March 1, 2004 TALLAHASSEE Leonard Hamilton firmly believes that the maturation process of his Florida State team will be enhanced as a result of its recent 90-87 overtime loss at Wake Forest. While it proved to be the 23rd consecutive ACC road loss for the Seminoles, Hamilton saw some things he believes will allow his team to move forward in the ACC Tournament and the postseason, be that the NCAA or the NIT. Was he happy with squandering a 17-point lead to the Demon Deacons? No. But given the Seminoles' ability to correct mistakes and move forward, there were some encouraging signs.
To say I was disappointed with the outcome would be an understatement, because that game meant an awful lot to us because of the quality of the opponent, Hamilton said. It could have represented a milestone for our program in many ways.
While bemoaning the series of uncharacteristic mistakes his team made over the final four minutes of regulation, Hamilton believes those battle scars will toughen FSU's skin at the end of the season.
That was a good scenario, quite frankly, to be up and then they (Wake Forest) come back, he said. Psychologically, on the road there's a different mindset. We played not to lose, rather than played to win. I would have loved to have gone through it and come out on the winning end.
Hamilton, however, received further proof that his team is capable of going to battle with anyone.
We have the ability to play with people of that caliber, regardless if it's home or on the road, said Hamilton, who prior to the game said Wake Forest has the best talent/depth combination in the ACC.
The Seminoles went into the final two ACC regular-season games home against Duke and at Georgia Tech with the opportunity to land anywhere from the third to eighth seed in the ACC Tournament. While avoiding a fourth consecutive play-in game appearance was obvious, FSU would much rather finish sixth (or higher) than seventh.
Why? Because if FSU has a matchup problem with any team in the league, it's with second-place N.C. State. One program insider said that if the Seminoles had a choice between the Wolfpack and Duke to play a single game for the right to advance to the NCAA Tournament, they would rather take their chances with the Blue Devils.
Offensive Diversity Coming Along
Sophomore swingman Andrew Wilson's single-game record against an ACC opponent, with seven three-pointers and 24 points against North Carolina, may pay long-term dividends for the Seminoles.
Wilson may have merely collected lightning in a bottle at Chapel Hill, though coaches and teammates insist he's much better than his 30 percent three-point shooting average. Either way, his break-out performance had an immediate impact on FSU's offense.
In the Seminoles' gut-wrenching 90-87 overtime loss at Wake Forest, Wilson played a season-high 32 minutes. The box score indicated that he managed two points (a pair of free throws) and missed his only attempt from the field. What it didn't indicate was that Wilson's presence on the floor forced the Demon Deacons to respect his offensive potential, further spreading the floor.
That opened things up in the middle for freshman center Alexander Johnson, who logged a season-high 34 minutes and scored 17 points, two off his season high. Meanwhile, junior forward Adam Waleskowski Johnson's primary replacement in Hamilton's rotation matched his career high with 16 points against the Deacs.
Consider it a sign of things to come in ACC Tournament and postseason play for the Seminoles. When FSU has Tim Pickett, Nate Johnson and Wilson on the floor at the same time, opponents will be forced to respect the Seminoles' perimeter shooting.
That should bode well for the Seminoles, particularly in the ACC Tournament, because the league is woefully short on physical big men capable of defending Alexander Johnson one-on-one in the paint. Don't be surprised if Johnson comes up with a big tournament, further aided by another lineup shuffle that could be in the works. Given Waleskowski's ability to capably handle the ball on the perimeter and knock down the occasional three-ball, Hamilton may well deploy a lineup that has him on the floor with Johnson, further creating space to operate down low.
Waleskowski logged a career-high 31 minutes against the Deacons and may well stay close to that number at the expense of senior forward Michael Joiner, who saw only 12 minutes of action at Wake Forest. Joiner managed just two points and zero rebounds. He also had a costly five-second inbounds violation near the end of regulation, helping the Deacs to force overtime.
Football Shorthanded For Spring
When last seen, the Florida State football offense was floundering in a 16-14 Orange Bowl loss to Miami. It was yet another inconsistent performance in a season that saw the ACC champions return to national prominence with a 10-3 mark.
While the Seminoles have yet to solve the great Miami mystery five consecutive losses and counting, heading into their Sept. 6 season opener against the Hurricanes the return of 10 offensive starters and a seasoned group of defenders figure to have them in the 2004 national title hunt.
Whether FSU can make a run at the title, however, depends a great deal on a more consistent offensive attack, spearheaded by fourth-year starting quarterback Chris Rix.
Unfortunately, instead of fine-tuning his veteran group during spring practice, offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden must settle for a piece-meal approach. With six starters and five prominent reserves out while recovering from injury or offseason surgery, the emphasis will be placed on individual work.
I don't know what you're going to see in the spring because of the people out, Bowden said. To get ahead of that and start speaking about what I expect to see next fall, or where I would expect us to be next season offensively, is a little bit ahead of the wagon. We're a veteran offense now. We shouldn't have any weak links.
Not on paper, anyway. But getting Rix to become more consistent and efficient in his ability to read and dissect defenses won't be easy this spring. Not with four projected offensive line starters tackles Alex Barron and Ray Willis, center David Castillo and guard Bobby Meeks on the shelf for most or all of the spring.
Where it's going to affect us is when we scrimmage, when we try to put a team together, Bowden said. It's going to make drills a lot more important, when we work more individual stuff wide receivers against (defensive backs), backs against linebackers, (offensive) line against (defensive) line. We're just going to have to get a lot more out of those drills.
Bowden concedes that the thought of pushing back spring practice, in an attempt to get more players on the field following offseason surgeries, did cross his mind. However, the late-April end to the second semester didn't give FSU much wiggle room for tinkering.
The first notion is to push spring back further, Bowden said, but you can't push it back too far because you're starting to get into finals.
The Seminoles are scheduled to wrap up drills with the April 3 spring game. Final exams are scheduled for April 26-30.