The Florida State Seminoles find themselves entering Winston-Salem on Wednesday ranked and coming off a red hot week that saw wins against UNC, Maryland and Duke at Cameron. Are the 'Noles poised for a letdown game, or will Leonard Hamilton's bunch use its length and strong defense to beat the Deacs? To get an answer, we reached out to the best FSU blog out there, Tomahawk Nation, and spoke with Michael Rogner, who also does terrific work at Run The Floor.
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Florida State has had plenty of problems on offense over the course of the year, but the defense has remained stout (#5 in defensive efficiency). What makes Leonard Hamilton's team so good on D?
Coach Hamilton recruits kids with next level size and athleticism specifically so they can run his defense. The strategy is to take away the inside and force teams to beat them with jump shots. Key to this is having bigs like Bernard James who are quick enough to hedge ball screens on the perimeter and still keep their own man from scoring on a pick and roll. And then secondary defenders attack the ball whenever it gets inside the 3-pt line.
This year he's mixing defenses more than I ever remember. From the way switches are handled in the base man-to-man, to the amount and variation of zones. It's been fun to watch, and he's been able to do it because the team is a veteran squad. One thing that Ham should get more credit for is his ability to consistently get kids to give 100% on the defensive end.
Outside of the Clemson loss (what was up with that, by the way?), the ‘Noles seemed to have turned the corner since the Princeton game, averaging 76 points. Is there anything in particular that you can point to for the improvement, or is the team just finally coming into its own?
For the Princeton game FSU switched to a 3-guard lineup. The first half was awful (10 points) as they ran around with no purpose and horrible spacing. Beginning with the 2nd half of that game FSU made two big changes. They now run a lot of 4-1 motion (rather than 3-2) and instead of cross-screens and post entry via passing they now spread the defense out and attack off the dribble.
The Clemson game has been the anomaly. Poor effort and execution. Otherwise FSUs offense has been spectacular. In conference-only games (including the Clemson debacle) FSU has the 2nd most efficient offense in the ACC. Compare this to 8th, 9th and 9th the past three seasons. They scored the most points per possession against UNC that the Tar Heels had allowed in two years. And they followed that up with the most Maryland had allowed all year. And they scored more per trip against Duke than everyone but Ohio State and Michigan. Still, given FSUs history, fans are skeptical, and rightfully so.
After a seven-day stretch with wins over UNC, Maryland and Duke win at Cameron, are you guys worried at all about a letdown game against the Demon Deacons?
With this team a letdown is always a concern. The losses to Harvard and Princeton. The Clemson game. These are going to be hard to forget. The good news is that by the time the players got to the interview room after the Duke win they were already talking about Wake Forest. So at least they know they have to focus. Whether or not they do is a different story.
Who is the x-factor in this game? Who's a guy Wake fans should be keeping their eye on outside the usual suspects?
Ian Miller. He's been in and out of the doghouse in his time at FSU, and missed the first semester due to grades, but the staff finally seems to be putting their trust in him. He struggles on defense because of poor footwork, but offensively he brings a skill set that FSU hasn't seen since Toney Douglas. He's got good size. A good first step. Great moves with the ball. He can get into the lane and make a lot of positive things happen.
It's rare that FSU is able to recruit a kid with next level size and athleticism who ALSO has a polished offensive game, but Miller is that player. If he focuses and commits himself to the program he has a good chance to be a special player.
How do you see this game playing out? What's your final score?
I think it will play out like the Maryland game. FSU and Wake will play a competitive half and then FSU will begin to take control in the 2nd half. For Wake to win, I think someone needs to go en fuego from beyond the arc. Still, I'll say 76-64 Noles.