UNCASVILLE, Conn. – The 1-3 start is certainly not good, but that wasn’t troubling Leonard Hamilton much. That was the case for good reasons, and it’s not necessarily cause for alarm, either.
“I’m more concerned about getting my team back healthy,” said the Florida State mentor. “It’s not the first time I’ve started 1-3. I’m not overly concerned about that.”
Florida State left Connecticut with that 1-3 mark after losing both games in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off at Mohegan Sun Arena. They had their chances on Sunday against UMass despite being short-handed, but came up short. They led at times in the first half, even scoring the game’s first eight points. You get the sense Hamilton feels like the team would not be remarkably different had they found a way to pull this one out, though.
In non-conference play, the record isn’t really as important as how a team is trending. A team can be 4-0 against a slew of cupcakes and not be playing well, or they could even be 3-1 against some tough teams and look better every time out. So it’s understandable that the record, while important and an indicator of a team’s play, isn’t seen as the be-all, end-all this early.
Hamilton noted that the Seminoles have played a tough schedule, and that’s certainly the case. Manhattan, who they beat, and Northeastern, who beat them, are favored to win their conference this season, while Providence and UMass look like they will at least be in the NCAA Tournament discussion come March. So it’s not like the Seminoles have lost to a bunch of teams they should have blown out.
“I think we’ve lost three games to three NCAA Tournament teams,” Hamilton said.
The injuries Hamilton alluded to are understandably more concerning than the record. Atop that list is Thomas, the junior guard who is an All-America candidate. He was taken to a hospital at halftime, though fortunately reports later indicated that tests revealed no major issue and it appeared to be dehydration. Hamilton said he had a feeling that could be the case, given that they played games on back-to-back days, but naturally they took no chances when he expressed that he felt some dizziness in the first half. Starting point guard Devon Bookert did not play on Sunday due to a reaction from a screw placed in his injured foot.
As if that wasn’t enough, in the first half backup guard Robbie Berwick took an inadvertent elbow to the nose and had to play with a mask the rest of the game.
There is some solace for them in the fact that they had a chance to win on Sunday, as well as the efforts to get there. Xavier Rathan-Mayes was at the center of it, getting his first career start and easily surpassing his season totals to this point. In 39 minutes, he scored 22 points, after scoring just five points before this game, and he kept them in it with his play. They were high on him all along, and he had to sit out last year when the NCAA declared him ineligible, but it looks like he may be getting adjusted well. While he won’t take over for Bookert, who has done a nice job running the team, he will allow them to rest Bookert more and not lose much, if anything.
Besides Rathan-Mayes, Boris Bojanovsky had a nice afternoon with 18 points on 7-10 shooting. He was a constant thorn in UMass’ side when they got him the ball. Phil Cofer quietly came off the bench to give them eight points and 12 rebounds. Along those lines, Florida State had a 42-26 edge in points in the paint. They have a formidable front line, so with a healthy Bookert and Thomas this looks like a pretty complete team.
The rest of Florida State’s non-conference schedule is more manageable, though hardly easy. The next four games are in Tallahassee, including a visit from Nebraska in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, then an early ACC game at Notre Dame is mixed in. They still have a visit from Florida and a trip to Mississippi State on tap before ACC play begins in earnest.
Florida State has to weather an early storm, and they have enough talent to do that. They are a physical team with good size up front, and this will give a number of players valuable experience, something that’s lacking a bit with just one senior on the team along with freshmen and sophomores. If they get through this stretch and get everyone back, the Seminoles should be that much more formidable in ACC play.