Watching Florida State basketball dominate the rival Florida Gators on Tuesday night was a stunning experience of sorts.
Yes, the Seminoles came in ranked while the Gators did not. Sure, Florida State was the favorite in an opening game where the two teams had not had time to gel. Yet, keep in mind that the Seminoles were missing one of their best players and matched up against a team with a trove of blue-chip talent.
Result? A 21-point victory that looks closer on paper than it was in reality.
It wasn’t all that different from last year’s contest either. That one was comparatively more shocking because of Florida’s high ranking, but the game played out quite similarly. Florida State frustrated the Florida offense the whole night and made the Gators look embarrassingly incompetent.
The Seminoles also kept attacking the interior and won the rebound battle. Sound familiar?
Tuesday night’s result is the fifth win in five straight years for the Seminoles, who will now graduated a second class which never saw a defeat against the Florida Gators. Before the current stretch, the most games in a row that FSU had won against Florida was just three.
This seemed completely impossible in 2008.
But we’re here one decade later and it is increasingly clear that FSU has the crown as the premier basketball program in the state. Things could obviously change quickly, but for now, the Seminoles transformed their program from an afterthought to a legitimate ACC contender.
How did we get here?
Florida State has reached similar heights before. Hardly a fan forgets the Sweet 16 run in 2010-11, or the ACC championship the very next year. But those were achieved with a fundamentally different system under head coach Leonard Hamilton. It was slow-paced, efficient, and physical. It also relied on a heavy veteran presence, which made the off-years difficult in the ACC. When it peaked, it peaked, and when it was building, it was rough.
The Seminoles are now going much faster and are less focused on overwhelming teams defensively. Instead, they wear you down with rapid fast-break action and constant rotation of fresh legs. This removes the onus from a group of five starters and helps a team put all the talent on the court.
This makes recruiting much easier and lessens the burden of perfecting the system. They do not go through the cycles of the previous method, and put a fairly consistent product on the court.
Shifting to a new system would not work without shifting the talent level. Leonard Hamilton helped build program reputation and started focusing heavily on the recruiting trail, with undeniable success. From 2012 to 2014, the classes averaged 46th in the nation. From 2015 to 2017, the classes averaged ninth, according to the 247Sports Composite.
Neither Florida nor Miami reached a top 10 average in the 2015-17 time frame. While talent works a bit differently in basketball than it does in football, it’s absolutely an advantage when two teams with somewhat similar philosophies go up against each other. For Florida State, that advantage has led to a 5-game win streak against Florida and a split 4-4 record against Miami.
When players like Malik Beasley, Dwayne Bacon, and Jonathan Isaac all get drafted into the NBA after national exposure at Florida State, it helps legitimize what the staff is telling recruits. Only Miami has matched Florida State in total picks over the past four drafts, while Florida lags behind with just one selection.
It certainly helps when both the programs that a school is competing against commit errors.
Florida could not control Billy Donovan jumping to the NBA. He would have been a fool not to take the opportunity, and that put the Florida admininstration back on the coaching market. Mike White’s results so far have been mixed.
White is a good recruiter and his 2019 class is looking like a juggernaut. But as a coach, he leaves something to be desired. Aside from his 2016-17 run to the Elite Eight, White has not fully utilized the resources at his disposal.
It’s not just the talent of the team — it’s the overall standing of the program, which he should have been able to use more effectively in the past few years. He hasn’t, so Florida State now looks like it is on a better trajectory.
Miami is still pretty close to Florida State. Head coach Jim Larranaga is a quality coach and his recruiting is comparatively better than White’s. However, the Hurricanes were one of the schools caught up in the recent FBI scandal, and as a result they were unable to sign any prospects in the 2018 class. That has effectively set them back a year, considering they lost a group of key contributors from last season’s team which stumbled in the NCAA Tournament’s first round.
At the end of the day, sometimes all you need is a little bit of luck.
Luck comes in all shapes and sizes. It can manifest as a rival player accidentally scoring a game winning basket for FSU, or a rival program getting referred to as “University-7” in an indictment, or even your own team simply avoiding injuries.
Whatever the reasons, teams still need to take advantage of those lucky breaks. Florida State has translated that into a winning streak over the Gators and a tight margin ahead of Miami.
Nobody knows what the future holds for the shifting power dynamics. But for now, the Seminoles can enjoy their time on top of the state.