Every four years, the NCAA allows teams the chance to play international games against other college-level competition. When I worked with the team a few years ago, we went to Jamaica for 12 days and it was a great experience, not only for the trip itself, but it helped bring the team a lot closer. It’s no coincidence that the 2017/18 team would be the team to go to the Elite Eight.
This summer, FSU chose to play three games in Canada against Ottawa University, Carleton University, and McGill University. While unfortunately the games weren’t streamed, we do know the results and box scores, so let’s dive into a few observations.
First, it’s important to note Matthew Cleveland, De’Ante Green, and Jeremiah Bembry did not play due to injury, and Baba Miller hasn’t joined the team yet (is due on campus in about a week), which really only makes me a little more confident in this team. Cleveland was one of the team’s more reliable scoring options last year, averaging 11.5 PPG last season as a true freshman, so the team going 3-0 without him and winning every game my double digits certainly has me intrigued.
All three teams are talented at their respective levels. Ottawa went 13-3 last season before losing in the opening round of the playoffs, and played tight with Northern Illinois just a couple days before playing FSU. Carleton is a Canadian powerhouse, having won 16 of the last 19 national championships, including last season on an 18-1 record. McGill University, where the inventor of basketball James Naismith attended school, won its conference championship last season on a 15-5 record. So while these are not power conference-level competition, it did give us a glimpse of what to expect. Florida State beat Ottawa 86-66, beat Carleton 98-64, and beat McGill 90-74. So what did we learn?
Darin Green Jr. is the Biggest Addition to the Team
There were times last year when Florida State really struggled to shoot the ball, and a lot of players lacked the confidence to shoot it. Darin Green Jr is not one of those players. In these three games, he attempted 30 threes, sinking 13 for a smooth 43.3%. The last time a Florida State player shot at least 28 threes over a three-game span was PJ Savoy in early December 2017, where he hit 15 of them. That was also the season that Savoy hit the go-ahead 3 against Xavier in the NCAA Tournament. Green is a better overall player than Savoy, especially athletically, but we saw how much teams respected Savoy from behind the arc, who ended his career as a 36.1% shooter from distance. Green enters this season as a career 38.8% shooter.
I'm not expecting Green to get this many looks from 3 in the regular season, as he may not even be a full-time starter, but if he does, it will be a LOT of fun. He's a threat any time he touches the basketball, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Hamilton and his staff try to free him up.
Caleb Mills Looks Comfortable
The highs of Mills last year featured some breathtaking basketball, but the lows featured some really bad decision-making. In these three games, especially the first two, he took over offensively. Against Ottawa and Carleton, he combined for 44 points on 21/32 shooting, with 13 total rebounds and 7 total assists. His third game wasn't as efficient, but he still had 14 points on 7/15 shooting. He doesn't need to be a 20 PPG scorer for this team to be successful, he just needs to cut out the 5 points, 2/11 games like he had in the season finale against Syracuse.
More Consistency With the Bigs
I'm really loving this dynamic with the big men. Naheem McLeod gives FSU their usual towering 7-foot-plus presence, and he had a combined 15 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks in the three games (only played a total of 48 minutes). Jaylan Gainey gives them a more mobile and more athletic option down low, who combined for 26 points, 23 rebounds, and 5 blocks, which included a double-double in the final game against McGill. Cameron Corhen even got a lot of action, going for a total of 26 points and 13 rebounds, and even attempted 5 threes. Corhen is someone I didn't expect to contribute much this season as he continues to grow into his frame, but he played the best of any of the freshmen on the team in Canada.
Jalen Warley Still Has More Developing To Do
There has been no player I've heard more about than Warley, who has supposedly had a phenomenal offseason, and he came out with a strong first showing against Ottawa with 15 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals, but didn't have as big of an impact in the final two games. Where he did a great job was taking care of the basketball; just two turnovers in this stretch. He had a turnover rate of 24.1 last season, according to KenPom, so to only have two turnovers over a total of 76 minutes is a great sign for him going forward. He also hit a couple of 3s, but I'd like to see him be even more aggressive offensively.
Overall, this was a great experience for the team, and now they'll get a little bit of a break before they get back to work and get ready for the season. It also has made me cautiously optimistic about this team's chances: they have more scoring options with Darin Green in the fold, better big play with Gainey and Corhen joining on, and still have tremendous wing defenders if guys buy into the scheme (holding Ottawa and Carleton to a combined 29% from the floor is a great sign, though McGill shot 45.2%).
Their season will officially open November 7 against Stetson.
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