Florida State sophomore Terrance Mann has dubbed the ninth-ranked Seminoles’ bench the “Boom Squad.” So far the nickname has proven to be appropriate considering how productive the reserves have been in conference play.
The Seminoles’ reserves are averaging 22.5 points and the team is 16-1 and off to a 4-0 start in Atlantic Coast Conference play for the first time in school history.
They are one of two ACC teams that have 12 players averaging in double figures in minutes played. The other is 11th-ranked North Carolina (15-3, 3-1 ACC) — and FSU plays the Tar Heels Saturday in Chapel Hill.
“They are like a second starting unit because it wears other teams down which we use to our advantage,” Mann said. “They bring everything — energy, scoring and defense.”
With the depth and no set rotation, coach Leonard Hamilton has often subbed three or four players at a time to get the freshest combination on the court. According to KenPom’s minutes analytics, FSU is the only ACC team to not have anyone play more than 70 percent of their team’s minutes. The past three seasons, Hamilton has had three or more players do that.
The Seminoles have seen 41 percent of playtime go to bench players, which is sixth among Power Five conference schools and 22nd in Division I.
“We haven’t had a lot of quality depth the past couple years,” Hamilton said. “We just now have our full complement that allows us to use everyone. We’re fortunate that those guys are not coming in just to spell guys but contributing at a high level and improve.”
While Florida State’s bench has been mostly populated by newcomers, it has also had a nice mix between youth and experience.
Senior Jarquez Smith (6-foot-9) and sophomore Christ Koumadje, who is the tallest player in program history at 7-4, provide plenty of size in the frontcourt. Koumadje is fifth in the conference in blocks with 24 while Smith is averaging 10 points and 4.5 rebounds in the past two games.
Freshmen CJ Walker and Trent Forrest have been effective at both ends of the court. Walker leads the team in free throw percentage (80.8 percent) and Forrest is sixth in the conference in steals with 28.
“We know when we come in, we’re going to try to make something positive happen. So I just feel like we’ve accepted the role and we enjoy it,” Forrest said.
Sophomore PJ Savoy, who is a junior college transfer, has added the biggest offensive impact with his perimeter shooting off the bench. He is 22 of 50 on 3-pointers during the team’s school-record, 12-game winning streak including a pair of 3-pointers during Tuesday’s 88-72 win over No. 7 Duke.
Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said after his team lost last Saturday that he thinks this is the best team Hamilton has ever had.
“I think they can play a lot of different ways,” Williams said. “I don’t necessarily look at it as a platoon but if you are platooning, obviously that means there are a lot of different options relative to what’s going on in the game.”
The advantage in bodies has been apparent during the second half of games. In conference play, the Seminoles have outscored teams 43-34 after halftime.
If there is a team though that can match FSU’s depth it is the Tar Heels, who have four players averaging in double figures and six averaging at least 7.2 points overall. UNC has the ACC’s top scoring attack at 89.3 points with FSU second at 86.7.
The Tar Heels though will be thin up front with freshman forward Tony Bradley Jr. out due to a concussion. Isaiah Hicks has frequently battled foul trouble while junior swingman Theo Pinson has played in only two games after missing the first 16 due to October foot surgery.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he considers Saturday’s game to be a challenge due to Florida State’s length and depth.
“It’s effective for them defensively because they have good feet and then the length, so they bother your shot,” he said. “They use their length and athleticism and their brain, because I think they’re a really intelligent team too.”
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.