Florida State: awesome defense, terrible offense, and puzzling results since 2009.
That was Chris Singleton's freshman year, for what it's worth. It was also when Florida State elevated their defense from merely "great" and took it to "insane." In the three complete seasons since then, FSU's defense has been ranked in KenPom #12, #1, and #1. This year, they're #4. In other words: they're a really, really good defense. (Pe'Shon Howard, please come to play.)
But in that same timeframe, no one's really known FSU for their great offense. (In fact, oftentimes it seems that if their offense was decent they'd be a near-elite team.) They're usually average at best in most offensive categories, and sometimes much worse than average. No difference this year: they're the most turnover-prone team in the ACC, averaging a turnover every fourth possession, and are 11th in the conference in three-point shooting percentage. They managed only 41 points against Harvard and scored only 10 points in the first half against Princeton. They've failed to crack 60 three times this season.
And that leads to some very strange results, as it always seems to do with FSU.
Two days ago, they blasted then-#3 UNC in Tallahassee. And I mean blasted. They won by 33 freaking points.
You know what happened exactly a week before then? They lost to Clemson by 20. (Clemson, remember, is 9-8 with losses to College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina, UTEP, and Hawaii.) Shortly before that, they had lost to Princeton in Tallahassee.
In fact, before running UNC out of the building on Saturday, FSU lacked a single quality win. The closest might be a victory over Virginia Tech on the road, but VT is 0-3 in the conference and lack a quality win themselves. They came close to knocking off UConn earlier in the year on a neutral court, but fell short in overtime. They didn't come particularly close to beating Michigan State or Florida.
So how do you assess this resumé? I have no idea.
Much like Georgia Tech, it's pretty clear that they're playing over their heads right now. And I don't mean that to sound demeaning in any way, but no team is 33 points better than UNC. You could put UNC up against the Miami Heat and they probably wouldn't lose by 33. But it's also clear that they're not as bad as some of their earlier results might've shown. Which set of results is more fluky? That's the big question. It's also nigh-unanswerable, so let's instead look at what we can see: the great defense and the middling offense.
Defensively, FSU is still an absurdly efficient unit. They're intense, they're high-pressure, and they relish defending. They're fourth in the country in eFG% with suffocating and well-run man-to-man defense, allowing very few open looks. They're first in the ACC in defensive turnover percentage. They rarely let players get to the free-throw line. Teams shoot only 26% from beyond-the-arc against the Seminoles, second-best in the conference. Bernard James and Xavier Gibson are both fantastic shot-blockers and have the Noles at first in the ACC in blocks, too.
You've seen this manifest itself in most every game they've played this year. It was a big reason they knocked off UNC so easily. The Tar Heels weren't at their best, mind you, but keeping them to 33% shooting (4-21 from three) with 22 turnovers - seven from Kendall Marshall - is an incredible feat. That was Carolina's lowest point total of the season - and in case you're wondering, it had nothing to do with the pace. There were 76 possessions in that game, which is in line with Carolina's season average.
Are you looking for a preview into what Maryland might be facing against the Seminoles' vaunted unit? Look back at the Alabama game in Puerto Rico. The Crimson Tide are only one spot behind FSU in KenPom's defensive efficiency ratings, so they're very similar units. And you might remember that Maryland scored only 42 and lost the game by 20. Not a good sign.
Of course, there's one big difference between the Maryland team that played against Alabama and the one that'll play against FSU: Pe'Shon Howard. We've learned that Pe' is hardly a fix-all for Maryland's offense, but I'd still like to have him around facing a suffocating bunch like this. He does need to improve, though, and do it fast; FSU frustrated Kendall Marshall, and while I love Pe', he isn't Kendall Marshall. He'll be one of the big keys to this one.
Perhaps the only thing FSU doesn't do particularly well is box out, as they have very average defensive rebounding numbers. James Padgett doing garbage work is going to be another must.
