Florida State Primer

Malcolm Brogdon and the Hoos face a tough defense at FSU.

After staving off a late Clemson rally on Tuesday, the Virginia Cavaliers (18-3, 5-2 ACC), travel to Tallahassee on Saturday to face the red hot Florida State Seminoles (15-6, 5-1 ACC), who are tied for the lead in the ACC standings. The Tucker Center has been a house of horrors for the Hoos over the past decade, with UVa’s last win at the Seminoles’ house being a 69-66 nail biter in 2001 after a Roger Mason 3-pointer with one second left. 2001 featured UVa’s second most recent appearance in the NCAA Tournament, with its most recent bid coming in 2007, the same year that the Hoos last beat the Noles, this time by a 73-70 margin at the John Paul Jones Arena. Can the Cavs move four games above .500 in ACC play for the first time since that 2007 season, or will the Seminoles win their sixth straight in the series?

Let’s look at the Florida State Primer.

1. Now in his 10th season in Tallahassee, Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton is the second most tenured coach in the ACC behind only Coach K. After only four NIT appearances to show for his first six seasons, Hamilton has turned Florida State into the third best team in the conference, making the Big Dance the last three years, including the Sweet 16 last March. That team’s only two players to average double digit points on a nightly basis are now gone with Chris Singleton (who played 10 minutes against UVa last year before fracturing his foot) averaging about 19 minutes per game for the Washington Wizards and Derwin Kitchen suiting up in Israel (like Sylven Landsberg).

In the duo’s absence, Florida State’s 2011-2012 campaign has been a tale of two seasons. The Seminoles started 9-6, with that sixth loss being a 79-59 shellacking at Clemson that came two games after a triple overtime home loss to Tigers of a different stripe: The Princeton Tigers of the Ivy League. Florida State’s last six games have been a different story with six wins, including a 90-57 decimation of North Carolina at home and a 76-73 road win over Duke, which snapped the Blue Devils’ 45-game home winning streak.

So, what happened? In the Noles’ first nine games, 6’8″ Okaro White started as the third post, and he played 42 minutes in the team’s 10th game, the loss to Princeton. Since then, he hasn’t started or played more than 23 minutes in a game. Instead, Hamilton has started a three-guard lineup, with Deividas Dulkys as the third starting guard the last nine games. Around the same time, guard Ian Miller returned from academic ineligibility and has served as the team’s sixth man, making the Seminoles smaller but more offensively efficient.

While the Noles are No. 25 in RPI vs. a No. 39 ranking for the Hoos, the two teams are in a dead heat in most other rankings. In Sagarin, FSU is No. 21 while UVa is No. 22. In TAPE, it’s FSU at No. 25 and UVa at No. 24. In KenPom, the Noles are No. 18, and the Hoos are No. 22. Florida State is No. 83 and No. 5 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Virginia is No. 82 and No. 8.

2. Offensively, Hamilton’s team runs a read-and-react motion offense that relies heavily on high-low action, cuts and back cuts, and constant screening, including double and elevator screens (here’s a Sabre story breaking down a UVa elevator screen). With the three-guard lineup, Hamilton has mainly run this offense out of a “3 out, 2 in” set and even used some “4 out, 1 in” sets. And sometimes he splits the difference as shown in this dissection of a Florida State play against Duke. The other day, Sabre Editor Kris Wright linked to a detailed breakdown of a double screen play that FSU likes to run out of a “3 out, 2 in set.” Meanwhile, Hoopscoop provides the following analysis of an isolation play that the Seminoles run out of their 1-4 set.

Jontel Evans and Virginia must limit turnovers against the Seminoles.

I’ve often commented that teams that are good at grabbing offensive rebounds and forcing turnovers give Virginia fits. The Noles are No. 26 in the country in adjusted offensive rebounding, which, given their size advantage over UVa, could lead to a decent number of second-chance points. Keep in mind, though, that Florida State’s offensive rebounding numbers have dipped since going to the three guard lineup, and the Seminoles also lost Terrence Shannon, one of their best offensive rebounders, for the season after a separated shoulder.

