With the Florida State men’s basketball team preparing for its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament (and sixth in the last 10 years), let’s take a look back and see how the regular season compared with preseason predictions and expectations.
Was FSU expected to make the NCAA Tournament?
The general consensus was...probably not. Most national pundits were not sold on FSU—understandable after losing 4 starters and a key reserve from last year’s team. SI.com did not include FSU in its preseason bracket at all. (You’ll note that UF and Miami were projected to be 3-seeds, a good bit higher than they finished). Team Rankings also left FSU out of its preseason bracket, giving FSU only a 29% chance of dancing in March. This ranked behind teams such as BYU, Wake Forest, Iowa State, VCU, Indiana, Ole Miss, Maryland, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Baylor, and USC, none of which made the final 2018 bracket.
Joe Lunardi was a bit more bullish on FSU, but even he only had the Seminoles as an 11-seed playing in Dayton as part of the First Four. Also note that UF was a 2-seed and USC and Louisville, two teams left out completely, were both 4-seeds.
Here at Tomahawk Nation, the preseason roundtable unanimously pegged FSU as a bubble/First Four team, with the ultimate selection likely coming down to just how bad the OOC schedule would turn out to be, as well as key games against fellow ACC bubblers.
With the Seminoles landing a 9-seed in the NCAAT, and pretty much unanimously in the “should be in” category for several weeks leading up to Selection Sunday, mark this down as FSU absolutely exceeding expectations.
Did FSU live up to its preseason billing in the ACC?
A few months ago I wrote a piece detailing how FSU has a history of meeting or exceeding preseason media expectations in ACC play under Leonard Hamilton. In fact, since the ACC expanded to 12 teams (thus giving rise to an unbalanced conference schedule) over a decade ago, FSU had met or exceeded its preseason conference standings prediction eight out of 12 seasons. Well, make it 9 of 13.
FSU was predicted by the conference media to finish 8th in the ACC, and the Seminoles hit that on the nose. Interestingly, it’s just the second season during those 13 years in which FSU finished precisely in its predicted spot (2012 was the first).
Is it a surprise that FSU is led by its offense?
If you listen to TV announcers, Florida State’s staple under Leonard Hamilton has been a suffocating defense that grinds teams into submission (in their defense, it was FSU’s staple from 2009-12, so it’s only been SIX years now...). So we should probably be surprised that the clear weakness of this year’s team is its 76th-ranked defense (the offense is 30th), right? Not exactly.
Folks who follow the team closely (i.e. those of us here at TN) voiced unanimous concern for the defense this year. In fact, every single person in the aforementioned roundtable picked the FSU offense to rank above the FSU defense. In fact, Michael Rogner even boldly predicted there would be little, if any, regression from last year’s 30th ranked offense—and he nailed it. Now, I’m not sure anyone expected the defense to be quite as bad as it was for stretches during the season (at one point ranking around 100th). And despite there being at least one game left to play, we can safely call the race for “best unit” on the 2018 team in favor of the offense. Expectation met.
Did FSU play as up-tempo as expected?
Last year, Florida State took advantage of depth and athleticism to run at a speedy 15.3 seconds per offensive possession. That was good for 16th nationally. Coming into this season, the expectation was for FSU to rev up the pace even faster. Yours truly even predicted under 15 seconds per possession.
Instead, FSU slowed down by more than half a second, finishing 37th in the nation at 15.9 seconds per possession. What happened? Much less depth.
Coming into the year, FSU coaches (and media/fans) were counting on contributions from top-200 recruits RaiQuan Gray, Anthony Polite, and Wyatt Wilkes. Instead, Gray came to Tallahassee out of shape, Polite and Wilkes suffered injuries, and the troika combined for 48 minutes of action the entire season. On top of that, Christ Koumadje and PJ Savoy missed a combined 19 games due to injury, and Trent Forrest wasn’t fully healed from a preseason foot injury until mid-January. This all led to much less depth than expected, and a team at its best when pushing tempo on offense and defense was forced to adjust to a slower pace.
It’s the unexpected development of FSU going from a team leaded with depth to one with depth concerns that really highlights just how good a job Leonard Hamilton and his staff did this season. Florida State lost the bulk of its production from last year’s team and came into the year with bubble hopes at best. Then, the Seminoles lost their only true strength — depth — before the season started, before following that up with multiple injuries to significant contributors. However, in spite of these hardships, Florida State put on its dancing shoes for a second consecutive season. It might be too early to call it Hamilton’s best coaching job in Tallahassee (two more wins, however, and it’s probably time to start that conversation...), but it’s certainly one of his top three or four.
The question now becomes, can this overachieving Seminole squad defy expectations for a few more games?