FSU Falls in ACC Championship: Pre-Selection Sunday Talk

It was a wild 72 hours in Greensboro for Florida State. They wake up the morning of their quarterfinal game against a hot Duke team to find out the game has been canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test on Duke’s side, ending their season. Then they play UNC the next day, a UNC team with a ton of momentum, and it was a very similar story as the last UNC/FSU game. FSU has a great first half, especially defensively, then UNC roars back in the second half. This time, FSU had an answer and was able to come away with a close victory. Balsa Koprivica especially was huge Friday night.

Then there was the third game this season against Georgia Tech. GT Has been a bad matchup for us for years with their funky zone, and it was no different in this game, as they forced FSU into 25 turnovers, a season high. That, coupled with GT shooting 28 second half free throws, was too much to overcome, and FSU fell for their third time in five games. Florida State beat themselves in this game. You can’t win with 25 turnovers, the game was as simple as that. Was the officiating great? No, but it never is in this conference. Did Georgia Tech tweak anything that gave them an advantage? No, Jose Alvarado just has elite timing on strips. FSU has no one to blame except for themselves for that performance, but luckily it’s not the end of the season.

When I try to compare this team, there are a couple of similarities I see with one particular team: the 2016-17 team. Another team that had an extremely high ceiling, but just lost focus on the road for whatever reason, had a superstar freshman that was too passive at times (Jon Isaac and Scottie Barnes, and a JUCO shooting guard that needs to be playing a little more than he is currently (Sardaar Calhoun and Braian Angola). That 2017 team ended up a 3 seed, but fell in the second round after getting matched up with a hungry Xavier team. I don’t think many people would be surprised if this season ended similarly, but I think this current team is a little more well-rounded. They’re not as reliant on one or two players to take on the bulk of the scoring like back then, and thee staff has learned more about their offense and what works well.

There are still things this team has to fix and get figured out, and it is possible to fix them seemingly overnight; I saw it firsthand in 2018. The team was borderline bad in 2018 and snuck in as a 9 seed, despite losing 6 of their last 10 games heading into the tournament. We saw the bracket and that first practice after was the hardest and most physical practice in season I had ever been a part of at FSU. The coaches worked those guys for hours just hashing everything out, sprints, free throws etc. But it completely reset the team’s mindset and focus, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear about a similar practice this week. The team looks like it has lost their focus these last few weeks. Here are things I’d like to see change.

Start Scottie Barnes, and Let Him be Aggressive

Skip Foster mentioned this last week or a couple of weeks about about how bad FSU is their first four minutes of each half, and it’s partially because of RayQuan Evans’ bad play recently. I am not here to bash any players, but we know how good Evans can be, and he is just not living up to the standards we need him to be at. Since after the home win against Miami on January 27th, a span that stretches 10 games, Evans is 5/31 (16.2%) from the floor, with 14 total assists and 14 total turnovers. That is not going to get it done these next few weeks. I get that FSU needs that sparkplug and energizer off of the bench, but Malik Osborne and Sardaar Calhoun have played well enough recently to play that role.

If you let Evans be what he is, which is a solid backup point guard, it’s fine. But he just hasn’t played starter quality minutes since early January. It will always be about who is finishing the game for Florida State, which was the main argument for Patrick Williams getting drafted so high, but FSU is losing too many points and too much momentum in the first few minutes of each half.

For Barnes, no more of this waiting until we’re down 10 to be aggressive and attack the rim. FSU is at their best when they get him going downhill early in possessions. No more stopping 10 feet away from the basket and looking for a pass, just get to the rim whenever possible and force the defense to suck in. Then you can start feeding your shooters, which allows them to be at their best.

RaiQuan Gray Needs More Touches Early

Gray sometimes gets in foul trouble early, which is something he has to avoid. But when he’s in the game, he has to be a major option. He’s such a matchup nightmare for teams because of his combination of size, speed, and skillset. There are very few power forwards that can keep up with him across the country, let him eat. He’s a good shot creator and distributor, but these last couple game they’ve gone away from until the normal offense isn’t working. Him in a ball screen with Koprivica… there are no answers for it when it’s run correctly and they get downhill.

Quit With the Turnovers

MJ Walker had 8 turnovers against Georgia Tech. Scottie Barnes had 6. Against UNC, MJ Walker had 6, Anthony Polite had 4. This cannot continue if FSU wants to go deep in the tournament, because they’re just beating themselves at this point, it’s not even anything the other teams are doing. Their turnover rate on the season is actually about average at 16.6%. These last five games, here are your turnover rates: 18.2, 19.7, 16.0, 22.1, 37.9. Those last two numbers are scary, you simply cannot turn it over that many times in March or you’ll be heading for an early exit.

NCAA Tournament Overlook

I’m expecting FSU to either be the last 4 seed or the first 5 seed, but who knows with this committee. I would likely much rather be the 4 seed, but it really depends on matchups, because that’s all March is. It is and always will be about the matchups. So let’s take a look at bad matchups that you should be looking to avoid.

If you look at Florida State’s losses this year, there is a common theme: turnovers and opposition free throws. Outside of the UCF game, where three players just got unbelievably hot at once, there have been an excessive amount of turnovers and/or the opposition shooting a million free throws. When you look at teams in March, there are a couple that are good at creating turnovers and getting to the free throw line: Abilene Christian (68th FT Rate, 1st in forced turnover %), Tennessee (73rd, 25th), Winthrop (71st, 20th), Texas Tech (19th, 14th)… those are the main teams you look at and stylistically just don’t match up well with Florida State, although Tennessee is so anemic offensively and just lost their fourth leading scorer to a facial fracture and concussion in the Florida game that I think FSU would be fine. Any of those other three teams I mentioned, I want zero part of. There will always be the teams that shoot well from 3, because almost every mid to low major is comprised of those kinds of teams, they’re almost impossible to avoid. If FSU were to get the 5 seed, but could get a matchup with one of these bid stealers like Georgetown or Oregon State, both of those teams would be great matchups for FSU. Yes they had a good stretch in their conference tournaments, but the PAC-12 and Big East have been horrendous this season.

All in all, there is still a lot to be excited about with this team, they just have to figure out a couple of really major issues. Their ceiling has been extremely high, but also a much lower floor than last season’s team. We will be doing an instant reaction podcast on Hear the Spear after the bracket is announced, and I will go into much further depth in articles about our matchups this week.

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