Florida State is in a world of trouble.
While the ACC is getting noticeably deeper thanks to the ascension of North Carolina State, Miami (FL) and now Maryland, the Seminoles, in the span of five months, have gotten thinner in all the wrong places. Even South Alabama couldn’t help but notice.
One year after bludgeoning the unimposing Sun Belt school 80-39, Florida State incurred the wrath of revenge-minded South Alabama. Riding a torrid outside shooting barrage, the Jaguars upset the Noles 76-71 on Friday, marking the biggest upset thus far (honorable mention, Connecticut over Michigan State) in the early season.
I’d act surprised like most of the college basketball world seems to be. But that would be disingenuous of me, because frankly, Friday’s shocker wasn’t much of one at all. There was a reason Busting Brackets held Florida State out of its preseason Top 25, favoring VCU and in-state league rival Miami instead.
However heroic Michael Snaer is this season—and he certainly wasn’t any kind of heroic on Friday—this Florida State team has a lot to prove. The Noles did just lose six impactful seniors, including three starters, from last year’s ACC tournament-winning team, after all.
Florida State sounded several sirens on Friday night that will follow this team throughout the season. In no particular order:
Point guard play. Michael Snaer is an All-American talent, but he’s not a natural point guard. Ian Miller isn’t either. Two combo guards do not make one point guard, though that’s the math the Noles are banking on in 2012-13.
The frontcourt is very thin. To be fair, what team wouldn’t struggle in the frontcourt depth department in the wake of losing Bernard James, Xavier Gibson and reserve pivot Jon Kreft? Sure, there’s still Okaro White. And Terrance Shannon. JuCo transfer Kiel Turpin could hold his own (don’t hold your breath). But don’t expect the usual stalwart front-line in Tallahassee this season. FSU is strong at the two starting forward slots, but bereft of a reliable center and without any compelling bench options to boot.
Defensive Setbacks. Maybe Friday night was just a fluke. Leonard Hamilton ought to hope so, because if Florida State’s opening night defensive performance was the sign of a trend, this team is in danger. FSU’s traditionally rigid defense was picked apart all night from the perimeter by a team that shot just 34-percent from long range a year ago. The Jaguars connected on nine of 15 shots from behind the arc, and it wasn’t as if they were throwing up prayers. The Noles interior defense suffered the most in the way of attrition over the offseason, which makes the struggles defending the perimeter that much more perplexing. We know FSU will struggle protecting the rim, especially in the early goings, but the lax defense from the guards and wings? Unexpected to say the least. It looks like the Noles won’t just be missing Deividas Dulkys and Luke Loucks for their timely treys and assists.
Health of Terrance Shannon. Judging by how he looked in the season opener, Shannon will edge Maryland’s Pe’Shon Howard as the ACC’s comeback player of the year. He looked strong last night coming off the bench, chipping in ten points and a team-high nine rebounds. But can he sustain that level of play against elevated competition after returning from shoulder surgery that cost him most of last year? The jury is still out. Michael Snaer will carry the burden of the offense on his broad shoulders this season, but it’s the left shoulder of Terrance Shannon that will make or break the team’s season.
FSU has a history of starting seasons slowly. Under Leonard Hamilton, who is beginning his 11th season as head coach at the school, only once have the Noles survived non-conference play with fewer than two losses. Last season, you’ll recall, Florida State dropped three straight non-league games including two at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Those Seminoles rebounded just fine, turning their early season struggles into postseason riches.
But Friday’s loss to South Alabama was something no amount of history can condone. The team’s best player may be back for one more run, but the lifeblood of last year’s group—six seniors in all—was lost in one fell swoop. That’s not changing no matter what history says about the insignificance of early season struggles in Tallahassee.