The Daily Nole

March to March: FSU Basketball’s Steps To Locking Up a Tournament Bid

Kathy Hitchcock/FSU athletics

For a short stretch in January, it certainly looked like Florida State basketball had its work cut out for it. In the midst of injuries to their most important players, and after a debilitating loss to Duke, the Seminoles were struggling to regain momentum.

They lost back-to-back road contests against mediocre Pittsburgh and Boston College teams, right as they were heading into a presumed “easy” stretch of games. Discussion turned from how high a seed FSU would get to a discussion on making the tournament altogether.

The bleeding stopped with wins over Clemson and Miami in the past week. The much-needed victories allowed FSU to stabilize before the home stretch in February. Florida State is almost halfway through its ACC schedule, with 11 remaining contests against conference foes.

The Seminoles are at a healthy 15-5 overall record before they face Georgia Tech on Saturday. In many ways, they control their own destiny. While they are still favored to make the big dance, they will need to fulfill a list of requirements. We list the four most pertinent below:

Get Healthy

This one is easier said than done. Still, FSU would benefit greatly from winning games it is favored in without being forced to be put in hampered players for extended amounts of time.

Three of the more dangerous scoring threats in Phil Cofer, Trent Forrest, and Terance Mann are all dealing with foot injuries. Cofer missed two of the last three games completely while Forrest and Mann are pushing through the pain.

Truthfully, there is no remedy for those injuries besides rest. Thankfully the Seminoles are on a 5-day break after the Miami game before hosting Georgia Tech on Saturday. The 11-10 Yellow Jackets should be easily dispensed, especially at the Donald L. Tucker Center.

This could be a prime week to control minutes for the aforementioned injured players. Pairing that with the longer-than-usual rest period should be enough to get them feeling more comfortable entering the home stretch.

Get More Consistent Production From 3-Point Range

The recurring nightmare of the FSU basketball program continues to be 3-point shooting: both its own production and the production of opponents. The latter seems to be more consistent, while the former changes on a week-to-week basis. The prime example being the Miami and Clemson games.

If you had “M.J. Walker going 7-for-8 from deep” on your bingo card, please come to the front desk and claim your prize. The sophomore shooting guard once again flashed his potential with a dominant night against Miami with 22 points, while also chipping in nicely against the Tigers. For whatever reason, Walker has never been able to put together back-to-back showings from 3-point range.

P.J. Savoy suffers a similar fate. Despite having a well-defined role, Savoy has not been very productive from the outside since the start of ACC play. In fact, he has been in a slump. Savoy has shot under 29 percent since the fiasco in Charlottesville. He has found other ways to contribute, but that part of his game is noticeably deficient.

The most recent Miami game exemplified why FSU’s deep shooting can be so important. It is arguably the one variable that is preventing FSU from coasting against every ACC team not named Virginia, Duke, or North Carolina. Teams go through bad shooting nights, but it seems from experience that FSU’s bad shooting nights turn into horrendous shooting nights.

Continue to Feed Mfiondu Kabengele

Kabengele was a trendy pick in the preseason for breakout player of the year. Consider that pick validated. The sophomore power forward has been nothing short of stunning in the past five games, having proved himself as formidable on both offense and defense.

Kabengele has averaged 18.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game in the past five contests. He would have even more if he did not get into foul trouble against Pittsburgh.

Florida State needs to ride the hot hand. Kabengele is finally coming into his own as a player and realizing what his athleticism allows him to do. Phil Cofer’s injury opens the door for Kabengele to become the No. 1 option down low, and the more ACC experience he gets, the more confident he will be when March Madness rolls around.

Win Six of the Next 11

Spoiler alert: In order to make the tournament, FSU will need a decent ACC record. We can explain this phenomenon in a separate article, but for now we will just focus on the next 11 games.

As it stands, FSU will face four teams ranked in the top-25: Louisville (15), North Carolina (9), NC State (23) and Virginia Tech (12). That is not bad, but the setup of the games makes it more difficult. The latter three opponents are in the same 4-game stretch in late February/early March. On the other hand, the only game that is away from Tallahassee is North Carolina.

Grabbing even one win from that group could help tremendously when the seeding occurs. FSU already has great wins over LSU and Purdue from earlier in the season, but therein lies the problem. Every year the committee seems to let the early games fade into irrelevance, and instead they value late victories more. Winning two of the four ranked match-ups would guarantee a decent seed (assuming it wins against at least three of the remaining non-ranked opponents).

The non-ranked opponents are Georgia Tech (twice), Syracuse, Wake Forest (twice), Clemson, and Notre Dame. Ideally, Florida State would go 6-1 against that group, considering its talent advantage and general performance so far.

Basketball is never that simple of course. Syracuse is always a grind, and teams can get hot from behind the arc (especially against FSU). Going 4-3 should be the baseline, with 5-2 being a realistic goal. This can change depending on the ranked opponent results, but these are the more expected developments.

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