At a Glance
Fresh off their biggest win of the year, the Yellow Jackets travel to Tallahassee to take on a struggling Seminoles squad. This rematch of the 2021 ACC championship game will feature two teams trying to claw their way out of the conference’s cellar after embarrassing starts to their respective seasons. Can Georgia Tech build off of their stunning upset of Miami, or will Florida State return to form on their home court?
Florida State Season Overview
The Seminoles began the 2022-23 season with an uncharacteristically woeful showing in their non-conference slate. They entered ACC play with a record of 1-8, their only win coming against Mercer. This abysmal record was not solely due to stiff competition, either. Double digit losses to Siena, Nebraska, and Stanford, as well as multi-possession losses to Stetson and Troy, placed the ‘Noles soundly in the bottom of the ACC. In fact, if it weren’t for Louisville absolutely imploding, Florida State likely would have been the laughing stock of the conference. Luckily for them, the Louisville Cardinals are performing at the level of a Division II program, so the Seminoles’ dreadful start to the season was largely overlooked.
With all that being said, the ‘Noles have actually looked a bit better against ACC opponents. They are currently 2-2 in conference play, and have won three of their last five games. After an unexpectedly competitive loss to Virginia, Florida State actually mounted a two game winning streak, blowing out both Louisville and USC Upstate. The Seminoles last three matchups featured a one point victory over Notre Dame sandwiched in between blowout losses to St. John’s and Duke. So, where does that leave Florida State before their matchup with the Yellow Jackets on Saturday? To answer that question, we need to first understand the reason(s) behind the Seminoles’ struggles this season.
On paper, this looks like your typical Leonard Hamilton Florida State team. they are extremely long and athletic with every one of their rotational players measuring at least 6’5. They look to attack the paint, push the ball in transition, and force their opponents into poor decisions. However, one area that looks quite different from previous seasons is the Seminoles’ depth, or lack thereof. Leonard Hamilton is notorious for having rotations that run anywhere from ten to twelve players deep. This year, Florida State has been running a much smaller rotation, with only seven players receiving at least ten minutes per game. That is unheard of for a Hamilton coached team. This is largely due to the mass exodus from last year’s roster, with the Seminoles losing six players to graduation, one to the NBA, and another to the transfer portal. There were thirteen players that appeared in at least half of the Seminoles games last season. Of those thirteen, only five returned to Florida State for the 2022-23 season.
It seems pretty clear to me that the sudden shift in coaching philosophy was made out of necessity rather than some kind of tactical decision. Hamilton and his staff simply could not fill all of the shoes left from last year’s team, and it is coming back to hurt them thus far in the season. However, it may pay dividends in the long run, as this is a very young basketball team. In fact, there is only one senior listed on the Seminoles’ active roster, Jaylen Gainey, a transfer from Brown and a two-time Ivy League defensive player of the year. Gainey suffered a knee injury in the preseason and will miss the entirety of this season. While the lack of depth has surely impacted the Seminoles this season, games are not won or lost solely on the basis of depth. Florida State’s problems this season go far beyond their thin rotation.
This is going to sound painfully similar for Yellow Jackets fans – Florida State has been plagued by their failure to convert on “easy” offensive opportunities and their inability to secure stops on defense. As a team, the seminoles are shooting 46.4% from inside the arc, second worst in the conference. Defensively, they struggle to stop penetration, with over 40% of their opponents field goal attempts coming at or near the rim. Whenever they do force a miss, they frequently fail to secure the rebound. Out of the 363 Division I programs, Florida State ranks 343rd in defensive rebound percentage. Somehow, that is not even bad enough for last place in the ACC, as Syracuse ranks just below them at 347th. If you were wondering, Georgia Tech is third worst in the conference and 330th nationally. In terms of weaknesses, these two teams are remarkably similar; where the tale of the tape starts to diverge is when comparing strengths. Unlike Georgia Tech, Florida State does not make up for their porous interior defense and lackluster rebounding with exceptional perimeter defense. In fact, they are among the worst in the conference in opponent three point percentage, allowing their opponents to connect on almost 35% of their attempts. The Seminoles’ strength, as per usual, is their length and athleticism. The Yellow Jackets, on the other hand, are a very small team with only one traditional big man. While this would usually make me doubt the Jackets’ chances, Florida State has not been able to leverage their size into a significant advantage to this point in the season. Let’s hope that does not change on Saturday.
Players to Watch
#4 Caleb Mills | 6’5 | PG | Jr.
12.9 PPG | 3.4 APG | 1.8 SPG | 41.6 FG%
As the primary ball handler for the Seminoles, Caleb Mills is the orchestrator of the Seminoles’ offense. After transferring from Houston following the 2020 season, Mills immediately secured the starting role for Florida State and has been consistently good for them. He’s a steady point guard with great vision and poise. His assist rate of 26.2 is tops on the team and ninth in the ACC. However, Mills has struggled with his outside shot this season, shooting a career low 24.3% from three on over two attempts per game. He has still managed to create offense for himself by getting to the rim, but if Florida State is to turn this season around, Caleb Mills is going to need to find his shooting touch.
#22 Darin Green Jr. | 6’5 | G | Jr.
13.9 PPG | 1.9 APG | 2.9 3PM | 42.6 3P%
A transfer from UCF, Darin Green has flourished in Tallahassee, posting career high shooting splits and per game averages in his first season with the Seminoles. Green is the definition of consistent. In each of his four seasons of college basketball he has averaged at least ten points per game while shooting no worse than 36% from three. He is a knock-down shooter and has provided the Seminoles with a much-needed boost to their perimeter offense this season. Green is not a particularly dynamic player with the ball in has hands, but the Jackets absolutely cannot afford to let him find his shot.
#35 Matthew Cleveland | 6’7 | F | So.
14.0 PPG | 6.9 RPG | 1.6 APG | 45.5 FG%
If any of you follow recruiting cycles, then I am sure you are familiar with this Alpharetta native. Matthew Cleveland was one of the top recruits in the state of Georgia a few years ago, and one of Josh Pastner’s primary targets. He ended up committing to Florida State, where he had a very good freshman season, averaging double digits points, getting substantial playing time, and being named the ACC Sixth Man of the Year. Cleveland is a long, rangy wing with some decent ball skills and a great ability to slither into the lane for layups and dunks. He’s a very inconsistent shooter, but has shown the ability to hit shots at all three levels. Cleveland has definitely taken a leap forward in his development this season and has become a fantastic rebounder as well as a good, but not great, defender. His length and versatility could be a problem for the Jackets.
This should be an interesting game, and I expect it to be a pretty close one throughout. On paper, Tech should be the slight favorite, but it is never easy to win conference games on the road. The key for the Jackets will be the play of Rodney Howard. If he can stay out of foul trouble and match the physicality of the Seminoles’ front court, it will make everything else so much easier. Also, if the offense can maintain the level of execution it had against Miami, then this one should be a win for the Jackets.
Prediction: Tech squeaks out a win in an ugly game, 67-62