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February 2, 2013

Column: FSU not living up to expectations in 2012-13

We saw Florida State make a magical run with a stable of veterans last season.

We saw a handful of key players return and seven heralded first-year players step in. And with that, there was still belief, by association or osmosis or something, the Seminoles' would be able to overcome the shakeup and at least continue its NCAA tournament run.

Now, before we've seen the halfway mark of the conference season, we know that this isn't the team we thought it would be.

The defense, a Florida State staple, is absent. The toughness hasn't shown, either. The youth has been exposed and the veterans haven't done enough to fill the void. All that leads to a 12-9 record, a 4-4 ACC mark that hardly feels .500 and a resume that's all but waved goodbye to a fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance.

The flaws were evidenced once again on Saturday as the Seminoles were dealt another drubbing, falling to No. 5 Duke 79-60 at home in a game that wasn't even that close. FSU has already lost three league games by at least 19 points.

"We're not even the same, it's not the same, it doesn't feel the same as it did last year," said junior guard Ian Miller, a key cog in last year's 25-win campaign who is now hobbled with a foot injury. "We enjoyed locking up on people, we enjoyed seeing teams panic. This year, we're the team panicking."

The panic begins on defense, which is heresy around these parts.

The Seminoles were a less-than-pedestrian 130th nationally in field goal percentage defense (41.6 percent), an atrocious figure for a Leonard Hamilton-coached team. And that was before Duke's offensive clinic as it shot 62.8% from the field.

And there's this: In 35 games last season, Florida State allowed five teams to shoot 47 percent or better. In 21 games this season, it has already allowed seven teams to shoot at least 47 percent. FSU is 2-5 in those games.

Florida State hasn't shown the communication in the backcourt to stop people and has lacked the ability to redirect shots with size inside, something Hamilton had plenty of last season - See: Bernard James, Jon Kreft and Xavier Gibson - and considered key to help erase defensive mistakes.

"Right now we need to be sounder with our feet and with our savvy and our understanding," Hamilton said. "We're not there yet."

And while youth is an easy excuse to understand, FSU's veterans - Miller, Okaro White and Michael Snaer - have been inconsistent as go-to guys when youthful mistakes muddy the water. Snaer, for example, a preseason All-American and FSU's leading scorer, has been held to single digit scoring in five of eight conference games including being shut down (3-13 FG, 7 points) by Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon on Saturday.

The defense, the youth and the inability to band-aid mistakes has led FSU to this point.

"We're 4-4, and if we're going to find a way to get to the back in the NCAA conversation, we're going to have to do something exceptional, we're going to have to do something a little out of the box," Hamilton said. "We're going to have to be exceptionally focused, exceptionally together in all of our execution. We're not going to have very much room for error."

Barring a miraculous turn of events, it's hard to map any way for FSU to earn a bid.

Thanks to a start that included losses to South Alabama, Auburn and Mercer, getting to at least 10 league wins (plus some required damage in the ACC tournament) is a must to even sniff an at-large berth. Problem is, FSU still has two games against N.C. State (No. 19 RPI), one against Miami (No. 2 RPI), one at home against UVA - a team that beat FSU by 20 already this season - and road game tightrope at North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. Through all of it, not only can FSU go no worse than 6-4, it would have to collect marquee wins along the way. FSU's best win of the year according to the RPI was a neutral site win over BYU (No. 45 RPI) back in November.

With its defense amiss and its tournament hopes bleak at best, this year now comes down to building experience and hoping that this group can find a way to mesh.

"To overcome our lack of experience we're going to have to find some way to play exceptionally hard and exceptionally smart," Hamilton said. "That's going to be our challenge."

Considering the feel coming into this season, FSU's challenge is a lot bigger than we thought.



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