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Baseline Breakdown: FSU basketball wraps up 4-game home stand with romp over Chicago State

The competition is about to get significantly tougher.

NCAA Basketball: Chattanooga at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Four games ago the FSU men’s basketball team stood at 1-1, fresh off a road domination of then number 6 UF, with a four-game home stand on the docket. Florida State would be the prohibitive favorite in each of these four games, and yet for a variety of reasons this represented a critical stretch of basketball.

Let’s revisit the desired outcomes and see how things went.

Cannot lose

Losing any one of the four games would do at least a seed line worth of damage come March. It’s that simple.

Check. The Seminoles went 4-0 for an “A” grade.

NET style points

Home wins themselves really aren’t worth all that much, earning just 0.6 of a win. So in order for FSU to truly take advantage of this stretch of games, they need to not just win but win convincingly. I’m talking 15+ points in every game, with 20 or more being ideal.he efficiency component is not capped, teams are rewarded for beating the crap out of cupcakes.

We’ll give this an “A-” for the four games. Chattanooga and Chicago State were like striking gold as far as NET is concerned. The 15 point win over St. Francis was decent enough. And while the Western Carolina game was anything but a blowout, in a way it was good to give the guys some experience having to fight back from a double-digit deficit and feel the pressure of late-game free throws that needed to be made. And because the victories over the other three were so robust, it takes a bit of the sting out of the close win over the Catamounts.

Get healthy

Florida State needs to find a way to allow these guys to work on specific components of their game while also getting healthy in preparation for phase three of the schedule (the Thanksgiving tourney and @Indiana).

Positive developments:

  • Dominik Olejniczak is moving much better. In fact, following the Chattanooga game he stated it’s the best his calf has felt in months.
  • Rayquan Evans is now playing, after missing a couple months with a hamstring injury. His conditioning and timing are obviously not where they need to be, but his health is clearly on the up and up.
  • Wyatt Wilkes banged his shoulder against Chattanooga, but was able to lead FSU in scoring the next game against St. Francis. He appears fine.
  • Raiquan Gray saw his first action in several games, coming off the bench against Chicago State. He looked rusty, forcing a couple passes (though he did have a sweet steal after jumping a passing lane), but it’s better to see him shake off some rust against the Cougars than the Volunteers.
  • Patrick Williams is looking better and better after being slowed by a leg injury in the pre-season.

Now for the not so positive. M.J. Walker hurt his ankle in the opening game of the home stand and hasn’t played since. Coach Hamilton says it’s been precautionary, but even if that’s true he’s certainly not going to be in top game-shape for the back-to-back set against Tennessee and Purdue/VCU.

It’s been great seeing guys like Evans and Big Dom get healthier. They will be big components of a successful ACC grind. However, given the injury to Walker, it’s hard to grade this better than a “B+.”

Build functional depth

Leonard Hamilton’s system relies on 10-12 guys capable of contributing in order to best execute. And the only way to get more comfortable and more effective in the system is to execute it at game speed. In order for the Seminoles to be a force come March, the bench (and even some of the new starters) needs to make strides in the games played now.

Lots we could discuss here. With the last three games being demolitions, a lot of guys saw extended minutes and there were some intriguing observations.

