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Behind Enemy Lines: A Q & A with Tomahawk Nation on Maryland-Florida State

Our SBN colleague, Tomahawk Nation, is the best Florida State blog on the internet, and I'm not just saying that because we're on the same network (just ask Sporting News). We parachuted down from our Terp-copters into the heart of enemy territory - TN itself - to bring you this ultra-informative Q&A on Maryland's upcoming opponent. Without further ado: 

1. Almost every team has someone with a killer instinct, the guy you want taking the last shot down by 1. This person is occasionally referred to as the "go-to guy", a phrase I really don't like but will use anyway. Who is this for FSU?

With the departure of Toney Douglas, this was one of the major questions that had to be answered in the off season. I don't think that person has been identified yet, which may actually be to the advantage of Florida State. However, Deividas Dulkys is finally hitting three point shots with consistency. Michael Snaer, our highly regarded freshman, is getting more playing time and demonstrating that he is able to create his own shot. In the Old Spice Tournament, we saw Leonard Hamilton went to Solomon Alabi, our 7'1 center, on the low block, looking for the easy basket or the foul. Alabi has shot 72.5% from the free throw line for his career. Fortunately, there have been few games this year that Florida State has needed that last second shot. That does make me nervous as we head into ACC play as our go to guy isn't established. My hope is that Michael Snaer will evolve into that player. He certainly has the skill set and talent to do so.

2. Florida State isn't getting a lot of talk in ACC basketball circles, despite having a really good record. Lack of star power, established guards, and marquee wins probably add up to that, but to me it seems the Noles are criminally underrated. Do you feel the same? Where do you see FSU in the ACC at the end of the year?

Since 2004, Florida State has entered ACC conference play with four or less losses every year, except for a terrible 2005 season. Once again, we sit at 13-2, with both losses coming on national television. In those games against Florida and Ohio State, Florida State's offense stayed in Tallahassee. Most basketball fans have yet to see the Seminole team that is holding opponents to miniscule amounts of points and an offense that is clicking. Keep in mind, a clicking offense for Florida State is still the worst offense in the conference statistically. Florida State also won the Old Spice Classic, with big wins over Alabama and Marquette. It's nice to get a win over an SEC team and a Big East team, but both teams have been quiet on the national scene. Additionally, some are saying that the SEC is down this year and therefore going 2-1 against the SEC this year may not mean as much as it has in the past. Compared to previous years, Florida States' out of conference schedule has been less difficult than in previous years. However, Florida State is scoring more points and holding their opponents to less points than they have in some time.

I think the attention that Florida State is currently receiving is appropriate. It's great to be in the Top 25 this early in the season and ESPN currently has us at #17 in their Power Rankings. Sunday is going to be a big test for this team We already beat Georgia Tech on the road. If the Seminoles could open the ACC 2-0 by winning two road games, it would likely earn them more attention. This is a young team and I would rather that they don't feel the pressure of the spotlight or feel entitled by being in the spotlight.

As you mentioned in your comments, after Duke, who knows how the chips will fall in the ACC. At this point, I still think that Florida State will finish 4th or 5th in the ACC. Missing the NCAA tournament should be considered a disappointment for this team.

3. Turnovers have been a big problem this year. Is that because FSU lacks a true point guard, or is a whole team effort? On that topic, does FSU really lack a pure point, as it seems from the outside?

One would think that with such a ridiculous turnover percentage that the Seminoles would not be able to win any games. Fortunately, the defense creates significant inefficiency by our opponents, limiting the impact of those turnovers on Florida States' offensive efficiency. The turnovers have been a result of forcing the ball, sloppy mistake and attempts at highlight tape plays, meaning there isn't one particular etiology. Fortunately, we had our lowest TO% against Texas A&M-Corpus Cristi, our last opponent. The players who lead the Seminoles in turnovers are Chris Singleton, our small forward, and Solomon Alabi, our center. They account for 32.5% of the teams turnovers. Singleton had seven turnovers in one game. The number of Alabi's turnovers has decreased in the most recent games. He had a tendency of dropping the ball to his waist and getting it stripped as he was double and triple teamed in the early going. Singleton tries to make the difficult passes and sometimes tries to force things. However, he is leading the conference in steals per game.

