The word “solid” is overused in sports parlance. Do the Florida State Seminoles think so? I have no idea, but the word IS overused.
“Solid” is one of those words which can become so omnipresent and so reflexively used that it can mean so many different things. The clarity of the word can vanish. The specificity of the word can disappear. What exactly is someone trying to say by using the word “solid” in a sports context? I can hear my journalism professors at Seattle University cringing at the use of “solid” to describe a sports team.
AND YET… I am here to write about how “solid” Florida State basketball has become — not necessarily on a relentless annual basis, but certainly within the context of this season.
Florida State basketball fans know that associating the Seminoles with the word “solid” seems unusual.
That’s precisely the point: This is not a normal thing to say about FSU basketball.
We are all familiar with sports programs — football or basketball — which seem to exhibit the same larger tendencies or portray the same overall identity year after year. The faces are different, the specific temperature in the locker room might change, but the big-picture results stay mostly the same.
Wisconsin is probably the best example in both football AND hoops. Other specific programs retain this remarkable capacity to produce the same kinds of games or outcomes or both, year after year.
Florida State basketball under Leonard Hamilton — for many years — fit the pattern of a team which might occasionally play a terrific game but would generally perform all over the map and deliver a series of choppy, uneven performances with a lot of long, rangy defenders who could be extremely explosive but would not always make sound decisions with the ball. Florida State would fit into one of three boxes: settle for the NIT, get a 9 to 11 seed, or get a No. 3-5 seed but flame out before the Sweet 16.
Maybe the Seminoles will not make the Sweet 16 — they are one game away from getting there — but even if they do lose on Saturday to Marquette or Murray State, this FSU team truly has broken the mold relative to past Seminole groups under Hamilton.
What might have seemed like a normal FSU team in early February has become something different in the month and a half since. Over the past seven weeks, Florida State simply doesn’t lose the plot in close games against opponents it should beat.
This 2019 team did lose those puzzling kinds of games in January, against Pittsburgh and Boston College, but from the rubble of a 1-4 start in the ACC, Hamilton has managed to imbue his players with a new level of fortitude.
The Seminoles don’t crack like fine china. They don’t crumble under pressure.
They have become a brick wall — truly and metaphorically solid.
The word “solid” is not misplaced with this team. It has forgotten how to lose close games it ought to win.
If you have followed FSU all season and you watched Vermont tie FSU at halftime (27-27) or stay within two at 50-48 heading into the under-8 media timeout (at 7:45), you might have allowed some doubt to creep in, but you also would have known that FSU was not in an unusual situation.
FSU has played close first halves and close 30-minute games throughout the past seven weeks. You can look up the play-by-play logs of where Florida State games stood with 12, 10, 8, 6 minutes left in regulation.
If you were expecting the Seminoles to blow the doors off Vermont, that wasn’t a probable occurrence.
Florida State takes time to find itself in games most of the time, and steadily improves in the final several minutes.
This steady, reliable profile reveals a flinty, feisty identity which has not always characterized Florida State basketball’s response to pressure.
Will this identity exist next season? No one knows… but Leonard Hamilton has truly created a different culture with this team, this group of players, this season.
It is noticed by the outside world… and in Tallahassee.
The sky did not fall against Vermont, and a second straight Sweet 16 is now one win away.
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