NCAA Tournament Sleeper Pick: The Florida State Seminoles

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Leonard Hamilton knows a thing or two about getting to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. It is reaching the Final Four that has bedeviled him throughout a successful tenure at Florida State.

The Seminoles arguably had a Final Four-caliber team last season, winning a very competitive Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title outright before COVID-19 shuttered both the conference tournament and NCAAs. In this topsy-turvy campaign, the ACC is down but Florida State remained up — the Seminoles finished second to Virginia and got a walkover into the tournament semifinals after Duke withdrew due to COVID-related issues.

If Hamilton’s team can get past North Carolina in the semifinals Friday, it will face Georgia Tech in the finals since the Cavaliers also were forced to withdraw due to COVID.

There is some value in riding with the Seminoles to make their first Final Four appearance since 1972. The Kambi platform powering DraftKings, BetRivers, and Barstool Sports all have them at +250, while FanDuel lists them at +350. There is near-uniformity in their odds of winning the NCAA tournament — BetMGM has them at +1600 while FanDuel and PointsBet are aligned with the Kambi sites at +2000.

William Hill, however, looks like the place to buy a title-winning ticket considering the British-based bookmaker is offering +4000. In the quest to find anyone but Gonzaga or Baylor to cut down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indiana, the Seminoles are as good an option as anyone to get the job done.

Size matters

College basketball may be a kid’s game, but one trademark of Hamilton’s teams is length. They are long in height, long in length, and just plain long. The Seminoles are, in a way, the Southern version of Syracuse except they play man-to-man defense. The phrase “grown-ass men” aptly describes Florida State because the team has NBA size at every position.

The shortest player in Hamilton’s nine-man rotation is 6-foot-4 senior guard RayQuan Evans, who can provide scoring pop off the bench. M.J. Walker, who leads the Seminoles in scoring at 13.1 points per game, is a solid outside shooter at 44.1% from 3-point range, and swingman Anthony Polite can also be rude to opposing defenses if left unguarded on the perimeter.

Balsa Korprivica provides size in the interior — the 7-foot-1 sophomore has progressed nicely to average 8.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks as his minutes have nearly doubled from last season. Forward RaiQuan Gray also does plenty of dirty work in the paint and is averaging 12.4 points and a team-best 6.9 rebounds. Behind the pair in case of foul trouble is 7-foot-2 senior Tanor Ngom, and Hamilton can also call on 6-foot-6 Sardaar Calhoun to match up against guards and forwards.

The metrics

All that length makes Florida State a chore to score against, but what has changed from seasons past is an offense capable of consistently scoring on the perimeter. The Seminoles have ranked 47th or better in terms of KenPom offensive efficiency for six seasons running, but this season they have climbed to 11th with 117.4 points per 100 possessions.

Walker, Polite, and Calhoun are all shooting 43% or better from beyond the arc with at least 20 makes apiece. Florida State is shooting 38.5% from deep, good for 13th among Division I schools and the best percentage of any Hamilton-coached team since he arrived in Tallahassee in 2003. The ‘Noles also rank 16th nationally in offensive rebound percentage (35.2) and 38th in effective field goal percentage (54.2).

The defense is not the lockdown unit it was each of the last two seasons when it ranked 10th and 15th, respectively, in terms of efficiency, but at No. 46 with 93.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, Florida State is one of only nine teams ranked in both the top 20 for offensive efficiency and the  top 50 defensively.

The X-factor

On a team dominated by upperclassmen with a huge collective chip on their shoulder after being denied tournament play last March, it could be freshman Scottie Barnes who makes the Seminoles’ stay in Indiana a long one. The 6-foot-9 wing is averaging 10.4 points but matched a season high with 17 in Florida State’s 83-73 loss to Notre Dame in its most recent game last Saturday.

Barnes does a little bit of everything — he averages 4.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.5 steals — and ranks fifth and seventh in the ACC in the latter two categories, respectively.

The concerns

As has been the case most of this season, using non-conference games to try and gauge a team’s NCAA tournament chances is somewhat of a fool’s errand. The Seminoles have a nice win over Florida, a victory over an Indiana team that looks to be missing out on the field of 68, and a head-scratching home loss to UCF.

Florida State’s four conference losses all came on the road, and it committed 14 or more turnovers in every defeat. Hamilton’s team did throttle Virginia 81-60 at home last month and is currently 4-2 against ACC foes who could join Florida State in Indiana next week.

Its matchup versus North Carolina on Friday could be the difference between claiming a No. 3 seed — and the potential easier path that comes with avoiding Gonzaga and Baylor until the regional final at the earliest — or being a No. 4 and possibly facing either of them in the Sweet 16. Winning the ACC tournament over the Yellow Jackets could ensure that spot on the bottom half of a regional bracket.

In conclusion

There is nothing flashy about the Seminoles, but they possess an important March component of not beating themselves. They also have extensive second-weekend NCAA tournament experience, having reached the 2018 regional final and the 2019 regional semis.

Florida State’s length can create matchup problems for any opponent — yes, even Gonzaga — but its lack of a crunch-time, go-to scorer could ultimately prove to be its downfall. The Seminoles can provide a nice payday as a Final Four option for sportsbooks offering that play, and for those who believe more strongly, that William Hill listing is incredibly tempting.

Photo by Matt Cashore / USA TODAY Sports



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