Saturday, May 26, 2018
Sports

Fennelly: Erratic FSU is capable of anything in the NCAA Tournament

ORLANDO — They out-dunked Dunk City.

Let's start there when it comes to Leonard Hamilton's young, talented and uneven Florida State basketball team.

It was FSU nine dunks to two, by my count.

Also by my count, No. 3 seed FSU can win some more games in this NCAA Tournament.

The Seminoles opened by beating Florida Gulf Coast University, those adorable dream weavers, 86-80 in the first round Thursday.

"The sky's the limit for them," FGCU coach Joe Dooley said. "They've got depth, athleticism. They can make a deep run in this tournament."

Or they could lose today to Xavier in the second round.

FSU is so good that you sometimes wonder how they ever lose — or went 8-6 over its last 14 games.

FSU can be that erratic, silly with missed free throws, 3-pointers and turnovers. Talented, but flawed.

"I would say there's a 'but' to every team," FSU freshman forward Jonathan Isaac said.

The Seminoles are something to watch when they are on. Athletically, I'd put them up against nearly any team in the country.

True, I wouldn't put Hamilton up against any coach in the country. He's just not on that list.

Such is Leonard's lot.

His kids are all arms and legs and talent. FSU might to be the tallest team in the country, easy to believe as it shuttles 7-1 graduate student Michael Ojo out of the lineup — and brings in 7-4 sophomore Christ Koumadje. He's like an office tower with sneakers.

Then there is startling 6-10 Isaac, who scored 17 points with 10 rebounds and five assists against FGCU. Isaac is projected as an NBA lottery pick. Then there is 6-7 sophomore guard and shooting star Dwayne Bacon, who led the Seminoles with 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting Thursday night. He's another projected NBA first-round pick.

The Seminoles are back in the tournament for the first time since 2012. The drought would have been ominous for Hamilton if everyone at FSU hadn't had their eyes glued to Jimbo Fisher and football. There's advantages to the shadows.

This FSU team can beat 11th-seeded Xavier. Could lose just as easily.

There were times Thursday, watching these Seminoles run and jump and shoot and block, that the Final Four came to mind.

Then they would get sloppy and you forgot that.

This is a team that in January went 5-1 against six consecutive ranked opponents in the rugged ACC.

This is a team that has beaten a nation's best seven teams in the nation's top 25 in RPI.

It also is a team that lost by 22 at Georgia Tech.

"We can beat anyone in the country," Bacon said. "When we play the game right, when we're all out on defense, we're unstoppable."

It's hard to believe Hamilton is 68. Hard to believe he has been in Tallahassee 15 years. It seems a million years ago that he flopped as Michael Jordan's hand-picked choice as Washington Wizards coach in 2001. Hamilton is FSU's all-time winningest coach and has taken the Seminoles to a 2012 ACC championship and four consecutive NCAA appearances from 2009 to 2012, including the Sweet 16 in 2011. Now Hamilton has the Seminoles dancing with an up-tempo offense.

But don't ask him about his age — or if he has anything to prove.

"When people ask about my age, I don't know what they're talking about," Hamilton said. "I put as many hours in as anybody on the job in America today. I love it. It's what I do. … I don't need any validation at this point."

This is potentially Hamilton's best FSU team.

"Let's wait and see," he said. "We can answer that."

Another day, another question.

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