vs. Florida State 12/3/2022

An ugly win is still a win, which you’ll take in ACC play, especially against FSU, whose size and style of play have given us fits in recent years, even when they’re down. In fact, we’d lost 4 of our last 5 games against Leonard Hamilton’s squad. Their record and some of their bad losses are a little deceiving, though, as they started to play better against Purdue and gave us a tough game on Saturday. This was probably the worst we’ve looked all season, by far our worst point total, and the first time we’ve been held under 70 points. So, let’s talk about it:

Dislike: Reece’s Injured Ankle

To those of us who thought he probably just turned it against Michigan and would be good as new against FSU, that was clearly incorrect. He was hobbled throughout this one and noticeably limping quite often, especially toward the end. It was neat to see him still be able to impact the game with his passing, free throws, and the occasional drive, but his trademark defense was impacted as was his outside shot and his ability to drive and finish. He still gutted out 31 minutes and finished with a game-high 5 assists, but this was not the Reece we’ve seen up until this point of the year, nor the one we’ll need to make the noise we need. If he’s still playing, hopefully it’s just something he’ll work through in the near future. I’m personally hoping he can afford to play fewer minutes against JMU and then rest up through the exam break until the Houston game.

But, as you might expect when your best player is playing in a limited capacity, the team as a whole had its worst game of the season – mostly on the offensive side of the ball.

We just have condensed game highlights for this one, unfortunately, trying to work out a more reliable solution for this. This means a lot of what I’d want to show (especially around Dunn and McKneely) I am not able to find clips for at the moment. If you have a great way to access full game clips, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

Liked: Kihei Taking Over The Game

Let’s take a beat to talk about Kihei Clark, who I’ve focused on a lot both during the offseason and into this one. The discussion is a complicated one. If you’ve been following along in my thought process, it’s progressed from an offseason worry that Clark playing time would still offer the same limitations as last year and take opportunities away from younger players, to being very happy he’s returned, to valuing his offensive playmaking, SHOT MAKING, and stability, now weighing that against his situationally effective defense, depending on how able our opponents are to take advantage of it. In this game, that same push/pull was still on display. FSU isolated Clark at times in the lane and either drew help or finished over him. Two of their big threes to close them to within striking distance were over his contests, and they still gained incremental rebounding advantages from the position…. All of that being said, this was a CLEAR example of all of his pros far outweighing his cons in a specific game – and why the discussion (at least for me) is shifting more toward structuring complimentary lineups around Clark. Namely, trying to have Shedrick and/or Dunn on the floor when Clark is as much as possible. More to come on that concept later on.

With a game high 18 points and 9-10 free throws, Clark brought everything you hoped he would to this one with Beekman far less than 100%. Specifically, he seemed to shift gears in the second half and completely took over the game on the offensive end, finding others, creating his own shot, and getting to the free throw line (and converting at a fantastic clip). What a luxury to have a player like this when your primary ball handler/slasher is not as effective creating. It coincided with an offensive philosophy shift that CTB implemented in the second half, but what impressed me most is that this FSU team has historically given Clark fits. They switch 1-5 and play with so much length, that he has historically struggled to both find the space to get his own shot off and to finish around the rim. In turn, this has created hesitancy in the past, and more often than not, has made these challenging games for him.

We’ve talked a lot about Reece’s offensive progression this past offseason, primarily because Clark made a similar jump the previous offseason, so Saturday’s game seemed firmly in his bag. But, in my opinion, this game highlighted a new level of both confidence and control within Clark that he didn’t actually have in previous seasons. If we recall the Duke game where he came out of the gate on fire from outside last year, we will also remember Duke making adjustments to how they were playing him at halftime and him having a quiet second half. In games like that, he’s been hot out of the gate and then was the focal point of the offense until the other team decided it had to take him away. In this game, Clark was NOT the focal point of the offense early on, instead deferring to Beekman and, as he has all year, executing his role within the offense very well. But, as the game progressed, it was clear that he needed to be the primary creator/facilitator and, despite that shift, FSU wasn’t able to adjust or to take him away, despite their length. His ability to become that focal player in a matchup like this as needed as opposed to because he was hot/feeling it was a joy to watch and speaks to the immeasurable value of both his experience and savvy, now coupled with skill and confidence. Most offensive players need to get into a rhythm. On our team, veteran players like Franklin and Gardner even are far more effective when they’re getting volume and seeing the ball go through the hoop. The ability to just turn it on whenever regardless of how the game has been going is much more rare; and is something we’re starting to see with Clark (and we were also seeing from Reece prior to injury) – and we saw it in this game where BVP was 3-11 from the field, McKneely was 1-5, and Beekman was 1-7.

