It’s one of the biggest games of the season. With a win, the Tigers are on track to make the NCAA tournament. With a loss, they’d need to end the year on an epic and likely unrealistic run. To preview this contest, we reached out to Tomahawk Nation and connected with Courteney Korosec (follow here) for a question and answer session about the Seminoles and this huge ACC matchup. Enjoy, and be sure to head over to Tomahawk Nation to see the other half of the Q&A which should be live very shortly.
STS: Florida State basketball made an Elite Eight run last season. They’re currently ranked and riding a seven-game win streak. Meanwhile, the Seminole football team just posted their first losing season since 1976. I certainly know how difficult it can be for football-centric fan bases like Clemson and Florida State to turn their attention to basketball at the end of football season. Has that been a little different this year given the success of the two teams?
TN: No, I don’t think this year has been vastly different from the past several years, because FSU Hoops has done so well in recent history. Fans have already made that adjustment towards watching the basketball team since Coach Hamilton turned the program around. Regardless of the football team going 5-7 or 12-0, fans have the same strong interest in the basketball program this season. I think the only place where it might have changed slightly is the student body is more invested in going to games because of the team’s success especially after the rough football season the student’s experienced this year.
STS: FSU is 20-5 (8-4) and coming off a blowout win Saturday at Georgia Tech. After a tough start to ACC play, the Seminoles are cruising to another NCAA appearance. What is their situation in terms of ACC and NCAA tournament seeding? This is a de facto elimination game for a Clemson team fighting to return to the NCAA tournament. How critical is this game for FSU’s seeding and season-long goals?
TN: Florida State is extremely likely to return to the NCAA tournament, but the Seminoles are just one win away from locking their appearance down. If Florida State were to hypothetically lose the rest of their games this season, I think it is still highly probable they would dance due to their quality wins over Purdue, LSU, Louisville, and Syracuse and how soft the bubble is right now. If the Seminoles lose Tuesday night, it likely won’t have any major rippling effect for Florida State, but could possibly keep them from getting the coveted double-bye in the ACC tournament
STS: 6’10 sophomore forward Mfiondu Kabengele has emerged as a big contributor for the Seminoles this season. After averaging just over 7 points per game last season, he’s nearly doubled that to lead the team in scoring. He’s extremely efficient shooting 52% from the field, drawing a ton of fouls (7th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 mins), and shooting 77% from the line. Can you tell us a little bit about the role he plays on this team and how he his growth has added to a team that made a deep NCAA tourney run a year ago?
TN: Kabengele’s role this season has strengthened as he has grown both as a player and as an individual. He is the Seminoles leading scorer coming off of the bench. He is an emotional, competitive player whose attitude energizes his teammates as soon as he enters any game. In a post-game press conference earlier this year, Coach Hamilton said the following about Kabengele, “There have been two or three times in the last couple of games, he’s actually come out of the game to get Koumadje in there. Tonight, he didn’t want to go in the game because he thought Koumadje was playing well. He’s very unselfish. He’s all about winning and not many guys at this level will say, ‘Oh, let’s get Christ back in there, I think he needs more playing time.’”
On the court, Kabengele’s versatility has been crucial to the Seminoles’ success, he is able to play on the perimeter or play on the inside. He can shoot, handle the ball, block, and defend the post. Despite struggling with foul trouble earlier on, he has done a great job at fixing this issue to keep himself in the game as the season progressed.
STS: It seems every year that FSU has several huge bodies in the post. Kabengele isn’t their biggest as they have Christ Koumadje who stands at 7’4” and plays 16 minutes per game. How tough will it be for Clemson to establish Eli Thomas as a scoring threat in the post against FSU’s size?
Florida State has consistently been one of the tallest teams in the ACC. Length in the frontcourt is a cornerstone of a Leonard Hamilton defense. While it doesn’t always correlate with success or directly impact the win column, their size allows the Seminoles to match up well with almost anyone in the conference. If you can match up with the talent in the ACC, then you’re contending with the best in the country. Eli Thomas can have a big game for the Tigers, even if you don’t see it in the box score. Having a presence down low that forces the defense’s attention away from the perimeter could open the door for other Clemson players to succeed. Watch out for the Tigers’ three-point shooting percentage. That is where their biggest chance of winning may lie. It is also imperative that Thomas stays out of foul trouble and this might be an issue for him up against Kabengele. Thomas will have to draw fouls in order to compete with the Seminoles around the rim.
STS: Coach Hamilton is 7th all-time in ACC wins. He’s been at FSU since 2003, and after some time re-establishing the program, he’s now on the verge of his 7th NCAA tournament bid. How is he perceived by FSU fans? At 70 years old how much longer do you expect him to keep FSU towards the top of the conference?
It’s tough to put a time-frame on how much longer he’ll coach, as he certainly seems healthy & happy, and he’s doing what he loves---coaching ball & guiding/raising young men. Ham’s actually recruiting really well these days (w/ the help of assistant coaches Charlton Young & Dennis Gates), but it’ll be tough for the Noles to keep pace if Florida State doesn’t invest more in hoops.
STS: Lastly, what do you see in this matchup that could prevent Florida State from extending their ACC win streak to eight games? KenPom gives the Seminoles a slightly worse than 50-50 chance to earn the road win. How do you see this one playing out?
The Tigers head into the matchup against Florida State desperate for a win in order to keep their NCAA tourney hopes alive. The Seminoles head into Littlejohn after demolishing Georgia Tech on the road and have been preparing for Clemson in Atlanta due to the short turn around. I have a strong feeling the Tigers will play their hearts out and claw out a W and keep the ‘Noles from extending their streak.