It is January, when the Florida State faithful like to talk about the impending National Signing Day for football or spring practice, which is nearly three months away. We have breaking news. People are actually talking about basketball in the state capital.
The FSU men’s basketball team has the attention of Seminole Nation. It took a top ten ranking (No. 9), a packed house and a spanking of seventh-ranked Duke, but the FSU bandwagon is now fully loaded.
Going into Tuesday night’s showdown with the Blue Devils, interest had piqued sufficiently to actually have students and fans eagerly anticipating a basketball game in January. The conversation among Seminoles’ sports fans may have gone something like “it’s great that 5-star running back Cam Akers committed to FSU, but I need two tickets to the Duke game on Tuesday.”
People go to movies, attend plays, and go to concerts because they like the entertainment. Basketball teams can find ways to win games, but do not necessarily look good doing it.
These guys are truly entertaining to watch. (So, too, is the FSU women’s team, also ranked in the top ten).
The best comparison of the FSU style is to the “40 minutes of hell” storm employed by then-Arkansas Razorbacks’ Coach Nolan Richardson. The constant pressure defense carried out by superb athletes led the Hogs to the 1994 NCAA Championship.
That is unquestionably how FSU opponents feel after each game. Just ask Duke.
Wave after wave of either quick or long (or both) athletes coming at you has an effect. Coach Leonard Hamilton uses 10, 11 or even 12 players during a game to facilitate the attacking style.
Opponents, meanwhile, may have only six or seven players they can count on. By the second half they begin to wear down while the Seminoles keep their foot on the accelerator.
The result is a 16-1 record, their best start ever. They would be 17-0, but let an 18-point lead slip away against Temple on November 24.
At that point of the season, Florida State was playing something like “10 minutes of heck.” Since buying into Hamilton’s pressure defense scheme, they have won 12 consecutive games, a school record.
Hamilton has recruited several quality players to Tallahassee during his tenure at FSU, but his teams have not been able to put everything together. They won the ACC Tournament in 2012, but were an early exit from the NCAA Tournament.
They have not returned since.
Hamilton had even more success on the recruiting trail over the past two years. Dwayne Bacon was a highly-regarded player out of Lakeland, who had a sterling freshman season last year and has improved upon that.
Jonathan Isaac from Naples was a top-15 national high school player, who has already demonstrated his talent this year. Trent Forrest and C.J. Walker are other freshmen adding depth. Sophomores Terrance Mann and PJ Savoy add quickness and a shooting touch, respectively.
Junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes is dynamite when he’s focused while graduate student Michael Ojo has improved enough to make solid contributions at center. Plus, Ojo is so big (7’1”, 305 lbs.) he seemingly blots out the opposing basket. One could literally list a dozen players that have made contributions to this team.
FSU is in the middle of a brutal stretch of games where they play six consecutive ranked teams. With the win over Duke, they are now 3-0 in those games.
A big test looms on Saturday when they face No. 11 North Carolina in Chapel Hill. They have already proven they can win in tough places with their 60-58 victory at eleventh-ranked Virginia. Hardly anyone wins there.
During FSU’s NCAA Tournament drought, Hamilton has heard several cries calling for his ouster. No one wants to fire Hamilton now.
After this six-game stretch concludes, the basketball world may know not only whether Florida State is a candidate for the tournament, but whether they are Final Four material. Or better?
Following the North Carolina game, No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 14 Louisville come to the Tucker Civic Center.
Barring significant injuries, they will be in the conversation. But as coaches like to preach (correctly), it’s one game at a time.
Two months ago, which would have been the most unlikely to occur? Donald J. Trump elected President or basketball ticket scalping at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center?