Some great examples, this one from still in the first half:

What a pretty play. Needed because with just over 6 minutes left in the half the score was an ugly 14-13. CTB called out in the postgame interview how Illinois and Baylor did some similar things with their switches but often wouldn’t switch the center. FSU truly switches everything, in this case leaving the 7’4″ Naheem McLeod (#24) on Clark. Clark attempts to press his ball handling and quickness advantage but McLeod does a good job giving space and using his length to keep Clark in check. One thing to highlight here is how there’s a cluttered lane behind McLeod so even if Clark were to be able to get by on the drive, there would be help. Instead, he breaks down the dribble and passes back out to BVP. BVP makes a nice drive to draw attention and finds Beekman replacing who makes a pretty touch pass over to the wide-open Clark who, realizing that his man was uncomfortable guarding the perimeter, drifts down to the corner. The amount of times he’s hit a shot like this this season when we’ve needed a bucket in a stagnating game has been memorable.

Now onto the second half when we started increasing the tempo of our offense (more on this soon):

Dear other teams,

Please stop hitting Kadin in the face/neck.

Fondly,

Cuts From The Corner

Unlike the previous clip, everyone on our team is hanging out around the perimeter, leaving no help when Clark beats his man on the blow-by. Also notice that the shot clock is at 23. Clark has brought the ball up the court and immediately pressed into the lane, drew Franklin’s man to help, and kicked it out into the corner for the open look. These were the two main adjustments CTB implemented at the half – increasing our pace of offense, and playing 5 (mostly) out so that the lane was open for Clark to probe. Just like this…

This one’s the small ball lineup and see, once again, that arc of defenders around the three-point line. Clark is giving up a good 7-8 inches to his defender, Caleb Mills, but I think Mills is caught by surprise at both his quickness and at the lack of help on the back side. Just a chasm back there for him to work after he gets by Mills and he does a good job of keeping the ball out in front of him on the scoop so that it isn’t blocked.

Wow. That’s 6’10” Cameron Corhen who has been switched onto him and Clark almost literally broke his ankle, juking him to the deck. Notice #22, Darin Green Jr., wants to help on the drive but cannot sag far off of Franklin, so there’s still plenty of space for Clark to operate even with Gardner occupying the opposite block. Clark has options after the juke. Gardner is being covered by Clark’s original man, 6’6″ Jalen Warley (they’re all huge!), but he finds BVP with momentum on the wing who is able to give a shot fake and then take an open shot.

After that one above I found the place I’d written this in my notes and underlined several times, “Kihei exploiting switches!” This play just shows the confidence and also just how much cushion Corhen felt that he needed to give Clark. Again, that’s a player who is over a foot taller than he is that he’s taking the step back mid-range jumper over and making with confidence. Now imagine all of the times over the previous years where Clark has had enough space to shoot the ball, but hesitated while assessing the length of his defender, giving up the opportunity. This all feels just a little bit different.

He took 5 trips to the line through creating advantage and being fouled at the end of the game and made 90%, and was our primary and best option to beat FSU’s press at the end of the game. Just a complete and calm offensive performance that buoyed the team when the rest of the group was struggling.

Like: Increasing The Pace of Play

Speeding the game up is rarely in CTB’s playbook, especially when the team isn’t facing a significant deficit, but that’s just what he did coming out of the half, down 1 point. We played a lot of 5 out to clear the lane, put the ball mostly in Kihei’s hands (with some Reece primarily passing), and had him initiate offense early to increase the pace of the game. Generally speaking, when you have a considerably more talented team, more possessions is better because it increases the number of opportunities you have to press that advantage and limits the impact of variance. FSU had been doing just this, muddying the game and slowing the pace, a move out of our standard playbook.

It speaks volumes that CTB pushed this change in the game. Defense will always be the core identity of the team, but between this and some of his post-game comments over the short season, I believe this signals that he’s bought into emphasizing the strength of this team, which is its adaptable and efficient offense. The willingness to play the small ball lineup to space out the opposing defense has been a sign of this as well, even when it’s not one of our better defensive units (in most cases). He’s never going to sacrifice our core values and commitment to tenacious and fundamentally sound defense (nor should he), but he has shown a willingness to increase the tempo of the game in order to press an advantage, which is a significant wrinkle that we did not see much of, even in the Jerome/Guy/Hunter years.

