Thursday, October 6, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 22 Florida State Seminoles

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 23-11, 11-5 (3rd ACC), lost to VCU in the Sweet 16

Head Coach: Leonard Hamilton

Key Losses: Chris Singleton, Derwin Kitchen

Newcomers: Antwan Space, Terry Whisnant, Kiel Turpin, Jeff Peterson

Projected Lineup:

- G: Jeff Peterson, Sr.
- G: Michael Snaer, Jr.
- F: Deividas Dulkys, Sr.
- F: Okaro White, So.
- C: Bernard James, Sr.
- Bench: Luke Loucks, Sr.; Xavier Gibson, Sr.; Jon Kreft, Sr.; Ian Miller, So.; Terrence Shannon, Jr.; Antwan Space, Fr.; Terry Whisnant, Fr.

Outlook: For the first time in his tenure as Florida State head coach, Leonard Hamilton won a game in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Seminoles won two games, advancing to the Sweet 16. And if it wasn't for some questionable decision making by Derwin Kitchen at the end of regulation and on the final possession of overtime, Hamilton's club would have gone even farther. This wasn't necessarily a one-year flash in the pan, either -- Florida State has won 10 ACC games and 20 games overall the past three seasons, making the NCAA Tournament all three years. Duke is the only other ACC program that can make that claim. That's good company to keep.

The test for Hamilton's program is what happens this season. Not only does he loses Chris Singleton -- the Seminole's leading scorer and the best defender in the country last season, a player that Florida State built their vaunted defense around -- but Derwin Kitchen finally exhausted his eligibility as well. That means that Hamilton will be heading into this season without the only two guys who could score from one of the worst offensive attacks in the high-major ranks.

Florida State's strength is going to be in the front court. Bernard James -- a 26 year old senior who did multiple tours in Iraq as a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force -- will be the anchor along the front line. James, a JuCo transfer last season, took a while to really acclimate to playing this high of a level of basketball, but he became a capable scoring option and a quality shot-blocking and rebounding presence by the end of the season. In March, he averaged 11.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 3.0 bpg while shooting 70.3% (26-of-37) from the floor.

He is far from alone along the front line, as the Seminoles will go at least five deep. Sophomore Okaro White would be my pick to start alongside James. White is probably the most talented offensive option, even showing that he can step out and knock down a three, but he is also a good offensive rebounder and may be able to slide over and play the three if Hamilton wants to go big. Xavier Gibson and Jon Kreft are both centers that will see significant minutes. Gibson may start some games if Hamilton goes big. He was an important piece as a junior -- he's the second-best shot-blocker on the roster -- before a nasty fall in a game left him with a sprained mcl and a broken hand. Kreft's story is interesting, as he finally got himself eligible in December, which came after most of the other members of the high school Class of 2006 have graduated. Junior Terrence Shannon will also be in the front court rotation.

With the system that Hamilton runs, it almost doesn't matter who is actually on the court out of this front court quintet. Florida State is so defensive-minded that their role will be, essentially, to be big. Florida State plays physical on the perimeter, all-but daring their opponents to put the ball on the floor and try to finish around the rim. The Seminoles weren't the most efficient defensive team in the country because they were great at forcing turnovers or overwhelming their opponents on the defensive glass. But they were great at forcing teams to miss shots. Their perimeter players knew if they crowded their man and forced a drive or a challenged jumper that no one was scoring in the paint.

Even with the loss of Chris Singleton, Florida State will still be an elite defensive team next season. Their biggest issue is going to be finding someone -- anyone -- that can score. The crux of that pressure will likely fall onto the shoulders of Michael Snaer. Snaer was one of the best recruits to ever pick Florida State, but he has yet to find any kind of consistency with the Seminoles. One of the issues is that Snaer tends to fall in love with the three-ball. He has the range to hit that shot, but he's too athletic to be settling for jumpers when he can get to the rim.

Snaer and Deividas Dulkys are probably the Seminole's best perimeter defenders that return. Offensively, Dulkys does some things well, but he needs to become more of a consistent spot-up shooter. The same can be said for Luke Loucks. In fact, one of the keys to Florida State's season is finding some one that can be a zone-buster, a player that is a good enough shooter to keep defenses honest and prevent them from packing a zone into the paint. Both of Hamilton's perimeter recruits -- Antwan Space and Terry Whisnant -- have a reputation as good shooters, which will definitely help.

The other key offensively is at the point. Ian Miller had some hype coming in as a freshman but failed to live up to it. He'll be battling for minutes with Jeff Peterson, who will become the first player to ever play in the Big Ten, the SEC and the ACC -- he transferred to Arkansas after two years at Iowa, earning his degree in the process and transferring to FSU without penalty for a grad year. Peterson started at both schools, but also lost a lot at both schools. One of these two will have to be able to break down a defense and create a scoring opportunity -- whether it is an open look on the perimeter for a teammate, a dump-off to a big man or their own good look at the rim. That is a must. Without it, Florida State's offense may just end up being too abysmal for their defense.

The Seminoles should once again compete for the third-spot in the ACC, but just how good they end up being on a national scale is going to depend upon how well their perimeter guys develop offensively.

No comments: