January 21, 2014

FSU hopes to finally speed up against Notre Dame

After being bottled up for weeks, Florida State is finally ready to do some running.

The first three weeks of ACC play have not been enjoyable for FSU. Four of the Seminoles' five conference games have come against some of the slowest teams in the conference: Virginia twice, Clemson and Miami.

"It's been a little brutal because we like to get out and run or sometimes take quick shots and they like to drag the whole shot clock out," sophomore point guard Devon Bookert said. "Whenever we shoot a quick shot and they really drain the clock out it sucks."

FSU (12-5, 3-2 ACC) will get a change of pace on Tuesday when Notre Dame comes to town. The Fighting Irish are almost exactly at the national average for tempo, according to KenPom.com. That's good enough to be among the ACC leaders in pace of play, and more in line with how FSU likes to play.

"Their ability to shoot and score the ball as well as anybody in our league definitely gets your attention," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "They're a team that can put a lot of points on the board. And that's without their leading scorer. They're a handful."

A chance to run couldn't come at a better time. All five of FSU's losses this season have come against teams in the bottom 200 of tempo rankings nationally, and the most recent loss at Virginia was particularly hurtful as it capped a season sweep by the Cavaliers against the 'Noles. Getting back to their preferred style of play at home is as good a chance as any to get back on track.

"We're still in the cluster," senior guard Ian Miller said. "We've got to handle it one game at a time. The Virginia game was a bit of a setback. It's a tough loss but we've got a chance to get right."

It's true that FSU opened the conference slate with a slew of slow-it-down teams, but it's a trend across the entire league. Florida State went from being one of the most defensive-minded teams in the conference to one of the most explosive offensive squads in 2013-2014.

While FSU's defense still ranks near the top of the country, the ACC's slower tempo could make trouble for the 'Noles down the stretch. Hamilton pointed to FSU's inconsistency in half-court offense as a source for some of FSU's struggles against those teams.

"We have not been consistent with our half-court offense and I was very disappointed with our execution against Virginia," Hamilton said.

The four of the teams currently in front of Florida State in the ACC standings (Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Virginia, and Clemson) are all 294th or slower in terms of pace of play. Those numbers remind Notre Dame coach Mike Brey of the Big East league his team just left.

"We were talking as a staff this week about how that's a little bit surprising - the tempo," Brey said. "When we were playing Maryland that day we were looking at some numbers and us and Maryland were playing the fastest with the most possessions. In my opinion I think we're pretty patient. I was shocked to see we were up there."

Fast-paced teams haven't been a problem for Florida State this season. In fact, FSU's most dominant wins have all come against the fastest tempo teams so far on the schedule: VCU, UMass, Maryland and Charlotte.

"I guess they don't want us to use our athleticism," Miller said. "That's pretty hard to match up with when we get running. We just have to find ways to rebound it and get a quick outlet and do what we do."

But in order to break into the top of the ACC standings, FSU will have to be able to adjust to a slower pace. Road wins against Miami and Clemson are encouraging, but Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Clemson and Miami all remain on the schedule, and any road to the ACC tournament championship will likely go through Virginia again.

"If you'd rather play one style than another, if you allow that psychologically to be where your mindset is you're in for a rude awakening," Hamilton said. "You can't always dictate the style your opponent is playing. You've got to be able to adjust. If we only can play well when we're playing with teams that want to run up and down then we're going to have some challenges."

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