Sunday, December 31, 2006

ACC Preview #6: Florida State

Team: Florida State
Record: 12-2

Jason Rich (70.9% minutes, 1.17 PPWS, 8.2 A/B%, 2.5 Stl%)
Al Thornton (69.6% minutes, 1.26 PPWS, 11.3 ORB%, 13.2 DRB%, 3.8 Blk%, 3.4 Stl%)
Toney Douglas (68.0% minutes, 1.19 PPWS, 12.9 A/B%, 2.4 Stl%)
Isaiah Swann (67.1% minutes, 1.05 PPWS, 16.4 A/B%, 4.1 Stl%)
Uche Echefu (50.9% minutes, 1.14 PPWS, 7.7 ORB%, 17.6 DRB%, 2.8 Blk%)

Key Reserves:
Jerel Allen (51.8% minutes, 1.20 PPWS, 12.7 DRB%, 3.4 Stl%)
Ralph Mims (47.3% minutes, 1.24 PPWS, 17.5 A/B%, 3.0 Stl%)
Ryan Reid (37.0% minutes, 1.11 PPWS, 14.3 ORB%, 17.9 DRB%, 3.2 Blk%)
Casaan Breeden (29.3% minutes, 1.04 PPWS)

Biggest Win:
70-66 over Florida

Worst Loss:
66-88 at Pittsburgh

Conference Schedule:
Play Twice: Clemson, Maryland, Miami, Boston College, Georgia Tech
Play at Home: NC State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Play on the Road: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia

Leonard Hamilton has done a fine job building a program in Tallahassee, and this is the year when the goal of reaching the NCAA tournament is supposed to be reached. Last year they were right on the cusp, but missed the tourney by a whisker – they were the victims of a big comeback by UNC in Florida, a 3 point loss to Boston College, and overtime losses against Miami and at Duke. Still, they were 19-8 and 9-7 in conference headed into the ACC tourney, and no major conference team with 20 wins had ever been left out, and all they had to do was beat Wake Forest (worst team in the conference last year), and they were in. Final score Wake 78, Florida State 66, and the next thing you knew the Seminoles were hosting an NIT game.

This year got off to a little bit of a rocky start. Their schedule was predictably light until back to back games at Pittsburgh and Wisconsin, and the ‘Noles looked unimpressive in consecutive double digit losses. However, they opened December with a big win over Florida (sans Corey Brewer), and closed the month with a 30 point drubbing of a surprising Providence team. They head in to ACC play winners of 8 straight, and need only 8 conference wins for that magical number 20.

Florida State’s MO this year has been to go inside on offense and to hassle the perimeter on defense. They’re 9th in the country in 2FG%, converting 56.9% of their attempts as a team. Notably, they don’t get their shots blocked very often, which suggests that not only do they shoot well from inside the arc, they shoot smart. This doesn’t appear to be a scheduling fluke – Florida, Pittsburgh, and Wisconsin, all teams with very strong post play, recorded only 6 blocks collectively against the ‘Noles. On defense, FSU excels at forcing turnovers. Opponents cough the ball up an astounding 28% of the time, and only one opponent (Pittsburgh) has committed fewer than 15 in a single game. FSU has six players in the top 40 in the conference in steal percentage.

Leading the way on defense is 6’1” junior Isaiah Swann. Swann is 7th in the conference with a 4.14 Stl%. He’s also the primary distributor, recording an assist rate of 16.4% (FSU as a team doesn’t record many assists – less than 50% of all baskets are assisted). Swann is much more valuable as a distributor and defender than as a scorer – he scores just 15.4% of the points, due to a 1.05 PPWS that is weighted down by poor three point shooting (31.5%), and a shot rate heavily weighted in favor of threes (54% of all his attempts).

