Scouting Florida State
Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton calls his team a unit in transition. He also realizes how unique it is for a coach to be able to say such a thing more than halfway through the regular season. But the tag fits this Seminoles squad. They now are at as close to full strength as they've been all year, though some recently returning players still are getting back into the swing of things.
Florida State has compiled a 14-3 record (1-1 ACC) through the efforts of a long, lean and athletic frontcourt, as well as a do-it-all guard. In a phone interview Thursday, Hamilton repeatedly emphasized his team is not yet a finished product.
"We have a lot of room for improvement," Hamilton said. "We're kind of a team in transition. We've had a lot of nagging injuries. Some of our guys are kind of regaining their health a little bit. We're still trying to develop our rotation, so that's always an interesting challenge this time of year. Most people have their rotations and everything in sync. We're just now rounding into some type of clear understanding, now that we have our full team available."
Senior forward Uche Echefu (6-foot-9, 225 lbs.), a product of Montrose Christian, has been recovering from preseason knee surgery. Hamilton said Echefu has been able to be "somewhat consistent with his effort" only in the last 10 days. Echefu tallied his first double-double of the season (12 points, 11 rebounds) in Florida State's 78-65 win at N.C. State on Tuesday. He is averaging 8.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while shooting 42.1 percent from the field.
"He's at the point now where he's starting to get comfortable with the team," Hamilton said of Echefu.
Sophomore guard Derwin Kitchen (6-foot-4, 180 lbs.) also had to integrate himself into the team's natural flow after sitting out the first nine games of the season while awaiting NCAA clearance to play. Kitchen transferred from Iowa Western Community College following his freshman season.
Characterized by Hamilton as a pass-first guard, Kitchen's role, in part, is to take some of the game-managing responsibilities off the shoulders of standout guard Toney Douglas. Kitchen is averaging 9.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game while shooting 50.9 percent from the field.
"Well with Toney Douglas basically being our point guard and our leading scorer, he's been doing a good job of running our team and distributing the ball," Hamilton said. "But Kitchen ... gives us a guy that gives us an opportunity to maybe turn Toney loose a little bit more from an offensive standpoint and still have someone who's more of a distributor and a decision-maker on the floor."
Douglas (6-foot-2, 200 lbs.), a senior, remains the Seminoles' most prolific offensive threat. He averages a team-high 18.5 points per game, while also contributing 34 steals, 14 blocks and 44 assists. He is shooting 42.7 percent from the field and 34.7 percent from three-point range.
Hamilton acknowledged that opposing teams were able to hone in on Douglas early in the season when his responsibilities were more diverse, but with Kitchen in the lineup, Douglas has been more free to display his offensive creativity.
Hamilton also believes having Echefu and Kitchen available eventually will help solve some of the Seminoles' team-wide scoring struggles. Florida State ranks No. 12 (as in, dead last) in the ACC in scoring offense, averaging 67.2 points per game. The Seminoles shoot 43.0 percent from the field (No. 11) and 32.7 percent from three-point range (No. 9). Florida State's 0.7 assist/turnover ratio also ranks last in the ACC.
"We've been somewhat slow to come around offensively, but I'm seeing signs, now that Uche's coming back and Derwin is getting involved in the rotation, I'm seeing us now be able to do some more things offensively," Hamilton said. "We're having less and less turnovers every game and our field goal percentage is going up."
The Seminoles shot 52.7 percent from the field and recorded 12 turnovers in Tuesday's win over N.C. State.
While Florida State's offense may have taken a while to get up to speed, its defense more than made up for it. The Seminoles rank No. 2 in the ACC in scoring defense, allowing 61.2 points per game.
Two freshmen -- Solomon Alabi (7-foot-1, 241 lbs.) and Chris Singleton (6-foot-9, 220 lbs.) -- have lead Florida State's defensive push. Alabi, who redshirted last season after dealing with a stress fracture injury, has tallied a team-high 34 blocks. He is averaging 7.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 52.6 percent from the field.
"He's still adjusting and learning and getting the defensive stuff down," Hamilton said of Alabi. "But having a big hand in the back sometimes helps the overall defensive concept because you have a big guy in the middle that can make up for some of our defensive mistakes that we make."
Singleton, who Hamilton said switched from being a low post player in high school to playing more of a small forward role for the Seminoles, is averaging 9.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He has recorded 29 steals and 19 blocks.
The one thing Hamilton has not been able to do as much of this season, due to injuries and other personnel issues, is press. Several coaches from teams that have faced Florida State this season said they expected the Seminoles to run a 1-3-1 halfcourt press as they had in previous years, but that was not the case.
"We have not done a whole lot of pressing," Hamilton said. "We haven't had the full availability of our unit. We pick it up every once in a while, but we've been basically a man-to-man team."
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