Dislike: Defensive Rebounding

There were many more clips that I won’t be able to pull based on the video available, but these two should give a sense. Shedrick played 24 minutes this game and Caffaro played 4. Rebounding throughout the entire game was fairly even, at 40-38 in favor of FSU, but FSU is huge and when we went to our small ball lineup second chance points and opportunities started to flare. The two clips below are from stretches of the game with Clark, Beekman, Franklin, Gardner, and BVP on the floor.

In the first clip Cam Corhen just makes it look too easy both getting his shot off and then getting the tip in. All of Beekman, Gardner, and BVP are right there packed around the rim and he’s still very easily able to get the tip on his own shot.

In the second clip, the rebounds are a little more abnormal, the first long, the second missing the rim entirely, but you can see the struggle across the board to get and maintain positioning and to be able to get to these balls.

If Caffaro is going to continue to see decreased minutes, which I think is correct certainly based on what we’ve seen against high-level competition this year (both against skilled big centers AND mobile centers), then we need to either keep Kadin on the floor longer (hard when he has 4 fouls) or come up with another viable solution. Speaking of…

Like: Ryan Dunn at 3, Especially During Small Ball

Dunn just has that sense about him, doesn’t he? He feels like the type of player to rise to the big moments. I look no farther than him calmly stepping to the free throw line and nailing both shots with 1:53 left in the game, up only 8 in his first ACC game. The fact that he was in the game at that point was telling and a good sign. Asked about it after the game, CTB indicated that Mills’s size was giving us issues (implied because Reece was limited) and that Dunn’s length is “real.” So real, in fact, that he played 15 minutes and was in the game with under 2 minutes left and left with a 10 point lead on the scoreboard. This was CTB playing him exactly as I’ve been advocating for, to help protect a lead and to limit the size and athleticism of other teams on the wing. More, though, a lot of his run came when we were running the small ball lineup with Gardner and BVP at the 4 and the 5. Adding Dunn at the 3 helped to mitigate the advantage we were giving up elsewhere, and he responded by clearing out 5 defensive boards and adding a block (interesting add-on thought, after Saturday’s game the duo of Dunn and Shedrick is now the most well-rated on the team via Evanmiya.com, with the small sample size of around 30 offensive and defensive possessions).

The team was so pleased with his performance that they made him available (with Kihei) to the media after the game. I thought it was a great stride for those of us hoping that he’ll continue to earn CTB’s trust and going 4-4 from the charity stripe certainly didn’t hurt.

Dislike: Sloppy Defense

That being said, there was still a lot of sloppy play on the defensive end in this one despite holding FSU to 57 points, and a lot of it came either from the first years or from players playing away from their normal positioning:

Here you see Dunn give a good show to help stop the drive on Clark’s man but in passing off the opposition on their dribble exchange, he briefly collides with Reece, which allows FSU enough space to hit the open three. A very small thing, but something that the lack of reps and communication hasn’t yet polished. Dunn didn’t really need to press on his man so closely here and should have allowed Reece to shoot between, deferring the urgency to the player attempting to recover to the ball-handler.

Here McKneely gets caught up on BVP trying to recover to his man after the hard hedge; slowing Ben and allowing the pass. He should have kept more to his right (ball handler’s left) there. Meanwhile, Dunn hasn’t reacted quickly enough on the back side to stop the play and instead comes in with the unnecessary foul.

Lastly, here Gardner takes a bad angle defending the primary ball handler on the perimeter (something he’s not been tasked with much in the past) and has to scrape around Kadin, trailing his man. McKneely who is in the lane, doesn’t react quickly enough to get in position to draw a charge, and isn’t able to affect the driver’s shot.

All of these things are very fixable through practice, but they’re also the reason the first years aren’t yet getting more playing time. At this level, mental lapses create points. Dunn is able to make up for some of this with his physical traits, but it’s not a cure-all and he’s going to have to continue to work on this throughout the season to retain that playability in the bigger moments.

Dislike: Fewer Franklin Minutes

I might be a bit of a contrarian on this one, as most of what I’m seeing out there lauds both Dunn and McKneely’s playing time in this game. I actually started this section out as an “Unsure” regarding IMK’s time, but as I was completing my thoughts, went back and changed it. IMK actually played more time of the two – 19 minutes. You saw some of the sloppiness as it pertained to him above but, for the most part, his defense was solid and, despite their size and athleticism, FSU wasn’t targeting him the way they were Clark (and even a slowed Reece) on the defensive end.

