What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: basketball writer Matt Minnick from Tomahawk Nation, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Florida State.
1) What's the general sense about Florida State hoops so far this year? FSU is off to a 4-1 start, but none of those wins have come against opponents ranked higher than #150 via KenPom, so the competition so far hasn't exactly been fierce. And what went wrong for the Seminoles in the Hofstra game that Florida State lost?
MATT: For the diehards (we have a small but passionate group) there is cautious optimism. There is a definite sense that the talent and depth levels have improved substantially, but how it all comes together is still unknown. For the casual fans, there seems to be a bit more excitement than normal thanks to the exciting play of the newcomers.
While the overall competition hasn't been great, it's still nice to blow out some bad teams like you should. And for the most part, the offensive efficiency has been much improved. What happened against Hofstra? The Noles were ice cold from outside (6-25), failed to lock in on the proven Hostra shooters (Hofstra was 10-22 from three), and just in general seemed to lack the effort and focus needed to beat a solid mid-major opponent.
2) Dwayne Bacon was a big-time get for Florida State in recruiting (#14 overall recruit in 2015, per ESPN) and on paper it looks like he's lived up to the hype -- he's leading the team in scoring (20.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 rpg) and shooting well (57.8% FG, 47.1% 3FG). How happy are FSU fans with Bacon so far? What are his biggest strengths? And what can Iowa do to slow him down?
MATT: Bacon has lived up to his offensive hype, and the rebounding numbers have been solid too... but his defense has left a lot to be desired. Casual fans see the highlight reel dunks and long range bombs and get giddy. But if he doesn't start picking up Leonard Hamilton's defensive scheme--and play with the intensity necessary for success on that side of the court--he could find himself on the bench for longer stretches. Fortunately, he's said all the right things about getting better on D, and it also helps that fellow freshman Malik Beasely is a grinder who goes all-out every possession.
His biggest strengths are his ability to glide to the basket with ease and finish at the rim, along with his range. He's also a willing passer. Too slow him down, honestly I would say just make him work for his buckets and don't give him--or FSU--easy opportunities in transition.
3) Outside of Bacon, who are some key players for Florida State this year? Who should Iowa fans be wary of on Wednesday night?
MATT: I already mentioned Malik Beasley, and while slightly less ballyhooed than Bacon, he was a major recruiting coup as well. He's arguably been more consistent than Bacon and is the best athlete on a team that's loaded with athleticism.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes (XRM) is the key that makes the offense go. He's transitioning from having to do everything last year to a role that's more about setting others up and then picking his spots to score. So far he's making the transition pretty well, and when he's on with his turnaround fadeaway he can be mighty difficult to matchup with.
A couple of seniors, Montay Brandon and Devon Bookert, provide two very different skill sets, but both are key to overall team success. Bookert is a long-range sniper, while Brandon is a slasher and the team's best defender.
4) Florida State has played at a fast tempo so far this season (74.4 possessions per game, 28th in the nation) -- is that typical for FSU under Hamilton? Or is that unique to this team? Is FSU likely to try and run and push the tempo versus Iowa?
MATT: One of the biggest myths about Leonard Hamilton (and oft repeated by national "experts") is that he likes a grind-it-out game. Historically, Hamilton's defenses have indeed forced teams to work the clock and grind things out. But on offense, when Hamilton has depth, he actually prefers to get his guys out in transition. Over the years, FSU has often been in the top 1/2 or 1/3 of the ACC in terms of length of offensive possessions.
But this year has taken things to another level, so far. Much of that is due to having a team that is legitimately 10, or even 11 guys deep (despite two guys hurt). Another factor is that the talent on the team--particularly Bacon, XRM, Beasley, and Brandon--is most comfortable when out in transition. What it's all led to is a Seminole team that will look to run early and often, capitalizing on missed shots, steals, blocks, and even made buckets.
5) What does Florida State like to do defensively? How will they look to slow down Iowa on the offensive end?
MATT: What Hamilton WANTS to do on defense is play an intense "team-man" D that extends pressure beyond the three-point line, switches on screens, fronts the post, take away interior shots, and force guys into where the help-side D is coming from and waiting for the block. When executed well, Hamilton teams have been defensive stalwarts. Fortunately for Iowa, this Nole team is not executing that defense even close to well...at least not yet. I don't expect that trend to be broken against the Hawkeyes.
6) What are the expectations for the Seminoles this year? NCAA Tourney or bust? The ACC looks pretty loaded (as usual), so what would constitute a good league finish for Florida State this year?
MATT: Barring a rash of injuries and/or suspensions, FSU should Dance this year. Most of the staff predictions at Tomahawk Nation had the Noles between a 7 and an 11 seed. As far as the ACC, yes it's loaded (and looks to be getting even tougher based on 2016 recruiting rankings). If the Seminoles can manage a top 6 finish in the 15 team league, that would be considered a success.
7) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
MATT: The line started with Iowa as the 7.5 point favorite, but has been bet down to -5. KenPom, on the other hand, predicts an 8 point Iowa win, giving FSU just a 25% of coming away with a victory. If FSU can manage something like 8-18 from three and keep Iowa off the offensive glass, I think they have a chance. But this early in the season, and the freshmen playing their first true road game, I'm going with the home team. Iowa 85, FSU 80 in a 74 possession game.
Thanks for being a good sport, Matt, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped tonight. You can check out the TN crew at Tomahawk Nation. You can also follow TN on Twitter at @TomahawkNation.The Iowa-Florida State game is in Iowa City, IA on Wednesday, December 2, and is scheduled to start at approximately 8:15 pm CT, with TV coverage from ESPNU.