I'm not a coach, nor a fantastic basketball mind, but I can't help but wonder how big a role a chucker like Terrell Stoglin might play in this. FSU's defense is based on disrupting offensive rhythm and forcing bad shots ... but isn't that what Stoglin does anyway? Why not just cut out the middle man? Heck, he still has like a 40% hit rate when he does that anyway. If it's been 15 minutes and the game is looking like it'll probably go, I wonder if Turgeon will consider giving Stoglin the green light. If he gets enough looks, it's bound to fall eventually.
The good news is that FSU is a very poor offensive unit. They always seem to lack a point guard - Michael Snaer and Deividas Dulkys do not count, people - and the whole operation kind of comes crashing down. They're insanely turnover-prone, which is an area Maryland's going to have to look to exploit more than they have, and they don't shoot the ball very well in the halfcourt. A lot of FSU's points come off turnovers, but when they're forced to play halfcourt offense they'll struggle. Maryland's team defense has improved greatly this year, and if they have another strong performance, there won't be a lot points in this one.
Of course, the real paradox here is a very bad offense scoring 90 points against North Carolina. Obviously, they weren't quite so bad two nights ago. The biggest difference came from Dulkys, the Lithuanian swingman who shot the leather off the ball. Dulkys is historically a sniper, don't get me wrong, but before Saturday's game he was shooting 32% from three and averaging 6 points per game. On Saturday, he ended up shooting 12-14 from the field and 8-10 from three for 32 points.
Guys in the NBA 3-Point Contest don't shoot 80% from deep against air. That's being in a zone of epic proportions. For a statistical comparison, that would be akin to Nick Faust just bustin' out one day going 6-11 from beyond the arc en route to 37 points. It's awesome, yes, but it's also something I wouldn't bank on happening every day. Dulkys will, at some point, cool off. Hopefully by Tuesday.
If he does, then FSU will be normal FSU and not have too much of an offense to rely upon. Dulkys is usually a bit part, actually; the real big piece is usually Michael Snaer, a former top-10 recruit who can probably be considered the second coming of Mike Jones. (Difference being, of course, that Leonard Hamilton can't afford to sit Snaer, who sometimes looks like their only real scoring option.) Snaer's averaging about 13 points per game, but he's not particularly efficient and probably won't really scare most defenses. He needs to be accounted for, but doesn't have that extra gear that a lot of elite scorers, like Terrell Stoglin, usually have.
Like Maryland, the Noles actually recently got a big addition in the form of Ian Miller, a 6-3 combo sophomore who wasn't available for the first semester. He's not starting and has hardly been the point guard that FSU really needs (A:TO of 0.7:1.7) but he's been a big scoring option and is dangerously quick. The third offensive option is Bernard James, who doesn't have much a developed post game but is sort of like their James Padgett, at least in the offense.
The one area they really do have success in is offensive rebounding, which makes sense given their size and willingness to work. Maryland will have to make a concerted effort to avoid giving up second chances. Conversely, as mentioned before, FSU turns the ball over at an alarming rate, about once every four possessions. Getting those turnovers and then converting them, especially in transition, will be crucial; every possession not spent battling the Noles in the half-court is a victory for me. Nick Faust might be especially useful in this area.
It's tough tell whether it's a good thing Maryland's getting FSU after the UNC upset or not. On one side, there's a chance the Terrapins could be the beneficiaries of a letdown game. On the other, FSU now has confidence and is playing their best ball of the season. I'd feel a lot more comfortable if the Noles had to travel to Comcast for this one, a tepid an arena as it is, but it is what it is.
Literally no outcome would surprise me in this game. I'd probably be a little dazed by a Maryland blowout, but otherwise: I could easily see Maryland with the upset, or Florida State in a close one, or Florida State running away with it. It's an easy out and sounds hack-ish, but c'mon: this a team that a week ago lost to Clemson by 20 and then beat UNC by 33. How am I supposed to figure out which team they really are?
Good news is that we don't have to wait long to find out. The game tips tomorrow at 9:00, and will be on ESPNU. (You see, lazy people? I made you read all the way down here to find this. No more easy outs for you.) This season is about to get serious.