Up-tempo style has No. 20 Florida St. rolling into ACC play
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) A change in offensive philosophy by Leonard Hamilton has Florida State off to one of its best starts in school history.
The 20th-ranked Seminoles begin Atlantic Coast Conference play on Wednesday against Wake Forest 12-1 for only the third time. They have also won eight straight for the first time in 10 seasons.
A big reason for this is going to an up-tempo system as Florida State is playing to its strength with a bevy of perimeter players. Hamilton's teams before this season have run mostly a motion offense which puts a premium on strong inside play.
FSU is ranked second in the ACC and 13th nationally, averaging 88.1 points per game. The 10.1 points per game improvement is second-best in the conference, behind Notre Dame's 10.2.
The Seminoles lead the league in field goal accuracy and are eighth nationally at 51.3 percent. They haven't had a game yet this season where they have shot worse than 40 percent.
''I think we're in a good place. We're doing a good job running up and down the floor,'' said junior point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who is averaging 10 points per game and is fifth in the ACC in assists (4.77 per game). ''We can adapt to anyone but people have to adapt to us as well. We can go small or big.''
Hamilton has liked the progress his team has made but thinks there remains room for growth. The longtime coach, who is in his 15th season at Florida State, also continues to play around with many different combinations as 11 players are averaging 10 minutes or more a game.
A constant though remains Dwayne Bacon, who is eighth in the conference in scoring at 16.9 points per game. Freshman Jonathan Isaac is averaging 12.9 points but only 8.7 over the past three games after he missed three games due to a hip flexor injury.
The Seminoles have wins over three Power Five conference teams - Minnesota, Illinois and Florida - but they haven't been tested much during their first 13 games as eight of the wins have been by 20 points or more. They have led by at least 13 at some point during each game and their largest deficit has been five in three different games, the most recent being Dec. 11 against Florida. FSU has also led 96.9 percent of the time in the second half.
''I expect teams to be a lot more prepared for our transition game. We have to be a better half-court team in conference play because games will be a lot closer and competitive,'' Hamilton said. ''We don't have the luxury of having spells where we are not quite as efficient.''
The next three weeks though will tell a lot about whether they can make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.
After facing the Demon Deacons, five of the Seminoles next six games will be against ranked teams starting at No. 12 Virginia on Saturday. There is a possibility it could be six by the time they host Virginia Tech on Jan. 7.
Other games in that stretch include home dates against No. 5 Duke (Jan. 10), No. 6 Louisville (Jan. 21) and No. 24 Notre Dame (Jan. 18) along with a Jan. 14 road game against No. 9 North Carolina.
''I don't think anyone has played a schedule like this. When I look at ours compared to everyone else there is a difference. Why? I don't know,'' Hamilton said. ''But it does offer us something special. We have to embrace this opportunity and be excited about it. ''
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