The Conversation with Tomahawk Nation

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Earlier we had you guys post up questions for Tomahawk Nation for Wake's game against Florida State on Saturday. Here are their answers, courtesy of True Cubbie and the Tomahawk Nation staff:

First, I would like to thank Martin for the opportunity to put this story together and congratulate the entire Blogger So Dear community on an outstanding site. You all know your basketball. Thanks for all of your thoughtful questions. I hope this helps you understand our team a little better. Feel free to ask any follow up questions or point out where I wasn't making sense. I look forward to the discussion that follows.  We will have Martin's answers to our questions posted on our site. Please feel free to stop by and check out the other half of the Conversation.

Cheers, TC

Questions after the jump...

FSU has had a lot of trouble in recent memory with turnovers. Assess the job Coach Hamilton is doing this year in regards to the offense. How badly do turnovers have an effect on offensive flow?

Currently, we turn the ball over on 23.5% of possessions, which ranks 300th in the nation, and allow steals on 10.5% of possession. The turnover problem, unfortunately, has been characteristic of FSU teams coached under Leonard Hamilton, averaging a TO% greater than 21.1% since he started in 2001. This year has been the worst in his tenure.

 

This chart does not include the 2008 season.

Clearly turnovers can be an absolute detriment to an offense. However, the way in which FSU turns the ball over, we don't get ourselves into much trouble. It's not often that you see an errant cross court pass in which an opposing guard takes it the length of the the court for an open lay up. Rarely do you see a steal in the low post with a team launching the bal down the court. Does it happen? Absolutely. It's basketball. A majority of our turnovers are passes that sail out of bounds, guys stepping on the sidline, scuffles for the ball. Many of the turnovers don't turn into our opponents running down the court free. Fortunately, we're a relatively athletic team that is able to get back on defense. Does it disrupt our offensive flow and confidence? Absolutely.

Hamilton primarily relies on a motion offense with the occasional dribble-drive motion set. He continues to focus his coaching efforts on defense, leaving offense up to the players. Fortunately, against our OOC competition, we can rely on our athleticisim to win games. That simply doesn't work in the ACC. For teams that rely on half court sets to score their points, turnovers are momentum killers and cause long periods of stagnation. FSU is starting to score more points of their opponents turnovers and looking to score in transition. Do the turnovers limit our offensive effeciency and opportunities? Yes. The key is that our defense forces teams into slow paced physical basketball, rarely allowing a team to put up huge numbers on us. Our opponents average 62.8 points per game. We only score 68. Our defense allows our offense to be mediocre in comparison, and limiting the impact of turnovers on our success. Will it come back to haunt us? Of course. Can't score points if you can't hang on to the ball.  


Along those lines, the team shooting percentage isn't exactly stellar: 47.5% on 2pt and 32.8% on 3pt, good for 188th and 216th respectively in the KenPom rankings. Add that to the poor turnover numbers--is it safe to say that defense is what this team hangs it's hat on?

Absolutely. Defense wins championships, right? Hamilton has always been known as a defensive specialist. During Hamilton's tenure, FSU has held their opponents to an offensive rating of 101 or below every single season. This year it is all the way down at 87.6, placing our defense at 9th in the Pomeroy ratings. Since 2004, our worst defensive rating was 75th in the nation and every defensive efficiency rating was below 101.

 

Here is a look at our opponents "4 Factors" under Hamilton:

 

So I can't get the chart to show the OR%, but it follows the FT%. My applogies. Holding teams to ~50% eFG% and a TO% of ~21% in the ACC is outstanding. Unfortunately, our offensive numbers are about the same. This year is another great example of a strong Hamilton defense. We held Duke to 19 points in the first half. We held UNC to one of their lowest scoring totals of the season. We may not have the prettiest offense, but our defense forces teams to play out of their comfort zone. The only team who we haven't been able to slow down or figure out was the Northwestern Wildcats. The Princeton offense, when run well, is difficult to stop and you rarely see it, making it difficult to prepare for. This leads us into the next question...


Regarding defense, what is the defensive style in general? I haven't had a chance to see as much FSU as I'd like--we get forced to see Duke and UNC a lot more than we want to. I know your team is incredibly long and has active hands--8th in KenPom in block% and 12th in steal%--but is it more than just team length and athleticism?

Hamilton likes to play half court pressure man to man defense, rarely playing zone. There have only been a handful of instances this year where we have seen a 2-3 zone. In a couple of cases, we have dropped into a 1-3-1. Here is a link to a piece I did on Zone Defense in general and my thoughts on our team's use of a zone. The Noles are the tallest team in the country based on average minutes weighted height at 6'7". The national average is 6'4.5". We are 5th in effective height. Pomeroy has a great article about the effect of height here. We challenge shots extremely well, holding teams to an eFG% of 43.5%. We do a better job defending against shots in the paint, but still close out well against three point shooters, holding our opponents to 31% from down town.