At the beginning of the season, there were certainly questions about who was going to be the starting point guard for this team. Derwin Kitchen has identified himself as that player, particularly in the last few games. He has passed up wide open looks to make good passes to his teammates. He has recently increased his assists per game from 2.8 to over four. Against Alabama A&M, a game in which Florida State won 81-34, he had 10 assists. He is our point guard. There has been a clear change in game plan with Derwin. I had the opportunity to talk with Derwin's Junior College coach and he said that Derwin's skill set fits the point guard position well.

4. While turnovers may be Florida State's weakness, defense is the resounding strength. Defensive efficiency is at a shockingly high number, as is defensive shooting percentage. What makes the Seminoles so tough to score on?

Leonard Hamilton is committed to playing stifling man to man defense. He has shown some zone this year, but that is not their strength. Our team is the tallest team in the country and they are all highly gifted athletes. Our defenders put a ton of pressure on the ball and are quick to make switches quickly. It also helps that Solomon Alabi can defend the paint with little need for double teams. However, the Seminoles absolutely clog the paint and dare you to beat us with three point shots. But, with the length and athleticism of our players, we're able to recover when we collapse on the paint. Plus, Hamilton gets his players to buy in when it comes to playing defense. Michael Snaer loves to play defense and it shows. It hasn't shown up in the stat lines yet, but this kid loves to play defense. The reason that the Semionles can play so aggressively on defense is that our bench is very deep and the bench players are just as big as the starters. The first guys to come off the bench are Michael Snaer (6'5"), Xavier Gibson (7'11") and Jordan DeMercy (6'7"). Terrance Shannon is also starting to play more minutes and he is 6'9". As you can see, Florida State's opponents never get a break.

5. Florida State is one of the younger teams in the nation (302nd in experience). How good or nervous does that make you feel going forward?

Last year, the Seminoles were one of the younger teams in the country, ranking 294th in the country for experience. They made it to the NCAA tournament, granted it was with significant help from Toney Douglas. Given the fact that they only lost two players who contributed significant minutes, Douglas and Uche Echefu, it might be surprising that the Seminoles have been as successful as they are this year. However, all of Florida States' starters played significant minutes last year. Solmon Alabi and Chris Singleton were starters from the beginning of the year. Luke Loucks played significant minutes. Derwin Kitchen played great minutes down the stretch. Despite being a young team, this is a tournament tested experienced team. Michael Snaer and Terrance Shannon were outstanding additions in the off season. Plus, the Semionles had the opportunity to travel to Spain this summer and play four games against professional teams and get 10 extra practices in. This bodes well for the future. Solomon Alabi hasn't exploded on to the national scene like many predicted, meaning the likelihood of him leaving for the draft is low. Michael Snaer is likely going to stay another year. The Seminoles only have one senior on the team: Ryan Reid. They already have a top 25 recruiting class, brining in Okaro White, Ian Miller and Brandon James. Miller is a true, pure point guard. This team is building a great core to be successful for the next few years. Keep in mind, basketball success at Florida State is very different than success at say, Duke or UNC.

6. FSU has a lot of length, but there's always a negative. What is the one type of team Florida State has had trouble with this year? Pressing/trapping, quick guards, outside shooters, etc?

Initially, Florida State had a lot of trouble with smaller teams that played full court press. This was in due to inexperience and personnel. In the Old Spice Classic, Leonard Hamilton was forced to use a three guard lineup: Kitchen, Dulkys and Snaer. By going small, they were more successful beating the press. Keep in mind that Kitchen and Dulkys are both 6'4 and Snaer is 6'5. Compared to most college teams, Florida States' guards are huge. This lineup seemed to work well and the Seminoles have started to use it with regularity. When the Seminoles played Georgia Tech, they were presented with the full court press once again, but the Seminoles were able to break it with regularity, particularly compared to early in the season. We were burned by Joe Diebler on Ohio State who went 6-12 from beyond the arc due to poor switching on screens; that seems to be better now. If a team is able to shoot well against the Seminoles, they have a good chance to win, meaning that Florida State's offense lags far behind it's defense. It's significantly better, but it has a ways to go.