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Florida State Seminoles

by Rick Dimon | February 1st, 2007

Team Personality: Fun and gun. Nobody on the FSU roster is afraid of launching the rock, nor is anybody afraid of running up and down the court nonstop for a full forty minutes.

Florida State wins games when opponents get swindled into trying to beat the Seminoles at their own game. The ‘Noles like nothing more than to play a full-court game, so it’s imperative that their foes slow down the pace and reduce the contest to a half-court affair.

Sometimes FSU’s style of play gets them in trouble, as the team’s assist-to-turnover ratio is less than 1:1 and their shot selection often comes into question. It’s OK to fork up shots with reckless abandon when those shots are high-percentage and the guys who are putting them up are the ones with the hot hands. When they are playing unselfish ball and finding their best shooters open on the perimeter, the ‘Noles are no fun to play.

Nationally Televised:
November 28 at Wisconsin L (81-66)
January 13 at Georgia Tech L (88-80)

Biggest Games:
The Seminoles are about to embark on a critical two-game road trip to Duke and Clemson. A split of those two contests would surely be more than acceptable in the eyes of coach Leonard Hamilton and it would keep FSU at .500 in the ACC. An even mark in that conference should be enough to get a team into the NCAA Tournament.

If the ‘Noles can survive the upcoming tough stretch, a February 17 showdown at Virginia will be a critical point in the season. Right now that looks like it could be the biggest game remaining on the schedule. A win in Charlottesville would make a big impression on the tournament committee and it would also give FSU a chance to ride a significant winning streak into the ACC Tournament. The last three games on the schedule following the trip to UVA are all very winnable.

Has to be on the Floor: Al Thornton. Coach Leonard Hamilton knows it, too. While Thornton is averaging 30 minutes per game, he’s been logging about 36 minutes a night in hotly-contested ballgames. The 6-8 forward is the second tallest player on FSU’s roster behind 6-9 Nigerian sophomore Uche Echefu, and Thornton is the only significant scoring threat down low for the Seminoles.

When Thornton is on the bench, the ‘Noles are an utterly one-dimensional squad. Not only can opposing defenses play suffocating help-defense on the perimeter without getting beat down low, but the Seminoles are also ripe for getting abused in the paint at the other end of the floor.

Simply put, Thornton is one of the best players in the ACC and one of the most talented in nation. It’s hard to sit someone like that on the bench for any considerable amount of time.

Last Shot: Jason Rich. The junior guard is a very experienced player, having logged significant minutes for the ‘Noles since his freshman season. He has improved dramatically every year and has now reached the point where FSU can rely on him—among others—to get the job done when the ball is in his hands late in the game.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Rich can fill it up from anywhere on the basketball court. He is an outstanding athlete who can create his own shot, drive to the basket for easy buckets, and also drain it from downtown. Rich is shooting 56% from the floor, 82% from the line, and 44% from three-point land. In a lineup consisting of plenty of shooters who draw all kinds of attention from the defense, Rich is often able to get open looks at the basket. When that happens, he knows exactly what to do with the rock.

Crunchtime Crutch: Perimeter firepower. It is in opponents’ best interests to put the Seminoles away long before the final buzzer, otherwise all they can do is hope that FSU is missing shots down the stretch. But don’t count on that. Thornton, Rich, and Toney Douglas all shoot at least 40-percent from beyond the arc and never gun-shy guard Isaiah Swann is beginning to find his stroke. With those four guys roaming the perimeter, the ‘Noles are almost never completely out of any ballgame.

Florida State also makes it brutally tough for opponents to post a come-from-behind victory down the stretch. The ‘Noles are the best FT-shooting team in the ACC and one of the best from the line in the all the nation at 78.4-percent. When protecting a late lead, coach Hamilton can use five guys who all shoot at least 78-percent from the charity stripe. In other words, if FSU has the lead with under two minutes left in a contest, it’s probably not a bad idea to locate the nearest stadium exit.

Straw that stirs the Drink: Toney Douglas. He played one season at Auburn and was one of the most productive freshman in the nation in 2004-2005, but he decided to transfer to FSU after his first year. Coach Hamilton and co. waited patiently as Douglas had to sit out a year after the switch, but they are now reaping the benefits.

“The role he’ll play for us will be very different than the role he played for them,” said Hamilton prior to the season. “[At Auburn], his job was to put points on the board. For us, the ball will be in our point guard’s hands quite a bit.”

So far, Douglas has been running the offense and scoring a lot of points at the same time. The Seminoles feed off Douglas and most of the time as he goes, so go the ‘Noles. When Douglas is scoring in bunches and running an up-tempo offense while keeping things under control, FSU is tough to beat.

Impact Newcomer:
Douglas. Hamilton did not reel in much freshmen talent, but he did land a big addition to the squad in Douglas. To say the least, Auburn’s loss turned out to be Florida State’s gain.

The sophomore is averaging 13.5 points per game and is shooting a solid percentage in all three categories (FG, FT, 3-point). While Douglas does not dish out too many assists, he is one of the few players on the FSU roster whose assist-to-turnover ratio is positive. That’s a big improvement over the borderline out-of-control style of basketball he played with at Auburn as a freshman.

The Seminoles have been on the brink of the NCAA Tournament two of the last three seasons. If they finally get over the hump this time around, Toney Douglas will be the difference.

Potential Pitfall: Lack of depth down low. Alexander Johnson bolted for the NBA after last season and 7-foot recruit Jon Kreft was dismissed from the team for felony cocaine possession before he ever got to Florida State. That put the otherwise-stacked Seminoles in a serious bind heading into the season.

Thornton, however, is a rare talent and he’s been using his athleticism effectively to help the Seminoles overcome their lack of a true center. Echefu has made great strides since his freshman season, but he is not a game-changer at either end of the floor. After that, it is slim pickings in the paint for FSU.

If the ‘Noles are not shooting the ball well, there is almost no way they can win. They simply do not rebound the ball and therefore almost never get second-chance points. If the Seminoles see there bubble burst yet again, this will be the reason.

How to reach the Sweet 16: The task at hand is simply to get into the NCAA Tournament, which would be the Seminoles’ first trip to the Big Dance since coach Hamilton took over five years ago. If FSU does make it, nobody will want to face the boys from Tallahassee in the first two rounds of the tournament.

As their 70-66 win over defending champion Florida on December 3 showed, the ‘Noles can beat any team in the nation on any given night.

–Rick Dimon

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