3. On the defensive end, Florida State runs Hamilton’s patented Junkyard defense. If you can bear the hyperbole, this thread on the Noles’ Rivals Board does a nice job of comparing the Junkyard defense to the Pack-Line Defense used at Virginia. As you can see from the thread, the Junkyard defense is a pressure man-to-man defense that denies entry passes, switches on picks, and tries its best to force turnovers and get weakside blocks. And it’s extremely effective, with the Seminoles being ranked No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency the last two years. Again teams that can grab offensive rebounds and force turnovers tend to have Virginia’s number, and Florida State is No. 36 in this latter category. This means that the Noles are one of the top teams in the country in these two categories combined.

4. Starting Lineup

PG: Starting at point guard for Florida State is No. 3 Luke Loucks, a 6’5″, 201-pound senior. Loucks is a heady point guard with excellent court vision who leads the Noles with 4.1 assists per game. Loucks can thread a needle with his passes, but sometimes his passes try to cut too fine a line. The damage done? 2.5 turnovers a game. Loucks’ shooting numbers aren’t going to knock you out (41.7% from the field, 33.9% from 3, 62.9% from the line), and he’s not a prolific scorer at 7.2 points per game. He really needs to get set to hit shots, and he’s lacking the typical speed and athleticism of an ACC point guard. On the defensive end, he makes up for these deficits with his size, allowing him to pull down 3.1 rebounds a game and pull away 1.2 steals a game. I think that Jontel Evans can lock Loucks down defensively.

SG: One of the starting off-guards is No. 4 Deividas Dulkys, a 6’5″, 196-pound senior from Lithuania by way of Findlay Prep. Like Sammy Zeglinski, Dulkys can be unconscious from long range but tends to run hot and cold. He destroyed UNC on 8-of-10 shooting from long range and was 4-7 from 3-point land in his next two games against Maryland and Duke. In his four other ACC games, however, he’s gone 3-14. On the season, Dulkys has hit a terrific 39% of his triples and 84% of his shots from the line (as well as 45.8% of his shots overall). But Dulkys is not a one trick pony. He is rock solid on the defensive end, and he rides his quick hands to 1.6 steals per game. Dulkys is not much of a threat on the boards (2.2 rebounds a game), and he’s not much of a facilitator (1.2 assists per game), but if whoever is guarding him is a step slow on closing out on him, the Hoos could be in for a long night.

SG: Florida State’s other starting off-guard is No. 21 Michael Snaer, a 6’5″, 202-pound junior, who did his best Joe Namath impression in boasting to the media that the Noles would win the ACC. Snaer is brimming with speed and athleticism and leads the Seminoles in scoring with 14.1 points per game, many of them coming at the end of fastbreaks. That said, Snaer really has improved his shot this year, seeing significant gains in his shooting percentages from the field (44.5% vs. 40% last year), 3-point range (40.6% vs. 36.8%), and the line (85.1% vs. 77.6%). Snaer is money when he can get the ball off of a screen and take a set shot as his elevation and high release make him difficult to defend. When he’s forced to put the ball on the floor, he’s much less effective as his weak handle causes 2.3 turnovers per game. Snaer uses his speed, athleticism, and long wingspan to be a menace on the defensive end of the floor, where he forces 1.3 turnovers per game. When I see Snaer play, I think of Justin Anderson in a few years.

PF: At the “4” is No. 5 Bernard James, a 6’10”, 240-pound senior, who came to Florida State by way of Tallahassee Community College and six years in the United States Air Force. The battle between the 26 year-old James and the 24 year-old Mike “Gramps” Scott will involve two of college basketball’s oldest players this season. It will also involve two of its finest. James is averaging nearly a double-double on the season, with 10.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on efficient 59% shooting from the field (but sub-50% shooting from the line). That 59% can be explained by the fact that James gets many of his points in transition or off of putbacks, where he uses his explosiveness and timing to good effect. He’s not a guy who will kill you with post moves (and he averages 2.1 turnovers per game), but he does posses a nice hook shot. He will kill you defensively, though, as he uses his length and strength to block 2.2 shots per game. When an opposing post like Scott can get him away from the basket, he can expose James’ lack of lateral quickness and get some good looks in the midrange game.

C: Florida State’s other starting post is another BIG: 6’11”, 248-pound senior Xavier Gibson (No. 1). Unlike James, Gibson gets many of his points in the midrange game, resulting in a less efficient 49.2% shooting percentage. Gibson is not a volume scorer, averaging only 7.7 points per game to go along with 5 boards a game. He doesn’t really have a left hand, leading to a too-high 2.4 turnovers per game. He’s also not on the same level defensively as James, but he is fairly mobile for his size and chips in 1.5 blocks per game.

Key bench players:

PG: No. 12 Jeff Peterson, a 6’0″, 195-pound senior, is a bit of a nomad, vagabond, call him what you will. He’s on his third team in four years (after stints at Iowa and Arkansas) and can’t be happy with the results. He’s only getting 17.4 minutes per game and averages 3.7 points, the lowest of his career. Peterson is a pure point, but he’s always tried to do too much, and his 2.2 assists per game are almost cancelled out by his 2 turnovers per game. When you combine those numbers with mediocre shooting (42% from the field and 26.3% from 3) and average defense, you spend most of your time riding the bench.

SG: As noted, since his return from academic ineligibility, No. 30 Ian Miller, a 6’3″, 186-pound sophomore, has been the sixth man for the Seminoles. Miller’s defense has been a constant, and his team-high 1.9 steals per game have set the table for many easy transition points for Florida State since his return. Offensively, he’s more of an enigma. He’s third on the team in points per game (10.1), but for a player second on the team in attempts per game (9.3), his shooting percentages are shockingly low (35.5% from the field and 26.3% from 3). Miller had 15+ points in five of his first six games on the season, but he’s scored only a total of 10 points in his last three games combined.

F: As noted, No. 10 Okaro White, a 6’8″, 204-pound sophomore, started the first nine games at the “3” spot before offensive deficiencies forced him to the bench. White is a bit of a tweener as he doesn’t have the size to be a back-to-the-basket “4” or the perimeter skills to be a wing who can fill it up with his jumper. He’s averaging 8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. White’s defense is his meal ticket as he uses his length and lateral quickness to lock down most players he faces.

C: No. 50 Jon Kreft, a 7’0″, 262-pound senior, sees limited minutes for the Noles (11.3 minutes per game) but could give UVa some problems because of his size. He’s not much of a defender but does possess a bevy of low post moves although he only averages 3 points per game on 43.1% shooting.

5. Sabre Poster 504-C Brandon has the game as a 57.2-54.2 Florida State victory, with the Hoos having a 39% chance of winning. The Team Rankings simulation (available here) also has it as a Seminoles win by a score of 59.3-55.6.

I reluctantly agree. If Assane Sene were suiting up, I might pick the Hoos, but without him, the Noles seemingly have too much size for the Cavaliers to handle. Their offensive rebounding stats indicate not only that the Seminoles might own the boards but also that they can go through, rather than around, the Pack-Line Defense. Similarly, while UVa might be protective of the ball, Florida’s State’s forced turnover stats indicate that Virginia will have even more difficulty than usual in securing open shots. That said, the Noles themselves are a terrible No. 321 in the country in turnovers per offensive possession, and the teams that have beaten them all played a slower tempo like the Hoos. I think that the Cavaliers shoot a higher percentage than the Seminoles in this one, but have fewer shot attempts on the game. The result? A 58-55 Florida State win.

Author’s Note: Many of the statistics and analysis in this article were gathered through watching the two teams, ESPN.com, 504-C Brandon’s TAPE site, Warren Nolan RPI site, Teamrankings.com, and KenPom.com.