Forget 2011. It's irrelevant. It really is. That's all we need to say about that. There is a job to do, and it exists in November 2013.
This is a test, perhaps more so than at Virginia. Florida State is big. Dick Vitale used to call a team like this the All Airport Team because they looked impressive in the airport. This bunch would make Vitale's All Hotel Lobby Team.
There are only two players listed on the roster smaller than 6-6, and both are 6-3. Three stand 7-0 or taller. The Seminoles have performed very much like a machine–cranking out three victories in devastating fashion. FSU is shooting 54% from the field as a team and averaging 86.7 points per game. They have 22 blocked shots and 33 steals. In fact, they have led the ACC in blocked shots for four straight seasons.
Granted, the competition has not exactly been Ruth, Gehrig, and Lazzeri. The trio of Jacksonville, Central Florida, and Tennessee-Martin were the victims and put up little push-back. Now FSU faces a considerable fiery bucket of freezing cold water in the form of VCU and havoc.
Florida State reminds me of, well, VCU. They are a long, athletic team that plays fast and forces turnovers. In fact, the Seminoles force an average of 19 turnovers per game. The high point for Rams fans: they play fast and furious, leading to 19 turnovers of their own against that inferior competition.
So forget 2011. And forget Michigan. Forget Virginia, Winthrop, and the Black-and-Gold game.
Them There Seminoles
Ian Miller and Okaro White are the only two FSU players–aside from Terrance Shannon–that played against VCU in that Sweet 16 matchup. Both played bit parts, but both are central pieces to this year's squad. White is a 6-9 jumping jack who averages 16.0 ppg and 6.3 rpg. Miller is a heady point guard who is third on the team in assists and averages 15.3 ppg. He has hit 6-13 from three this year.
The most dangerous offensive threat is 6-3 guard Devon Bookert. He is tied with Miller, averaging 15.3 ppg and 4.0 apg. Of note: Bookert led the nation in three-point field goal percentage last year (53%). He is 5-9 so far this year. Bookert is also their most potent defender. He has 10 steals on the season and plays in-your-face defense.
Robert Gilchrist is a senior from London who can handle the ball at 6-9. He is also their energy player who can block shots. Six of Gilchrist's 10 field goals this season have been dunks. The key for the Rams is not giving him space to use his skills.
Aaron Thomas is a scoring swingman who knocked down 19 points against Tennessee-Martin. Once again, and of note: he had six steals in that game as well. Thomas is a versatile cog in Leonard Hamilton's gameplan.
Montay Brandon (9.7 ppg, 5.3 apg) is the starting point guard who can get into the lane. At 6-7, he has the court vision to make things difficult on a defense and he is their third-leading rebounder despite being the point guard.
I'd expect Hamilton to shorten his rotations a little, and Jarquez Smith will find more bench time. Smith is a 6-9, 225 pound athletic freshman who has length and a developing game.
They have three seven-footers on the roster. Boris Bojanovsky will likely get the start. He is 7-3, 240 pounds, and is far more skilled than his plodding measurements suggest. He will likely get 10-15 minutes. Michael Ojo is his alter ego. Ojo is listed at 7-1, 292 pounds and will also get 10-15 minutes. Ojo's challenge has been to keep up with the speed of the game, and then there's VCU speed. The third is Kiel Turpin, the son of former Kentucky star Dinnerbell Mel Turpin. He has been hurt all year but is now healthy.
My Eyes For Your Eyes: Keanu Reeves Edition
Speed: FSU is big, but that carries with it the stigma of a dearth of ballhandlers and thin guard rotation. I'm looking for havoc on ice, a back-and-forth tennis match of a basketball game. The more the Rams can dictate pace, and a high octane pace, the more the big men quit running. And, the looser the guards get with the ball. The key is to get the Seminoles tugging on their shorts. Look at free throw situations and count the number of Seminoles grabbing their shorts. That will tell you a lot.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure: One key to the game is going to be defeating double-teams. This is obvious in the press, closing down airholes in traps. However it's perhaps more relevant in other situations. For instance, if Florida State doubles Juvonte Reddic in the post, Reddic's ability to pass out of that double will open up a high percentage shot (a Shannon dunk or a cutter for a layup) or a high impact shot (an open three). For Florida State, if they are able to use their length and height–remember, Brandon is a 6-7 point guard–to pass over and around double teams, the ball goes to athletic players attacking the basket. Advantage FSU.
Point Break: I don't particularly buy into the notion of shooting backgrounds bothering shooters. However I do buy into the mental aspects of shooting. Here's what I mean: kids are more comfortable at home, but the road isn't exactly weird. Most college basketball gyms are kind of the same, so it isn't a big deal. There is a familiarity. However a coliseum in Puerto Rico–much like a converted ballroom in the Bahamas–is just plain different. It isn't about shooting backgrounds, it's about an unfamiliar environment. That's important for this reason: if VCU can knock down a few shots early, that mental hurdle is defeated. A 2-12 start from the field can balloon.
Weave together the three keys and what do you get: a fast start. Play solid defense, knock down a couple shots, get a couple steals and get running early (and fast), and Florida State gets that look. You know that look. Crinkle faces. Yapping at each other. Guards pointing fingers at open area on the floor. Hamilton making a cone shape with fingers on both hands and tapping them on his shoulders, signaling a 30-second time out.
VCU gets that look, too. Crinkle faces, but a different kind of crinkle. The bench gets a warning to stay on the bench. There's a bounce in the step, sometimes even a skip. Briante Weber pumps his fist to the fans. And when Hamilton calls that timeout, the Rams players congregate nearly at halfcourt.
It's statement time. Let's go.