The 2019-20 college basketball season will go down as one of the most memorable in the sport’s history — for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately, due to COVID-19.
However, before the season was cut short, Florida State emerged as the most zeitgeist-y team in college hoops. Led by the venerable Leonard Hamilton, and a trio of soon-to-be NBA talent, Florida State won the ACC, and looked poised for an NCAA Tournament run before things fell apart.
Even with the departures of Devin Vassell, Trent Forrest and Patrick Williams, FSU still has a promising squad for the 2020-21 season. As usual, Florida State will be huge; everyone in the projected rotation floats between 6-foot-4 and 7-foot-1. FSU has the pieces to repeat as a monstrous switch defense — one that dials up the heat with 94 feet of ball pressure and passing lane denials.
With a disjointed offseason, it may be tough to recapture the communication levels from this year’s team, which rotated and recovered with precision. The loss of Vassell — the No. 1 team defender prospect for the 2020 NBA Draft — is a serious blow, too. But with the return of guys like RaiQuan Gray and MJ Walker, plus the additions of 5-star Scottie Barnes and JUCO stud Sardaar Calhoun, FSU has what it takes to contend.
Here are five thoughts on Florida State basketball, starting with the two guys tasked with igniting the offense.
FSU running offense through Barnes and 6-8, 260-pound Raiquan Gray is going to absolutely rule. https://t.co/wHJjDKbmud
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) June 24, 2020
Scottie Barnes, RaiQuan Gray as playmakers
For the last few seasons, Florida State has routinely attacked opponents with a size and physicality advantage at the point guard position. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Forrest was cognizant of his size and power; he leveraged both in all phases of the game, too, including as the primary initiator of Florida State’s offense.
Next season, however, FSU will go even larger at the point guard spot. Barnes is labeled as a power forward by 247 Sports, but the plan is for the 6-foot-9, 227-pound lottery talent to play with the basketball as much as possible.
Going down a rabbit hole of Scottie Barnes tape after seeing the Montverde scrimmage pic.twitter.com/ix4dBDz9uw
— Ross Homan (@Ross_homan1) November 21, 2019
In the 16 games Synergy logged for Montverde Academy this season, Barnes shot 53.7 percent in transition and 75 percent at the rim in the half court. Barnes also shot 70.8 percent on cuts and 42.3 percent on post-ups.
During the 2019 Nike EYBL circuit, Barnes played with Nightrydas Elite. Barnes did serious damage at the event, while averaging 19.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. With the ball in his hands, Barnes posted an impressive 7.3-to-2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. According to Synergy, Nightrydas Elite, scored 0.96 points per pick-and-roll possession when Barnes passed to a teammate that finished the possession.
Barnes also produced 0.84 points per possession out of isolation — including isolation possessions that involved a pass. On his own, Barnes shot 40 percent on isolation attempts (47.1 eFG%) and 50 percent on post-ups (1.0 points per possession).
The jump shot is still a work in progress for Barnes; however, the play-making skills and defensive versatility are for real, and there are several statistical indicators that bode well.
Gray is a unique talent, built differently from just about any other college basketball player. He’s the size of Zion Williamson — minus the athletic pop. During his two seasons at FSU, Gray shot just under 55 percent at the rim with only seven combined dunks. To make up for his lack of vertical bounce, Gray plays with quick feet and fast hands; he moves well for a ground-bound big dude.
He’ll pick anyone up in transition — same as everyone on Florida State’s roster. Gray is a serious event-creator on defense, too. He can utilize his length and timing skills to cover for mistakes. So far, over two seasons with FSU, Gray has averaged 2.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per 40 minutes.
The shooting numbers aren’t great (42.2 eFG%); there’s no comfort zone for his jumper. He’s a play-making 4, not a stretch 4. Gray’s at his best offensively when he can attack off the catch with some advantage already created.
Force him to play one-on-one or operate out of the pick-and-roll, and the turnovers can pile up (25 TOV%). But the fact that someone with his size and power can do stuff like this is pretty cool.
He creates a real matchup problem for opponents, too. It’s cliched, but if you stick a smaller 4 (Duke’s Wendell Moore Jr., for instance) on him, he can post up and use his size; if a cement-footed opposing big draws the assignment, he can skate by. Either way, Gray plays unselfishly, with his head up.
Gray was one of two players this season with four percent block rate, three percent steal rate and 12 percent assist rate.
RayQuan Evans is no slouch either, though; the 6-foot-4 guard can drive it. Evans shot 61 percent at the rim this season (23 FGA) and posted a 23 percent assist rate in ACC play. He, too, will see time on the basketball for FSU.
Malik Osborne: Switch and Stretch
Malik Osborne is one of the more underrated players in the ACC. During his first season on the floor for FSU, Osborne proved to be one of the more versatile frontcourt players in the conference — something that flew under the radar, to an extent.
Vassell, Forest and Williams were the stars of Florida State’s switch scheme on defense; buzzing around the floor, disrupting everything as elite team defenders and event-creators. However, without Osborne, this scheme doesn’t work nearly as well.
(Look how hard Louisville, an elite offensive team, has to work just to produce an inefficient late-clock attempt. The shot goes in for Fresh Kimble, but this possession is a win for FSU.)
Time after time this season, Osborne showcased his ability to guard 1-5; he hung tough in isolated scenarios against zippy point guards. There are very few programs — maybe Memphis with Precious Achiuwa — that would feel comfortable having their center auto-switch on Kihei Clark.
