close game and committing far too many turnovers. The carelessness with the ball has been alarming, and is keeping FSU from having a top-15 offense to go with their defense.
Enter Cofer, who turned the ball over less than any FSU player last year. He turned the ball over on just 12% of his possessions, and he’s only turned it over more than twice in a game two times since his freshman season.
He won’t solve the problem, but will provide a steady presence.
When Phil is healthy, people get dunked on. Here’s to his health.