Of course, with the two talented scorers FSU has, Swann doesn’t need to provide a lot of offense. 6’8” senior Al Thornton is the unquestioned star of the team. A first-team all-ACC selection last year, and a preseason first-teamer this year, he’s done nothing so far but live up to expectations. Thornton scores 30.4% of the ‘Noles’ points on just 25.4% of the shots. He’s been very good inside (60.2%) and at the line (82.2%), which is good, because he’s also effective at getting to the line – he takes one free throw for every two field goals. Thornton also leads the team in offensive rebounds (though Reid would be ahead if he played 15 min/game) and blocks (3.8%), and tosses in a 3.4 Stl% as well. Still, he has been a little inconsistent this year, disappearing against Wisconsin, Providence, and Pittsburgh, partly due to foul trouble. He was dominant against Florida – 28 and 9 (6 offensive). ACC opponents should expect to see more games like Florida as the season wears on, especially if he stays out of foul trouble.

FSU’s other scorer is 6’1” sophomore Toney Douglas. Douglas is a transfer from Auburn, where he was on the SEC’s all freshman team. He’s a little bit of an ego risk (he thought he wasn’t getting enough shots at Auburn), but so far that hasn’t caused a problem in Tallahassee, largely because he’s getting enough shots. Douglas leads the team, taking 28% of the shots, and is second in scoring, at 27% of the points. His shooting percentages are very solid – 56.3% from 2 and 42.5% from 3, although he has cooled down a little in the past few games after an even hotter start. Douglas is a scorer without a conscience – he can shoot a team out of a game, but can also shoot them right back into it, and if he gets a shot he likes (not hard to find – he likes most shots), he’ll take it, regardless of whether he’s made his last 6 or missed his last 7. The addition of Douglas to provide Thornton with some scoring help after Alexander Johnson’s departure has been huge – Douglas is probably the best, and arguably the most important, transfer into the ACC this year.

Rounding out the starting 5 are 6’3” junior Jason Rich and 6’9” soph Uche Echefu. Rich has been the most consistent player for the Seminoles this year. He leads the team in minutes (just over 28/game) and has been good for between 10 and 16 points almost every night. Rich realized early that his 3 wasn’t falling (2 for 9 in his first five games), so has largely abandoned the shot, taking just 3 attempts (missing all three) in the last nine games. He takes exactly his share of shots (20.1%), and his PPWS and EFG% are above average. Echefu’s main role this year has been on the glass. He leads FSU in defensive rebounding (17.6%), and tosses in 7.7% of offensive boards as well. His shooting has been okay, but he certainly doesn’t hurt the team on offense. He does take a surprising amount of 3s for a big man – just about 2 a game – and he converts at a respectable 36%.

FSU is guard heavy off the bench, with 6’2” junior Ralph Mims and 6’4” senior Jerel Allen getting most of the minutes. Mims and Allen are both pretty deferential (12.9% and 16.4% of shots, respectively) and both shoot primarily 3s when they do take shots. Mims 3:2 ratio is 31 to 18, and Allen’s is 38 to 29. Mims also chips in with a team-leading 17.5 A/B%. Both also play solid perimeter defense, with steal percentages over 3, good for places in the top 20 in the ACC.

Inside, the ‘Noles turn to 6’8” freshman Ryan Reid and 6’8” soph Casaan Breeden. Reid is much more of a traditional post player. He cleans up on the glass (14.3 ORB%, 17.9 DRB%), blocks shots (3.2%), and converts well from the field (58.8 fg%). Breeden takes a healthy amount of shots (19.8%), but has only a 1.04 PPWS and a 47.9 EFG%. He takes almost half his attempts from 3, but hits just 23.8% of those shots.

Hamilton has instilled a measure of consistency in the team this year that has been absent in years past. They’re one of just two teams in the ACC to trot out the same starting lineup in every game, and their bench rotation has been consistent as well. They’ll need to stay consistent this year against one of the ACC’s tougher schedules. They play Duke and UNC only once, but both on the road, and they also have to travel to Clemson, BC, Maryland, Georgia Tech, and Virginia this year. For a team that struggled on the road this year, how they handle this schedule could be critical. Also, not getting a return visit from Duke or UNC deprives the Noles of a great chance for a marquee conference victory. Still, 9-7 puts FSU at 21-9 going into the ACC tourney. Coach Hamilton and his squad should be dancing this year come March, and even though this is Thornton’s last year, Hamilton has built a talent base that should allow the Seminoles to be a consistent tourney team in the coming years.

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