TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — There’s an old Groucho Marx line about never wanting to be in a club that would be willing to have him as a member. That applies to Indiana basketball lots of time.
Hoosier Nation often tends to be a bit myopic, focusing solely on its own team without really knowing what’s going on in the rest of the college basketball world. Last year was a perfect example of that. Once Indiana pounded then No. 17-ranked Florida State 80-64 at raucous Assembly Hall, IU fans dismissed Florida State as a team that must not be very good if Indiana could beat them so easily.
But when March rolled around last year, there were a lot of people (hand raised) who thought Florida State was very capable of winning a national championship. The Seminoles were 26-5 and Indiana was their only bad loss. Their other four losses were all by five points or less. In an 19-game stretch, Indiana was their ONLY loss, going 17-1 from Nov. 10 to Jan. 25.
They won the ACC regular season title with a school-record 16-4 record. They finished unbeaten at home and now have won 24 games in a row and even though they lost two lottery picks in the NBA draft a few weeks ago, they’re still a favorite to win the ACC again.
They’re that good. So be prepared, Hoosiers fans, because Indiana will have its hands full tonight when the two teams get together here for the first time every. Indiana leads the all-time series 5-0, but the two teams have never played here in Tallahassee before.
Florida State is still good, but this year the Seminoles are just different. And it’s very early. They’ve only played one game so far, so veteran coach Leonard Hamilton has no idea how good they can be down the road.
But he’s got some idea — and plenty of optimism — even though he’s seen his team play only once so far in an easy win against North Florida last Wednesday.
“At the beginning of the season, there’s a lot of anxiety and anxiousness when you’re dealing with young people,” Hamilton said during an interview earlier this week. “I’ve had to get as much as that out the way as possible. But I was substituting because I thought we would win the game and wanted to get guys some experience and on the floor.
“I love our attitude and our togetherness, and I like our effort. The good thing is we have enough experienced guys returning that we can put some experienced guys on the floor that will allow us to be efficient. But the way we play, the effort we play with, the pace that we like to play at, you need to be just as efficient with your rotation players. We like to have 10 starters. We just haven’t had time to develop. In other words, the cake is still in the oven. It is where we are, and it is something we have to accept.”
Florida State does come at you in waves, with plenty of length not only in their starting lineup, but off their bench as well. Hamilton plays 10 guys or more all the time, and his bench guys win games for him all the time.
Patrick Williams was his best bench guy last year. He averaged 9.2 points per game and never started once. How good was he? The Chicago Bulls drafted him with the fourth-overall pick in the NBA Draft last month. Devin Vassell, their leading scorer at 12.7 points per game, was picked 14th by San Antonio.
Those two are gone, as is long-time point guard Trent Forrest, but Hamilton has simply reloaded. He has a great freshman in five-star recruit Scottie Barnes, who’s a 6-foot-9 point guard, and he’s still recruiting at a high level, with the No. 2-ranked class behind Michigan this season.
He’s going to learn as he goes with this team, but he’s also looking forward to have a matchup like this with Indiana. He knows, without question, that his team will get more out of this that a walk-through with North Florida.
“We are going to have to be on point, but we are still trying to find ourselves,” Hamilton said “Hopefully (playing a team like Indiana) will create a sense of urgency with our team that will allow us to accelerate our progress.
“We are going through the process right now and be a lot more efficient. Against a team like Indiana, it is a whole another ball game.”
Hamilton was impressed with Indiana’s team last year, and called the environment has Assembly Hall one of the best he had ever seen. He likes this year’s version of Indiana’s team too, and has a lot of respect for Archie Miller, who’s in his fourth year leading the Hoosiers.
“A team the caliber of Indiana definitely gets our attention because of the respect we have for their program, respect we have for their coach and the system that they’re playing,” Hamilton said. “You can see them getting better and better with each year. I think that most people in Indiana would think that this should be their year.”
This could be Florida State’s year, too. Barnes, the freshman, is a special player, but he’s still also a freshman. Another five-star recruit, Stanford’s Ziaire Williams, went 1-for-10 last week against Indiana and only scored four points.
Every coach will tell you they love experienced point guards, and Hamilton definitely misses Forrest.
“Last year we had so many guys who played better in the most difficult moments,” Hamilton said. “They were at their best when we needed them to be at their best. Trent Forrest, he lost like three home games in four years and he was 9-0 in overtime games the last three years. Who’s ever done that? I’ve never heard of anyone doing that.
“But that’s college basketball and every year brings new challenges. We’re not going to have this Indiana team outmanned. They’re going to be just as good as any ACC team that we play all year, so we don’t have the luxury of not being on point with all our fundamentals. But that’s good because that’s going to create another level of focus with us.
“I think they see it, but we can show them all we want to until you’re out there on the floor with guys with speed and quickness and strength and power that can hurt you in so many different ways like Indiana, it’s still hard for them to actually really see what it’s like. Preparing them and showing them is one thing, but I think it might have been one of the boxers said, ‘Things change when you get in the boxing ring and get hit that first time.’ It’s a little different.”
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