January 29, 2008
TALLAHASSEE Neither the position in which the Florida State basketball team finds itself, nor the manner in which it got into that position, should be surprising.
The Seminoles were back on the NCAA Tournament fence after a 69-66 home loss to N.C. State dropped them to 13-8 and 2-4 in ACC play.
FSU's inability to win close games has reached epic proportions. Since the Seminoles' senior class of Jason Rich, Isaiah Swann and Ralph Mims arrived on campus, they have dropped 13 league games by three points or fewer.
It's one of the main reasons Hamilton has yet to get a team into the NCAA Tournament in his six years, as the program drought heads toward a 10th consecutive season.
That the Seminoles are struggling to close out opponents with the league's most experienced lineup FSU has more starts by seniors and juniors than any other ACC team is doubly troubling.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton concedes that this team's inability to finish games with solid execution at critical moments is a serious issue.
"If that was not an issue with this team, we wouldn't be doing it," he said. "Most coaches will tell you, you have some strengths and some weaknesses. ... There's no reason for us to be having those issues. We might have some physical issues where we might get outmanned in certain areas, but making good decisions should not be one of them."
While the Seminoles fell to the Wolfpack after Courtney Fells banked home a game-tying three-pointer not unlike the one Clemson's Trevor Booker made to force overtime in an earlier FSU loss this season the game was lost in the first half.
With crisp ball movement and sharp execution, FSU built a 12-point lead with five minutes left in the half. That's a lot of time, to be sure, but N.C. State came to Tallahassee without a proven point guard, and looking for its first league road win in nearly a year.
The Wolfpack, however, got in a position to end that seven-game slide by closing the half on a 17-0 run.
Quick shots, senseless turnovers and a few defensive breakdowns got the Wolfpack going. It was a virtual carbon copy of FSU's first-half meltdown at Wake Forest, when the Seminoles squandered most of a nine-point lead before being run out of Joel Coliseum in the second half.
The Seminoles turned the ball over four times in the 17-0 stretch against N.C. State, twice by Rich and once each by juniors Toney Douglas and Uche Echefu. They also missed their last seven shots many of them of the first-look variety and five from beyond the arc. Again, they were veteran mistakes. Five of those shots came from seniors Mims and Swann.
"All of a sudden, what was a 12-point lead becomes a dogfight," Hamilton said. "That's what happens in this league. Every game is so closely contested that you cannot have those runs where you have four or five possessions where you come up with zero. That allows you to be in position where a shot like Fells made (hurts)."
It was the kind of performance that would suggest Hamilton is working with a team lacking the necessary basketball acumen to win critical games.
Douglas offered little to refute that notion when asked why the Seminoles can't seem to stand prosperity.
"It's a mentality," Douglas said. "We've got to know things like that. We can't get too excited. I think we got too excited (against N.C. State). A 12-point lead went like that. It's a learning experience. We've got to learn. We can't let it happen over and over."
Yet it continues to occur, which is why the Seminoles are facing an all-too-familiar predicament, with the league schedule approaching the midway point.
"We wouldn't be in that situation if we didn't give up that 12-point lead," Douglas said. "That's what lost the game. We had a chance to win at the end, too, but it wouldn't have come to that point."
TEAM NEEDS 9-7 ACC MARK
So what must the Seminoles do in order to position themselves for an NCAA berth?
With a 2-4 league record heading to Virginia Tech, which was coming off an overtime win at Boston College, Hamilton's bunch must get on a roll. Fast.
Out-of-conference losses to Cleveland State, South Florida, Providence and Butler have left the Seminoles with only one quality win outside the ACC at Florida, back in November.
"Mathematically, we've just got to correct our deficiencies and get on a run here where we stack four or five good wins," Hamilton said. "Last year we had a run where we won five out of six. ... I think we're capable of doing that, and that's what we're going to have to do if we're going to put ourselves in a pretty good position at the end of the season."
The Seminoles are the only team in ACC history to have a two-year .500 league record (16-16) without an NCAA berth to show for it. Short of a sympathy bid from the recently unforgiving selection committee, FSU likely will need to finish with a 9-7 league mark this time, and even then it might have to avoid a first-round ACC Tournament exit.
Counting to seven wins even given the way this season is unfolding in the final 10 league games might be the equivalent of long division.
The Seminoles have two games remaining with North Carolina and Miami, and road dates at Maryland and N.C. State. The home slate, which includes visits from Wake Forest, Clemson and Boston College, is no picnic, either.
"Mathematically, the way this thing is going to turn out, the team that wins the league is probably going to lose four or five games," said Hamilton, perhaps with a bit of optimism. "Mathematically, we've got to be on the winning side of some of these (close games). There's going to be a lot of close games down the stretch.
"I'm encouraged by this fact. ... We've put ourselves in position to win about every game we've played. I've been doing this long enough to know that we're very capable."
AD SEARCH STARTS HEATING UP
FSU president T.K. Wetherell has begun interviewing candidates to succeed Dave Hart as the school's athletic director.
First in line among three candidates interviewed is former FSU sports information director and one-time interim AD Wayne Hogan, who is now an assistant athletic director at Georgia Tech.
The wild card among the three candidates is Detroit Lions executive vice president Martin Mayhew, who is one of the highest-ranking African-American officials in the NFL. Mayhew, a star cornerback at FSU and in the NFL, as well as a Tallahassee native, lacks any collegiate administration experience, but he brings a Georgetown law degree and plenty of popular support to the table.
Former Florida Marlins president Don Smiley also is scheduled to be interviewed.
The best guess, however, is that the front-runner for the job likely will come from an abbreviated list of candidates provided by headhunter Chuck Neinas. Neinas is expected to forward at least two candidates to Wetherell and the selection committee for review.
With any luck, FSU will name a successor to Hart by mid-February.
NO RUSH ON ACADEMIC REPORT
Don't expect FSU to submit its internal report on the recent academic scandal to the NCAA until after signing day.
While the work may well be completed in advance of the Feb. 6 date, it serves the school no purpose to make its findings and its proposed self-sanctions public until coach Bobby Bowden has put his 33rd signing class with the Seminoles to bed.
Though the NCAA likely will conduct its own follow-up of the school's investigation, any hint that the school could be facing sanctions scholarships or otherwise could sway on-the-fence prospects negatively.
The Seminoles appear to be in the process of reeling in a top-10 recruiting class, despite the recent defection of long-time recruiting coordinator John Lilly to Georgia. Lilly had been with the program for 13 years, including the last 10 as the recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach.
Lilly was mentored in his early years at FSU by current Bulldogs coach Mark Richt. While the timing of Lilly's move two weeks before signing day seemed odd, it was clear that his job status will be in jeopardy whenever Jimbo Fisher takes the reins from Bowden.
Many of Lilly's recruiting responsibilities had been absorbed by Bob LaCivita, who was hired as the program's player personnel director. Fisher's role in evaluating talent and the direction the program is headed further limited Lilly's duties.