RALEIGH, N.C. — It may have taken 29 games for it to click, but Florida State finally found a lineup rotation that has coach Leonard Hamilton pleased. As the Seminoles begin opening-round ACC Tournament play Thursday night, look for them to employ the setup often.
“We’re playing 10 people and it’s hard to play a whole lot more,” Hamilton said from Tallahassee earlier this week. “But I’m comfortable with the rotation.”
Specifically, FSU’s current primary playing roster features the likes of starters Michael Snaer, Michael Ojo, Aaron Thomas, Okaro White and Devon Bookert. Centers Boris Bojanovsky and Kiel Turpin, forward Robert Gilchrest and guards Ian Miller and Montay Brandon round out the rotation by playing mintues off the bench.
While the starting five and bench five normally play with one another on the floor, there is occasional overlap of personnel. Such has been part of the Seminoles’ (17-14) gameplan since their Feb. 13 home loss to Miami. Despite falling 74-68, the Seminoles actually enjoyed one of their better and most inspired performances of the year in that game.
So, the rotation stuck.
At long last, the combination appears to have become a winning one.
Sixth-seeded FSU enters Thursday’s game against 11-seed Clemson (13-17) having won its last two games. Those include victories over Virginia and North Carolina State, two teams that are hoping long conference tournament runs can get them off the NCAA Tournament bubble.
For FSU, a string of tournament wins that finish with the Seminoles playing in Sunday’s championship game seems to be the only way a fifth-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament is a possibilty.
“As long as we go in there with a business mindset and we stay focused this whole time, we’re going to come out with a good result,” Miller said.
Expected to play a larger role this season, Miller has been relegated to the bench and late-game duty following a foot injury that first sidelined him in the preseason. Battling through the pain since November, he still has become a staple in FSU’s lineup. Despite missing four games just before the start of the ACC season, Miller has played more than 20 minutes in seven of the last 18 games.
He had nine points, including a sequence of seven straight FSU scores, that helped propel the Seminoles to a 71-67 win over NC State last Saturday.
One scorer and onetime starter who has found it difficult to become part of the 10-man rotation since the aforementioned Miami game is Terry Whisnant. The sophomore guard had five double-digit scoring games before the new lineup went into effect, and had previously solidified himself as a 3-point threat.
But since Feb. 13, he hasn’t seen more than 11 minutes in a game. He also didn’t play at all in four of the eight games in that stretch. He missed one of those games following a death in his family.
Freshman Montay Brandon, a taller, longer guard and stronger defender, has been getting Whisnant’s minutes recently.
“Montay’s length was better suited for some of the defensive assignments we had and now that we’re kind of playing him more of the combo [guard] and playing Ian more at the point, that kind of is just a game adjustment we’ve made,” Hamilton said. “Montay is 6-7 and there have been some long wings that we’ve had to defend in some of the games that we’ve been playing. So nothing other than that.”
The timing, coupled with Brandon’s ability just has Whisnant in a tough spot.
There is one key reason why the rotation seems to be working. Veterans Snaer and White have begun limiting their fouls after routinely getting in foul trouble at the beginning of the season. Since FSU’s loss at Wake Forest on Feb. 9, Snaer hasn’t had more than two fouls in a game. White, who has fouled out five times this season, hasn’t done so in the last seven games. He’s drawn just one foul in each of the last three contests.
By limiting their foul counts, two of FSU’s best players have been able to stay on the floor a little longer.
Hamilton would add one more reason as to why his current lineup format is working: depth.
“Now we’ve got Ojo and the [other] three guys and Robert’s solid play that has allowed us to really keep Okaro fresher,” Hamilton said.
As the season has gone on, the more FSU’s newest players — Gilchrest, Thomas, Bookert, Brandon, Bojanovsky, Ojo and Turpin — have understood concepts and game strategy, Hamilton added.
“What has happened with our freshmen is that they are learning and growing and improving,” he said. “They’re learning more of the mindset you have to be in. The competitive nature of each game. How you have to play together as a team so you can take advantage of the individual talents on the team.”
If the newcomers can continue improving across this week, the Seminoles may see more than one night at the tournament after all.
... And now, to Greensboro we go. Check back here to the blog all weekend for more updates from the Greensboro Coliseum, and FSU's attempted run through the ACC Tournament.