Clearly, our length and athleticism allow us to have the stats you mention. But I really think it comes down to the focus of Hamilton. He wans to shut teams down. He wants to take them out of their comfort zones. His mindset and focus carries over well to the team. They play insipired defense for forty minutes. Unfortunately, the offense doesn't always follow suit. When you watch the game, watch our players away from the ball and how active they are, trying to anticipate passing lanes and denying entry passes. Toney Douglas is our leader on defense and generates a steals too often. Solomon Alabi cleans up the middle, blocking a ridiculous 10.9% of shots. This team wants to be known for its defense and Hamilton expects it. That, I think, is what makes the difference.


What would a win in this game mean for the program? You find yourselves at 5-3 in conference with a chance to go to 6-3 against Virginia and ranked this week. Aside from the obvious--road conference win against a ranked opponent--what weight does this game hold?

As well all know, any win in the ACC is a good win, regardless of how pretty it is. But, winning on the road against Wake, UNC or Duke is huge for our program. We are not a basketball school. But, we have all seen improvement in this program under Hamilton. Each year, we have surprised a Duke or UNC. Very few of us thought we could be 6-3 in the ACC going into this game. Among the many goals we had for this team, one of them was getting into the NCAA tournament, something you guys are relatively accustomed to. We haven't been there in a while and in the recent past when we thought we deserved to go, we've been snubbed by the committee.

Beating Wake would help our resume and our argument to the selection committee to get us in.  A good way to think about it would be flipping the roles in football...imagine what a win against FSU would mean for Duke or UNC football. I see our basketball team as the UNC in football this year. I only hope we can keep pace for the rest of the year. We have a tough finish to end the year, which is what most members of the tournament committee look at when making their selections. Stating the obvious, this would be a huge win for us if we could pull off the upset.


I have seen FSU play about 3 or 4 times, but not as much as I would’ve liked to. I know Singleton is a highly regarded freshman and I was just wondering what the FSU fans think about his performance so far this season. During the times I have watched him, he has played both inside and outside. Where do you think he is the most comfortable and what would you like to see more of from your McD’s All-American?

We are all hoping that Singleton blossoms into an Al Thorton like player; he still has a way to go. Singleton came in with high expectations. As a bit of back ground, Singleton was a 5-star recruit out of Dunwoody, GA, ranking #12 overall in the Class of 2008. He averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds and 4 blocks per game his senior year.  He is now our 6'9 220 starting small forward. His athleticism is outstanding. His passion for the game fits the Hamilton mold and signing him was a huge deal. He is currently playing about 27 minutes per game, averaging 8.3 points, shooting a 45% eFG% and 62% from the FT line. He pulls down about 5 -6 rebounds per game. Singleton was expected to come in and make an immediate impact.

Clearly, he is not putting up huge scoring numbers, but he contributes consistently on both ends of the court and has shown flashes of brilliance. As you mention, he is still trying to find his comfort zone. He has a nice shot and feels comfortable shooting the 3-ball, unfortunately, he has been relying on it a little too much recently. He has attempted 70 3-pointers this year, that ranks 23rd in the conference. Remember, he is a freshman small forward. He shouldn't be that high.

I would like to see him more of a slasher, either making back door cuts the basket or driving. He is a big player to play the three. He needs to increase his strength. His comfort with the three also gets him out of position to rebound on the offensive end, keeping him away from the basket. Has he made the impact that Vandesberg or Aminu have mad...not yet. I think the match up between him and Aminu will be excellent. I mentioned it in my season preview and it is finally here.


I can’t help but notice that the basketball program has improved tremendously over the past few years, and it seems that it is extremely close to being one of the top 5 teams in the ACC. Has the student body noticed the improvement and have expectations changed as a result? How do you feel about your chances of making the tournament this year?

I think the expectations are climbing and I think there is a lot of pressure on Hamilton to make it to the tournament this year. I'm in Chicago, so it's hard to know what the buzz is on campus about the basketball team. However, reading the local papers and following this team, winning a couple of games in the ACC and maybe surprising someone in the first round of the ACC tournament is no longer acceptable. With the noticable job Hamilton has done on recruiting, people expect to see a good team.