  • Wilkes led the team in scoring against St. Francis. No one saw that coming, probably not even Wyatt himself. It remains to be seen if he can defend well enough to see 10+ minutes in an ACC game, but it was at least encouraging to see him hit the offensive glass some, and his vision has always been top notch. The ball doesn’t stick in his hands and that’s a great thing in FSU’s offense. With his confidence as high as it’s been during his time in Tallahassee, it’ll be interesting to see how early he comes off the bench against Tennessee.
  • Nathanael Jack is another guy who needed a shot of confidence and consider it delivered. Seeing just three minutes of action over FSU’s first three games, Jack played nearly 40 minutes over the last three. What’s more, he made at least one three in all three games, including four Monday night against Chicago State. Like Wilkes, it remains to be seen if his defense will be up to snuff against ACC caliber opponents. He’s flashed good instincts off the ball, but has trouble staying in front of his man on the ball. And Hamilton noted in the post-game that he still has some growth to do when it comes to understanding FSU’s defensive principles. Nonetheless, the ’Noles could use a zone-buster, and Jack appears to be capable of filling that role.
  • Williams is looking more and more comfortable, and even more importantly, he’s not just improving on the offensive end. He has demonstrated clear range out to 22-23 feet, he’s a monster around the rim, and he’s also proving to be a capable playmaker for his teammates. Defensively, he gambles a bit more than Coach Ham would like (freshmen gonna freshmen), but his length is extremely disruptive and his ability to slide in for weakside help is improving rapidly. I’m not sure how much longer he will come off the bench.
  • Balsa Koprivica played with much more control in these four games than he did against Pitt and UF. Is it a product of just being better than his opponents? Maybe. But it’s obvious that he has a level of offensive skill not found in many recent bigs at FSU. His passing out of the post is extremely impressive, as he seemingly finds cutters at will—usually resulting in a slam. Additionally, I like the way he tips rebounds even if he can’t fully corral them. High basketball IQ plays that often result in a teammate grabbing the offensive board.
  • Evans might not stand out if you just looked at box scores, but he’s looking more and more like the back-up point guard FSU needs him to be. I’d like to see him push the ball up the court more quickly—he needs to pass it sooner instead of dribbling all the way to the three point line where he ends up making a four foot pass that doesn’t force the defense to move side-to-side. But he’s a steady ball-handler, a good rebounder, and has shown a potential to be a plus-defender. His jump shot is a work in progress, but hopefully as his explosiveness comes back, he’s able to start slashing to the rim.
  • Anthony Polite is the guy about whom my friends blow my phone up the most. And I get it. When forced to run the offense as the primary point guard, he makes some head-scratching decisions. However, his perimeter defense is borderline elite. He’s big enough to frustrate guards on-the-ball, and he’s quick/smart enough to bait folks into passes that lead to steals. And when he’s not having to initiate offense, he actually does a nice job of swinging the ball around the perimeter. On top of that, teams know they have to step out and defend him from deep, opening up the interior for lobs and slashes. I’m glad Evans looks like he can function as Trent’s backup, because Polite needs to see 20+ minutes a game in an off-ball capacity.
  • I probably won’t have many opportunities to type this, so I want to take a moment while I can: the Green Vipers (that’s what the walk-ons are calling themselves this year) showed out. Justin Lindner has some legit handles, as evidenced by the sweet hesitation crossover against Chicago State leading to an easy layup. Harrison Prieto is a decent-sized body who can rebound and defend. Travis Light can stroke it from deep. Will Miles and newcomer Cleveland Yates showed nice energy and awareness, too. Now am I suggesting these guys get first half minutes? No. But preparation is crucial in a conference like the ACC, and it’s abundantly clear the Green Vipers are able to provide a good scouting look.
  • Finally, while Trent Forrest isn’t a guy who normally would be mentioned in regards to functional depth, I wanted to give a shout out to his perimeter shooting. His three-point stroke has significantly improved. He’s not Stephen Curry, but his release is much more consistent, and there’s actual back-spin on the ball. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Seminole make huge strides as a three-point shooter during their career. Terance Mann turned himself into an NBA draft pick by virtue of his marked improvement as an outside marksman. But this kind of late-career development is never assured, and it takes many hours of hard work. Kudos to Trent for putting the time in the gym—if this continues it’ll only make him more dangerous as a slasher to the basket.

Trivia Time!


Trent Forrest is 5-13 from three through six games. How many threes did he make his freshman and sophomore years combined?

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Post Game Quotes:

Coach Hamilton on his team’s focus, hot shooting, and the challenge that awaits with Tennessee:

Trent talks about his improved shooting, looking forward to playing so close to his hometown, and gives an official statement about the ongoing debate of who’s the better perimeter defender on the team—him or Polite:

Devin Vassell discusses the team’s shooting ability, playing fast, and more: