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Clemson's brutal stretch continues with a road trip to Tallahassee to play a Florida State team that already beat us soundly in Littlejohn Coliseum. We catch up with Michael Rogner, the basketball editor at Tomahawk Nation, to learn a little more about FSU basketball and what to expect in Saturday's game.
As part of what we've called Clemson's "Road to Perdition," the Tigers will travel to Tallahassee for their third consecutive road game. After this one, they get a slight breather with GT at home before three more major challenges at Syracuse, at Notre Dame, and Virginia.
Florida State's elite defense held Clemson to just 41 points in a matchup at Littlejohn Coliseum earlier this season. Clemson responded by beating Duke, but the offense has not looked good since that upset victory. We'll be interested to see what adjustments have been made since the offense was completely stymied in the Dean Dome. The two teams battle again this Saturday at 3:00 pm on ESPN2.
To learn more about FSU basketball and what to look for in this matchup, we connected with SB Nation's Seminoles blog, Tomahawk Nation.
STS: Florida State was picked 9th in the media's ACC preseason poll, but has outperformed that projection and sits at 24th in the KenPom rankings. They already have two ACC road wins (plus another likely road win upcoming at Boston College). Despite the loss in Raleigh, KenPom still projects 20 regular season wins. Do you see them making the NCAA tournament?
TN: At this point I do, but I'm starting to wonder. Team Rankings still has them as the last 9-seed in the S-curve, with a 79% chance of dancing. At this point they have no bad losses, but also no great wins. Beating UMass and VCU on neutral courts were good wins, but not great. They're 4-4 in the ACC with 10 games left, but according to Pomeroy have played the toughest conference schedule of any team, so it gets easier.
STS: FSU has arguably the best defense in the conference. They've held conference opponents to the lowest two-point FG% in the ACC. They also have the second best block percentage (percentage of opponents two-point shots blocked) and the second lowest effective FG percentage allowed. Aside from the blocked shots (which were good last year), this defense has taken a big step forward. Their adjusted defensive efficiency has improved from 190th last season to 18th this year! Is there one thing that has made the difference or is it a lot of little things?
TN: Last year FSU had seven newcomers. Now those guys are in their 2nd year in the system, which makes a huge difference for a complicated defense like Leonard Hamilton runs. They are still a long way from being great, but they have a lockdown guard (Aaron Thomas), Mr. Flexibility (6-7 guard Montay Brandon), and a host of guys who can block shots. If this team wasn't such a terrible rebounding squad then the defense would be elite. Unfortunately, the toughest rebounder on the team (7-0 center Kiel Turpin) has missed the entire season with a knee issue.
STS: Florida State and Clemson are similar in that football drives the athletic department (as it does ACC TV dollars) and that is where both schools have traditionally been most successful. Both universities also have excellent baseball programs. Basketball has been a bit trickier though. Clemson and FSU have made the NCAA tournament a total of 11 and 14 times, respectively. Recently though, Leonard Hamilton has built up the program and found consistency. The Seminoles have made the postseason (NIT or NCAA) every year since 2005-06 and even claimed an ACC Tournament Championship in that stretch. What do you see as the keys to building a solid basketball program at a big time football school in a big time football state?
TN: Quite frankly, the success is due to Coach Hamilton. When he retires (he'll turn 66 in August) spoiled FSU fans are in for an ugly reality. There's a reason FSU made three tourneys in their first 17 ACC seasons. There's a reason FSU has made one Final Four in program history. No one - fans or administration - cares much about basketball. The facilities are garbage. The University won't pay market value for assistants. The recruiting budget is that of a mid-major. Seminole fans think the world revolves around football, and so they expect that basketball could be just as good as the football program. Yet FSU football outspends every other ACC team and it's not close. When FSU football isn't elite - now THERE's a real problem, because there is zero reason not be elite. Meanwhile, FSU basketball is near the bottom in conference budgets. Listening to whiny FSU fans complain about our lack of success is like listening to Duke fans complain about a lack of football titles.
STS: FSU's offensive attack is very balanced, with no player averaging 14 ppg or greater. Okaro White, a 6'9" senior post-player, leads the team in offensive rating and minutes per game. He didn't play well in FSU's earlier win over Clemson, but has been very effective overall. What should we expect from him and from the Florida State offensive in general?
TN: Okaro is dependable. He's gotten a little better every season. On rare nights he dominates, but for the most part he does his thing and moves on. The offense is more dependent on the guard play. Notably, Ian Miller has tremendous potential but has never developed a great feel for running the team. Devon Bookert runs hot and cold, Aaron Thomas disappears at times, and Montay Brandon has a tendency to fall in love with his shot (which isn't good). And that's it for FSU guards. The Noles only have four on the roster, and that's counting Brandon who is really more of a three. Versus Clemson, I expect something similar to the first game - FSU will pound the paint with the 7-footers and Okaro and try to force the Clemson defense to collapse. When that happens, hopefully FSU - the No. one three-pt shooting team in ACC play (42.1%) - shoots a little better than the 9% made the first time around.
STS: Teams that can play a tough, grind-it-out style of play such as Pittsburgh, FSU, Syracuse, and UVA are likely to spell trouble for Clemson. The Seminoles play a fairly average tempo (~68 possessions per game), but can win a slow tempo defensive slugfest and already have beat Clemson in a very slow-paced game that consisted of only 56 possessions. What type of game, tempo-wise, do you expect to see on Saturday?
TN: Clemson will repeat their gameplan vs FSU, which is to slow the game down as much as possible. FSU wants to run at every opportunity, and it's been an interesting season watching the way different teams try and slow them down. The Noles have an elite offense in transition. In half court sets, it's bad. If the score remains close I'd expect another sub 60-possession game. FSU hasn't lost a game in which there have been at least the NCAA average in possessions (67 in regulation). VCU was more than willing to run with FSU and at one point the Noles led that game by 30.
STS: I'm hopeful that Brownell will make some adjustments, such as changing the screener on the high ball screen in our offense, that will improve the outlook for this offense, however giventhe difficulty of ACC road wins, Clemson's recent struggles away from LJC, and FSU ability to beat us with great defense and superior size, I am not confident Clemson can steal this one on the road. Do you think FSU will extend their win streak over Clemson to six?
TN: I do. The Noles really need this game, and I think at home they're much more likely to come out focused. Clemson will turn this into a crawling, ugly, game, but the Noles won't repeat their 9% three-pt shooting and should have enough to get it done. I'll take FSU by three, 58-55.
ST: We thank Michael for giving us some insights into this Florida State basketball team. If you'd like to see my answer's to Tomahawk Nation's questions, click here.
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