The Tucker Center has been louder than ever and we are consistently filling it for all games (when school is in session), not just the UNC, Duke and Wake games. Right now, I think we are on pace to make it to the tournament. At the beginning of the year, our hope was to go 8-8 with a top 6 finish in the ACC. There is no reason that resume shouldn't get you in. We have had quality loses this year, including the hiccup in Evanston against Northwestern (look fore them to surpise a lot of teams). Our quality wins include Clemson, Cal, Cincinatti, and Florida.

We played inspired basketball (defense, cough) against Pitt, Duke and UNC. Lunardi has us as an 8 seat right now, which I think is appropriate. To finish 8-8, we need to go 2-5 the rest of the year. I don't think we'll do that. If we do, I actually think our chances of getting in are much lower than they are now. If we win a first round ACC game, we're in.


Who is the most underrated player on your team? Could it be Alabi? Everyone knows how good Douglas is, but who is going to surprise some people?

My two most underrated members on the team are Solomon Alabi and Uche Echefu...our two big men. They are the reason we have shut down the paint for our opponents. Alabi is a 7'1 Red Shirt freshman coming off a missed season due to stress fractures in his leg. He was timid in the beginning of the season and now is developing into an excellent player on both ends of the court. He has an OR% of 13.2 and a DR% of 17.4, both of which are excellent. He blocks shots all the time. He likes to play off the offensive player and bait him into lobbing up a jump hook or jump shot. He was the ACC Rookie of the week last week and had his coming out party against Clemson. He needs to get bigger, more aggressive and get more touches.

Ecefu is 6'9 225 Sr. Power forward who was not our starter at the beginning of the year. He has taken over Ryan Reid's role. Echefu has a beautiful jump shot from 10-12 feet and is very effective on the blass. He also generates fouls and shoots a ridiculous 84% from the line. He is quietly contributing significant minutes. More people know about Solomon and he is starting to live up to expectations, so I would say Echefu is the more "underrated" player.


Please assess how Coach Hamilton is doing based on expectations.
Does the student body, alumni et al appreciate how improved and consistently better FSU is and will those same constituencies give basketball credit equal to the football program (similar to UFLA aka TebowU will FSU ever be more than a "football school."

Hamilton has been in the coaching world since 1986, when he took over the reigns at Oklahoma St before moving to Miami in 1990, where he coached for 10 years. Before coming to the Noles, he had a short stint in the NBA with the Washington Wizzards. Since starting with the Noles in 2002, we have gone 124-91 (0.577) Each year, our winning percentage has gone up slowly.

 

Has he improved the team? Yes. Has he recruited players who probably would have never considered FSU? Yes. Has he produced a wealth of NBA talent? Al Thornton. However, that may have been more Al than Hamilton. Where the fans and alumni etc...have been frustrated has been a lack of appearances in the NCAA tournament or even success in the NIT.

 

I think the above chart sums it up well. Hamilton was close to losing his job last year but he has recovered well. Basketball fans like to see their team put up points. Just like baseball fans like to see offensive outbursts. There is the smaller percentage of fans who appreciates good defensive basketball or the skilled picthing macth up that finishes 1-0. However, the casual fan doesn't and I think that is where a lot of the frustration develops. It appears as if he isn't putting a good product on the floor, when in fact he is. It's just not what everyone is used to.

I don't know, nor do I think, that the basketball team and football team will be seen on equal terms.  The Tucker Center, or the Leon-County Civic Center, where we play our home games is 27 years old. I've never been there, so I can't comment on the facilities. However, if you have a succesful team, say one that wins a National Championship or two, you will draw attention to yourself while the success lasts. I don't think the Gators are getting as much hype now that the SEC is down in basketball and we have beaten them too many times in a row and the hardwood. 

 


I always like to bring up the counter argument, and sorry to the Duke fans, but will Duke's football team ever be on par with their basketball? Obviously, an extreme example, but for the million possible reasons, it's unlikely to happen. Plus, FSU has recently been very succesful in baseball and our track team is outstanding. Not a great answer, but Bud, what do you think? I think FSU will always continue to focus on football with a basketball side show.

 


What is the expected impact to athletic programs based on the 10% budget cuts announced recently?

 

Unfortunately, every industry is feeling economic pressures to produce more for less and college sports are certainly not immune to these stressors. Fortunately, college basketball is relatively cheap in comparison to football. I honestly don't know enough about the distribution of funds and the revenue that specific teams generate. Focus will be paid to the teams htat perform and generate money. If the football team improves this year, I think things will be fine. If the basketball team makes it to the tournament, we'll get some more money. Surprsingly, playing the "cupcake" games in OOC play is a rather lucrative business for the weaker teams, earning 20-50K per game.

 

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