TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Getting ready to head over to Florida State’s practice facility to work on a story on Uche Echefu for tomorrow’s online-only edition, so wanted to provide something to ponder for the early afternoon.
That means calling on Andrew Carter, the Orlando Sentinel’s fine Florida State beat writer, for another round of Out-of-town Q&A.
Carter lent his insight back in November when the Seminoles visited Maryland for football, and he graciously agreed to another blog exchange this week. Be sure to check out his Chopping Block blog for all things Florida State (and a Q&A with me that should be up later in the day).
Let’s get on to the three pressing questions as tomorrow’s noon tip between Maryland and Florida State approaches:
1. It doesn’t appear the loss of three guards from last season has adversely affected Florida State. What are guys like Derwin Kitchen and Luke Loucks bringing to complement Toney Douglas and keep the backcourt productive?
AC: You’re right about that. The Seminoles lost three senior guards from a season ago - Jason Rich, Isaiah Swann and Ralph Mims - but it appears they haven’t missed a beat. In fact, you could argue that their backcourt is better now than it was last season.
I think this could be true for a couple reasons. First, Toney Douglas is a better all-around player than he was a season ago. He worked non-stop during the off-season, especially on his jump shooting, and he now has the ability to pull up for a jumper or break people down off the dribble. He’s difficult to defend.
Second, I think the roles are more clearly defined now than they were last year. I think each of those three senior guards last year wanted to be “The Guy,” if you will, and that led to some chemistry issues. This year, there’s no debating who the leader of this team is, and guys like Luke Loucks and Derwin Kitchen are playing complementary roles.
Speaking of Loucks and Kitchen, they’re both pass-first players, a trait FSU guards have probably lacked in recent seasons. Loucks is the first true point guard FSU has had in a long time and Kitchen, though he’s capable of getting to the basket and scoring, would rather set up his teammates.
2. Uche Echefu seems like he’s coming on finally after a ho-hum November and December. What is behind his improved recent play and is he almost a linchpin to success for the rest of the season?
AC: Echefu has had to deal with a couple minor — but nagging - injury issues this season. He underwent minor knee surgery during the off-season, and because of that he didn’t practice a whole lot in the preseason. He was a bit rusty because of that back in November. Then, in December, he suffered a strained groin, which set him back some more.
I think the reason his play has improved of late is because he’s finally getting healthy. He started for the first time this season, I believe, at N.C. State and he finished with a double-double. FSU definitely needs him, especially because Ryan Reid is struggling right now. Plus, Reid is a true post player (or should be, anyway) and Echefu complements that because he can go inside and out. If Echefu can give this team what he gave last year - about 10 points and 6-8 rebounds per game - Leonard Hamilton will be very happy.
3. OK, here’s the standard Florida State question for pretty much the last four years: Do the Seminoles have the goods to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998 –- and will Leonard Hamilton lose his job if they don’t?
AC: To answer the first part of that — yes, I do think FSU has a good chance to make the NCAA Tournament. In fact, I think 8-8 in the ACC will get the job done for the ‘Noles. That would put them at 21-10 headed into the ACC Tournament, and they’d have non-conference victories against Cal, Florida, Cincinnati and Western Kentucky. A .500 conference record with one very good non-conference win (Cal), one good non-conference win (Florida) and two other solid wins should get the job done, I think. And yes, I think 8-8 is entirely within reach for FSU. It helps, of course, that the ‘Noles have to play Wake Forest and North Carolina just one time, each.
Now, as for the second part of that question … does Hamilton lose his job if FSU doesn’t make it? I don’t think so - unless the Seminoles truly tank during the remainder of the season and finish with something like a 5-11 conference record (or worse). Barring that kind of collapse, I think Hamilton is safe as long as he guides these guys to bubble land. A lot of fans might wonder why I think that, and here’s why: This is a young, young team. Douglas and Echefu are the only seniors, and Hamilton has in place a nice foundation of freshmen that could be the core of some very good teams in years to come. So it’s not like the cupboard is bare after this year. In fact, you could argue that Hamilton has in place now the best collection of basketball players he has had. Solomon Alabi, Chris Singleton, Luke Loucks, Derwin Kitchen … they’re all going to be around here for a while. So to sum up, I think Hamilton is back, barring an unforeseen collapse.
Thanks again to Andrew Carter for breaking down the Seminoles.