Osborne is a rare college player: a stretch 5 that can protect the rim (1.5 blocks per 40 minutes) and switch across all five positions.
During the 2019-20 season, Osborne was one of five Division I players with a block rate of four percent, 35 3P% (50+ 3PA) and an offensive rebound rate of 11 percent. Three of the other four guys to hit those numbers include Big Ten stars Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu and and Luka Garza.
Osborne is a lower-usage player: 15.9 percent. But he still finds plenty of ways to contribute in the half-court offense. Osborne can roll or pop after a screen, hit the glass (3.95 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes) or finish around the hoop (13 dunks).
The 6-foot-9, 215-pound Osborne is unafraid to generate contact with his screens, too. From FSU’s baseline runner set for Vassell: Pitt’s Au’Diese Toney gets around the first rub screen from Williams; however, on the opposite block, Osborne makes sure to hit Toney, which gives Vassell room to curl, draw a second defender and loft a lob back to Osborne.
Play to keep an eye on: Gray + Osborne Pick-and-pop
One of the more fun aspects of Florida State running its offense through Gray, at times, will be the jumbo-sized pick-and-roll duo of Gray and Osborne. This can be an especially tough combination to cover when Osborne pops and opponents don’t switch on the screen.
Defenses that ice ball screens or look to hedge or double Gray after the screen will leave Osborne wide open for catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.
According to Synergy, Osborne scored 1.19 points per pick-and-pop possession (62.5 eFG%) this season; that ranked 25th nationally and second in the ACC, behind only PJ Horne.
During a competitive February matchup between FSU and Duke, Gray connected with Osborne for two of these pick-and-pop looks.
FSU’s half-court offense features a lot of high ball screens; however, Hamilton and Stan Jones like to move that mesh point around the floor, too. Florida State will routinely run ball screen action out of the left corner with a right-handed driver.
These possessions provide an opportunity for the 260-pound Gray to flash some of the most wonderfully deceptive quicks in college hoops.
From FSU’s home win over Georgia Tech: Osborne lifts to the side to set Gray a ball screen, which moves James Banks (3.3 blocks per 40 minutes) away from the rim. Instead of using the screen, however, Gray rejects it and smokes Moses Wright baseline for a hovering reverse layup.
Big indicator: Sardaar Calhoun’s Shooting
Without a doubt, Barnes is the most important piece to join Florida State this offseason. However, FSU will add more than one key ingredient to the roster: JUCO sharpshooter Sardaar Calhoun.
Florida State should be able to try all kinds of funky stuff on offense with Gray and Barnes handling. It’s imperative, though, that FSU find some perimeter shooting to loosen things up, too.
Fortunately for FSU, two of the top microwave shooters in the ACC return: MJ Walker (34.4 3P% career) and Wyatt Wilkes (1.29 points per spot-up possession). Walker’s shot selection can waiver at times; for his career he’s struggled to finish at the basket (38.4 2P%). But he can run around screens and bomb from deep.
According to Synergy, Walker posted an effective shooting rate of 52 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts this season.
Those two guys are important, but this is where Calhoun can provide an extra boost.
A top-five 2020 JUCO prospect, Calhoun was one of the best scorers and shooters on the junior college level the last two years.
During his two-year JUCO career (18.2 points per game), Calhoun went 183-of-414 on 3-point attempts (44.2 3P%); over half of his field goal attempts (52 percent) came from beyond the arc.
— FSU Hoops (@FSUHoops) June 28, 2020
According to Synergy, Calhoun scored 1.36 points per spot-up possession this season, including a ridiculous 82 percent effective shooting clip on no-dribble jumpers. Calhoun also posted an effective shooting rate of 63.2 percent off screens this season.
Go through some of the film, it’s obvious: Calhoun has a gorgeous shooting stroke. Calhoun gets excellent lift on his jumper, rocketing off the floor with good balance as he snaps his follow through. This is textbook stuff.
Calhoun can also create his own shot. The 6-foot-6 ranked No. 6 in JUCO ball in terms of off-dribble shooting with an effective rate of 56.7 percent.
Anthony Polite: POA Defense
Without Forrest, Vassell and Williams, Florida State will obviously need guys to step up into larger defensive roles, too. That should be no problem for FSU, which has earned a reputation as a powerful defensive program; over the last 12 seasons, Florida State has ranked inside the top 35 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency eight times.
During that same stretch, Florida State has nine seasons with a block rate above 13 percent — each of those years ranking inside the top 25 nationally.
Florida State also has considerable talent on the defensive end — even has two lottery picks head out the door. Barnes may not be quite ready to replace Vassell’s menacing presence as a do-it-all team defender; however, he’ll definitely have a sizable impact.
We love Scottie Barnes pic.twitter.com/pPoYYDAR3z
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) December 23, 2019
Now a junior, Anthony Polite has a chance to shine as well. With Tre Jones gone, Polite has a case as the top point of attack defender in the ACC. Polite is an absolute demon on the basketball; he picks up opposing guards full-court, with the ability to apply high degrees of pressure, while also have the hips and lateral quickness to turn ball handlers multiple times.
Polite (2.4 steals per 40 minutes) was one eight ACC players this season, along with Forrest and Gray, to record a defensive box plus-minus of 2.5 and a steal rate of three percent. Similar to Forrest, Polite also plays with a mean streak when asked to front the post after a switch.
There’s very real ACC All-Defensive team potential for Polite this year.