FSU looking every bit as good as last year after dominant win over Clemson

The Florida State Seminoles celebrate their win over Louisville. 
The Florida State Seminoles celebrate their win over Louisville. 01/18/21(Scott Utterback/Courier Journal)
Published: Jan. 24, 2021 at 7:20 AM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - So much of the talk about this year’s Florida State team has been about what last year’s team could have been.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the 2019-2020 season, FSU had won the ACC regular-season title and looked like it had as good of a chance as any team in college basketball to win the national title.

Not only will we never know how far that team could have gone, but three of its top four scorers from that group turned pro.

There has been much doubt if this year’s squad could be as good as last year’s, but after a dominant 80-61 victory over Clemson Saturday at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center that gave FSU its fourth straight win, it may be time to wonder if this team is just as good as the one from a year ago.

“I thought our guys were locked in defensively from the beginning of the game,” head coach Leonard Hamilton said after the game. “I thought our guys got off to a good start today.”

No, the Seminoles don’t have two guys who will be lottery picks in the next NBA Draft like last year’s team did with Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell. But Scottie Barnes has lived up to his billing as the No. 5 rated recruit in the country.

No, the Seminoles don’t have Trent Forrest anymore. But M.J. Walker has developed into one of the best guards in the ACC to help offset that loss.

And no, the Seminoles may not be nearly as talented as last year, but they are a legitimate 10-deep team with multiple guys who can change a game on any given day.

Put that all together and FSU is a team that not only has a great chance to win the ACC again, but also contend for a national title again.

The Seminoles had 11 different players score Saturday, and that does not include its third-leading scorer in Anthony Polite, who missed his second consecutive game with a shoulder injury.

Florida State had only six fast-break points, but its half-court offense was nearly flawless. The Seminoles made 12 3-pointers, added another 30 points in the paint and made 10 of their 14 free throw attempts.

Malik Osborne wasn’t shy about saying the Seminoles were looking forward to matching up again with Clemson after the Tigers handed them their only ACC loss back on Dec. 29.

After that loss, Florida State didn’t play a game for 14 days due to COVID issues within the program.

In the four games since then, the first-half dominance has been particularly staggering.

Here’s what Florida State has done to its past four opponents in just the first half of each of those games:

-FG%: 57%

-3PT%: 49%

-Opp. FG%: 38%

-Opp. 3PT%: 30%

-Outscored opponents by 61 points

The Seminoles have also at one point held a lead of 20-plus points in three of the last four games.

Florida State’s point differential in the second half of those four games drops all the way from +61 to +10, but when you consistently start games that strongly, there’s bound to be a dip in production later.

One has to assume that at some point, FSU won’t be as dominant in the first-half as they have been the last four games, so it will be interesting to see how the Seminoles respond when that happens.

For now, though, Florida State is now just one game behind Virginia for first place in the ACC standings. The Seminoles look equipped to make a deep run in the postseason, despite key losses from last year’s team.

Sardaar Calhoun lights it up off the bench

It seemed to be only a matter of time before Calhoun had his breakout game. Coming into Saturday’s game, the JUCO transfer had been shooting 44% from 3-point range and had made at least one shot from distance in 7 of his 10 games this season.

Then he exploded for a season-high 13 points, shooting 4-of-5 on 3s. As a first-year player in the program with so much depth on FSU’s roster, it’s been difficult for Calhoun to carve out a consistent role.

In the five games before FSU’s two-week pause, he averaged just eight minutes per game and made just two 3-pointers over that span.

However, over the last four games, Hamilton has given him at least 15 minutes per game and he has made 7-of-10 3s in those contests.

Calhoun can be an elite catch-and-shoot player and has also shown the ability to put the ball on the floor and make pull-up jumpers or score at the rim. It will be hard for Hamilton to keep him off the floor if he continues to shoot the ball as well as he has been lately.

With all of the size and athleticism FSU has, complementary perimeter shooting will be absolutely vital for the Seminoles as they continue to progress through the season. Shooting was supposed to be FSU’s weakness, but over the past four games, the team has made over 10 3s per contest.

They also have five players who are shooting over 39% from deep: Polite (53.3%), Calhoun (48%), Evans (47.4%), Walker (44.2%) and Nathanael Jack (39.1%).

It remains to be seen if the Seminoles’ torrid shooting can be sustained, but the floor spacing should be even better once Polite returns to the lineup.

Balsa Koprivica’s continued improvement

Koprivica hasn’t exactly made a lot of flashy plays during the Seminoles’ four-game win streak, but it’s hard not to notice how effective he’s been on both ends of the court.

He had 13 points and 10 rebounds in just 20 minutes of action to give him his first career double-double. The Seminoles outscored Clemson by 20 points with him on the floor.

He and fellow seven-footer Tanor Ngom each had two blocks and affected several other Clemson shots in the paint throughout the afternoon.

There were a couple of other instances where Koprivica once again held his own when switched out onto a perimeter player. That kind of defensive versatility is an extremely valuable skill for a modern big man to have, especially for a player his size.

Koprivica also continues to be lethal in pick-and-roll action as he had several easy finishes at the basket as the roll man.

His combination of size, mobility and quick second jump has made him a force on the offensive glass as well. Saturday was the third consecutive game that he had three offensive rebounds.

Koprivica is not a threat from the perimeter yet, but he’s demonstrated a soft touch both around the basket and at the free-throw line, where he’s made 22 of his 34 attempts this season (72.7%). The 3-ball definitely looks like a shot he can add to his arsenal over time.

Even without being a threat from the outside yet, Koprivica has been very productive this season. The Serbian big man has improved quite a bit as a sophomore and seems to just be scratching the surface of how good he can be.

Scottie Barnes settling in at the point

Barnes is the highest-rated recruit that Hamilton has ever brought to Tallahassee and the freshman is continuing to expand his repertoire.

The No. 5 overall recruit in the nation played mostly power forward in high school but Hamilton has shifted him to primarily a point guard role off the bench recently.

The fact that he is still learning to play the position is evident at times, as he can sometimes be indecisive as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and is an inconsistent shooter, but those areas should develop with time.

He’s already proven to be an excellent defender who can guard multiple positions, but it has been his passing ability that has begun to stand out over the past several games.

Barnes had a game-high seven assists Saturday and now leads the Seminoles with four assists per game this season.

There were two separate times he drove to the basket and made an impressive wrap-around pass from the baseline to an open perimeter shooter.

Even though he’s still learning how to play the point, the natural playmaking ability is there for him to develop into a solid player at the position.

His long 6-foot-9 frame combined with his athleticism, versatility on both ends and playmaking ability are why he’s a potential lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

It wasn’t Barnes’ most dominant performance of the season, but he again found a way to impact the game in multiple ways.

Update on Walker

After the game, Hamilton confirmed that Walker ran into Ngom’s left elbow after a Clemson free throw attempt.

He was taken to the locker room with about 15 minutes left in the second half and did not return. Hamilton said he appeared to be OK.

Walker finished with 10 points, three assists and zero turnovers in 17 minutes. FSU outscored Clemson by 23 points with him on the floor.

Play of the game

Osborne has made a highlight play in each of the last two games. Against Louisville, on Monday it was an emphatic slam over JJ Traynor.

Against Clemson, Hunter Tyson tried to dunk over him, but Osborne met him at the rim with this monster block.

Up next

FSU will host Miami (6-7, 2-6 ACC) Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. on the ACC Network.

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