The playing time and experience will be valuable for him as the season progresses, and he hit this big shot at the end of the first half which I thought helped with momentum and kept the deficit at the half from being more of a mental issue:

But he WAS 1-5 from the floor and this was the only of 4 attempted threes that he made. He also had this glaring turnover with under 4 minutes left in the game that highlighted some of his struggles with ball-handling and gave FSU a significant breath of fresh air to help prepare for their endgame push:

Given that he wasn’t shooting it very well and that Franklin was actually 2-4 from outside and is the stronger defender of the two (both athletically and at executing the system at this point), I wondered why Armaan was limited to only 22 minutes. The game was close throughout, Armaan was shooting 50% from outside but the team as a whole was shooting 26%, and he came into the game struggling over the last few, so I would have thought trying to build on his momentum/reinforce the makes would have been appealing. Additionally, he’s a much more sure-handed ball handler against the press than IMK at this point. All-in-all, it just seemed like a really odd time to give McKneely his most run time since the Monmouth game.

And, while I do like him getting opportunity and experience as one of the bedrocks of hopefully our next three seasons after this, I do worry about Franklin’s confidence. As potentially our streakiest player from last season to this, but with the highs of games like the one vs. Baylor, I’d like to keep his volume and minutes up. At this point in their careers, IMK seems to offer much of the same skillset that Franklin does, but isn’t quite as good or experienced yet (which is expected as a freshman). Meanwhile, if the hope is that Dunn gets more minutes at SF because of his defensive skillset, we’re going to see a significant loss of Franklin minutes if IMK also sees increased utilization. And I don’t really want to be in the business of decreased Franklin minutes unless he’s already in a shooting slump. He was 2-11 from three in his previous three games prior to this one and was 2-4 in this one. I’d like to course-correct sooner rather than later and more makes in-game are the route to that, IMO. I certainly see the counter point that you want IMK ready and battle tested for those times when Armaan does go cold and I see that point of view, but that feels like it could be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy if Armaan continues to get less playing time in close games.

Like: Kadin’s Rim Protection

Another 4 blocks in this one really helped to make FSU have to question their drives when he was on the floor (and not tending to his esophagus).

It’s just so good. FSU is trying to isolate and back Kihei down and Kadin times his help perfectly so that he can get the block without giving enough time for Mills to find McLeod.

And here he just erases with ease what looked like a quality break opportunity. It’s this kind of stuff (along with his improved hedging, 72% shooting from the field and 77% from the line) that has him currently sitting in second place in total PER in the ACC. Everything comes harder for the other team and there is more opportunity for “easy” points for us when he’s playing. He only had 3 points in this one, but still impacted the game in so many different ways – he’s just got to stay out of foul trouble!

Like: THIS Gardner Block

That’s two consecutive games in a row that Gardner has made a clutch and heads-up defensive play at the end of the game. But what I like so much about this one is that it shows progression on his ability and improvement as a help defender. In my preview article for the season, I highlighted some clips from last year where a defender would be isolating Kihei and beat him off the dribble, and Gardner was unable to position himself to help defend the shot. I even suggested earlier this season that limiting their playing time together could be wise (now believe trying to pair Shedrick or Dunn with Clark is the more essential consideration).

But aside from all of that, this is just a heads-up play where he not only spots that Clark is being isolated, he also has the quickness and explosion to react and go get to the shot in time. It’s a play I’d expect from Kadin and wouldn’t be surprised at all if Dunn was able to make. Seeing it from Gardner is especially encouraging, though. That’s not to say I expect him to have the range or ability to protect that the others do on a play-by-play basis, but if he can contribute in this way just enough to make the opposition have to account for him as well when they’re trying to isolate, that will be a positive development for our defense. I mentioned after the Michigan game that he looks quicker on D – which held true here.

Okay well our next one is… technically tonight… so I better send one out into the internet ether. Apologies again for not having a full game tape to make some of the points that I wanted, but will hopefully find a solution over the next few. Looking forward to the contrasting styles tonight and, hopefully, will have a convincing victory to show for it. The things I’m going to be evaluating closely are Beekman’s ankle (and playing time), and hopefully building some more confidence in Armaan prior to heading into the break.

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