Slow start troubling for Seminole hoops

G Michael Snaer (US Presswire)

Picked by many prognosticators to finish no worse than third in the all-mighty ACC and maybe even go further than last season's appearance in the Sweet 16, Florida State is off to a slow start.

It's been a disappointing season so far for the 'Noles, who will head into conference play in January with plenty of issues to resolve.

Picked to finish third in the ACC and perhaps surpass last year's Sweet 16 run in the NCAA Tournament, the 'Noles hardly looked like an elite team in losses to Harvard, UConn (albeit by two points) and a blowout loss at Michigan State in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Their final opportunity to get a signature non-conference win is Dec. 22 on the road against the Florida Gators.

This team has the same problems that have plagued coach Leonard Hamilton's other teams at FSU. Their strong defense is negated by poor shooting, poor ball-handling and inability to play consistent. It has angered the fan base and made it hard for FSU to attract more interest to its program.

"This team is challenging all of our coaching skills, but I still like this team," Hamilton said. "I think this team is going through some transition now, but I do believe that we might be slightly ahead of where we were last year. I think before the year is out we can be a pretty good basketball team. Right now, it's obvious that we need to improve."

Florida State came into Sunday averaging more than 19 turnovers per game. The Seminoles had 26 turnovers in a sloppy win against outmanned UNC Greensboro on Dec. 11. Combine this problem with the continued lack of outside shooting, and it's been a lot of ugly wins.

"Something has to change," said guard Michael Snaer. "Because if we don't value the ball against good teams, we're going to get beat."

It's not exactly the way Florida State wanted to head into ACC play. There was a lot of optimism going into the season about this program, this team, because of the returning players and the momentum from the NCAA Tournament. Hamilton will have to get a lot of things straightened out before the constant gauntlet of ACC teams.

The good news, of course, is the ACC continues to be a struggling conference, outside of Duke and North Carolina.

"I'm confident we'll straighten this out," Hamilton said. "I'm disappointed, though, with such an emphasis we placed on it all week long and the progress, as a coaching staff, we thought we had made in those areas that we didn't come out and transfer from the practice to the game."

NOTES AND QUOTES

The Seminoles have won all six home games this season and 25 of their last 28 non-conference home games since the beginning of 2007-08. Florida State's only non-conference losses at home in the five seasons have come against nationally-ranked opponents Florida, Ohio State and Pittsburgh. ...

Snaer has scored in double figures in a school record six consecutive games and is averaging 14.4 points and 5.2 rebounds since Florida State's victory over UMass on Nov. 24 at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas. ...

Once again, it's defense, defense and more defense for the Seminoles. They are the only team in the nation to rank in the top 20 in field goal percentage defense, blocked shots and 3-point field goal percentage defense. Florida State led the nation and the ACC in field goal percentage defense in both 2009-10 (.377) and 2010-11 (.363) and is looking to become only the third team in NCAA history to lead the nation in field goal percentage defense in three consecutive seasons.

PLAYER TO WATCH: G Terry Whisnant -- It's been a tough transition for the freshman, who was North Carolina's Mr. Basketball last year after averaging 31.7 points. Normally, that would mean instant impact. But Whisnant has struggled to adjust to the higher level of play in college. There have been some flickers of promise in recent games. He had eight points in a win against Charleston Southern on Dec. 5, then followed that season-high with an 11-point scoring effort in FSU's last game Dec. 11 vs. UNC Greensboro. The Seminoles recruited Whisnant to be a scorer, an outside shooter, and there are signs he may be gaining confidence and developing into that kind of player.

KEY CONFERENCE GAME: Jan. 14 vs. North Carolina -- The students will be back, the arena will likely be sold out and ESPN is planning to do its basketball "GameDay" broadcast from the Tucker Center for this game. It will be FSU's chance on a national stage and an opportunity to regain some of the preseason luster the Seminoles have lost with a subpar performance in the first half of the season. The Seminoles will need to win this game to have a signature conference win on their résumé heading into the final phase of the season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I really don't understand it. How we can have a team with this much skill, this much talent, this much age, and we still for some reason continue to turn the ball over> I don't understand it." -- Florida State guard Michael Snaer on the team's early-season turnover woes.

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