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The historical weirdness of FSU basketball’s defensive success

The statistical fingerprint leads to questions of sustainability

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

First, a quick history note for the undergrads in the house. Back in your elementary school days, Florida State basketball had a defense that wrecked souls. Over a four-year period the team ranked 7th, 2nd, 1st, and 10th nationally in defensive efficiency. They were physical to a degree that now looks bizarre on film. They blocked a ton of shots. They shut down your stars. On offense they were borderline inept, but it hardly mattered because the defense would grind teams down on a wheel.

But then the NCAA changed the rule book and essentially Leonard Hamilton’s defense was made illegal. So it goes. The following season FSU ranked 170th in defense. That was six years ago.

Much has been made about the recent offensive revolution at Florida State, but now it appears that the defense - after two years of teasing - is finally back.

But is it here to stay?

Coach Hamilton’s defense always set its foundation on being able to shut down the paint. They front the post and double from the back side. They funnel all drives into help. And they sell out to stop dribble penetration at the expense of open perimeter looks. Entering this season eight of his defenses were ranked somewhere between 1-33 nationally, and six of those eight were ranked in the nation’s top 17 (out of 351 D1 teams) at defensive 2-pt%. Half of those teams were in the top-6 at blocking shots.

All told, those eight defenses averaged 21st in defensive 2-pt%, and 16th in blocked shots.

This year FSU has the 13th best defense in the nation, so naturally they must be back to dominating the paint, right? Well....

The Florida State defense is currently 202nd in 2-pt% and 152nd in blocked shots.

So how are they getting it done?

They’ve taken a category where FSU was always decent (forcing turnovers) and become elite. And they’ve taken a traditional weak spot (defensive rebounding) and become really good.

Those great defenses in year’s past averaged 75th at forcing turnovers, and this year’s pressure packed version is 13th.

Defensive rebounding has improved from an average of 187th to 62nd.

So instead of grinding teams down in the half court, FSU is now risking the allowance of open shots by trapping like mad to force turnovers. And when opponents miss, the ‘Noles are cleaning the glass.

It’s weird. But it’s working. At least for now.