Tonight Virginia Tech will go on the road to face the hottest team in the ACC. #20 Florida State has won eight of their last nine games, and they are poised to make the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season.
FSU is 17-7 overall, with an 8-2 mark in conference play. The Noles have frustrated their fans this year, with losses to Harvard and Princeton, as well as ACC bottom feeders Boston College and Clemson. However, they’ve also beaten UNC and Duke. Their current 8-1 streak got started in Blacksburg back on January 10, with the Noles picking up a 63-59 win.
Since then, the Noles have ripped off wins against UNC and Duke, and also beaten Maryland, Wake, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Miami. Their only loss in the last nine games was a shocking 64-60 upset at the hands of a very bad Boston College team, in Chestnut Hill.
That’s Leonard Hamilton’s starting lineup, and his starting lineups have been very similar throughout his tenure. He likes a long, lengthy team that plays tough team defense, with a frontline that protects the front of the rim.
Before we take a closer look at Hamilton’s team, let’s take a closer look at Hamilton himself. So far his career at Florida State is going exactly like his career at Miami. From 1991-2000 he was the head coach of the Canes, with two NIT’s and no NCAA Tournaments in his first six years as head coach. In his last three years he made the NCAA Tournament three times, including a trip to the Sweet 16 in his final season.
Fast forward to his tenure at Florida State, from 2002 through the present. He made four NIT’s and no NCAA Tournaments in his first six years. In the next three years he made three NCAA Tournaments, including a Sweet 16 last season. The book on Hamilton is out, apparently. It takes him six years to build up a program, and then that program becomes a perennial NCAA Tournament team.
Hamilton catches just as much flak about his offense from FSU fans as Seth Greenberg does from Virginia Tech fans. However, he’s done a great job of recruiting players that fit his defensive style. The Noles have blocked 145 shots this season, and 15 of those came against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Let’s take a quick look at Florida State’s personnel.
Bernard James: In the first meeting, Bernard James closely resembled Lebron James. He torched Tech for 18 points, 15 rebounds (including nine offensive boards) and three blocks. A 26 year old senior who has served his country overseas, James is big, mature, and good. He presents a very difficult matchup for true sophomore Jarell Eddie, who is playing out of position this season. James has blocked 52 shots this year.
Xavier Gibson: Florida State’s other frontcourt player, Gibson is tall with a long wingspan, and he protects the front of the rim. He has 36 blocks on the season.
Michael Snaer: Snaer is FSU’s top scorer. He would average more points in a more up-tempo offense, but he’s a big guard who can put it on the floor and attack the basket, and he’s also a good shooter from the outside.
Deividas Dulkys: Dulkys has blocked 13 shots this year, five of which came against Virginia Tech in the first meeting. He also exploded for 32 points against North Carolina in the very next game.
Luke Loucks: A veteran player, Luke Loucks runs the point for Florida State and he is their best distributor. He leads the team with 97 assists. He’s not a great shooter, but he’s another tall backcourt option for Leonard Hamilton.
Ian Miller (6-3, 186, So.): Miller comes off the bench, but he plays as much as many starters. The guard is a good natural scorer, and he is third on the team with 9.9 points per game.
Okaro White (6-8, 204, So.): White is a talented combo forward who can play inside or outside. He is a versatile defender, able to guard three different positions depending on the opponent. White is a good shooter and a very good athlete, and he’s a perfect fit for a Leonard Hamilton team.
Jon Kreft (7-0, 262, Sr.): Kreft is the tallest player on a team of very tall players. He comes off the bench to average 11 minutes per game. As a former 5-star recruit coming out of high school, he has some skills in the paint.
Jeff Peterson (6-1, 195, r-Sr.): Peterson comes off the bench to average 16 minutes per game. He played in a total of 83 games with 59 starts before arriving at Florida State, previously playing in the Big 10 (Iowa) and the SEC (Arkansas). He is the most well-travelled player in college basketball (insert MoMo Jones comment here), and he’s a great option off the bench for Leonard Hamilton.
It’s easy to see why Florida State is so good this year. They have six seniors, including a couple of fifth year seniors. Their roster is set up perfectly for Leonard Hamilton’s style of play. A former starter for Iowa and Arkansas (Peterson) is only the fourth guard in FSU’s rotation … that’s how deep and talented the Noles are this year.
So why did it take Florida State so long to start playing well this year? Simple: they turn the ball over too much. They have 404 turnovers in 24 games (16.8 per game), and turnovers have played a big role in their losses. When the Noles aren’t scoring, the turnovers become killers.
Virginia Tech has not won a basketball game in Tallahassee since February 24, 1990. The Donald L. Tucker Center is the only ACC arena where the Hokies have not won since joining the league. The matchups don’t favor the Hokies breaking their long Tallahassee losing streak tonight. Tip-off is scheduled for 7pm, and the game will be televised by ESPN2.