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Weekend Homework: Is FSU's defense real?

In 1963, a year after he was summarily ejected from a fledgling pop group called The Beatles, drummer Pete Best met his wife, Kathy. More than 50 years later, the two are still married, with two daughters and four grandchildren. Best was a British civil servant for 20 years. In 1995, when a handful of pre-Ringo Starr Beatles recordings were released on "Anthology 1," the sales earned him millions. He was inducted into the Liverpool Music Hall of Fame. In 1988, with decades of bad blood cooled, he and a group of friends (The Pete Best Band) performed at a Beatles fan convention. He even released a record, 2008's "Hayman's Green," that was reasonably well-received.

"I stopped worrying about what the reason for the dismissal was many, many, many years ago," Best said in 2008. "Simply because the fact is, there's more to life than looking back over your shoulder all the time. I think once you understand that, your priorities change and simple things in life become important."

To the world, Best is a historical footnote. His legacy is reduced to rock historian pub trivia. But Best has had a good life -- a simpler, quieter existence than he might have had as a member of the best and most influential rock 'n' roll group in history. He fashioned a life for himself, for better or worse.

The 2013-14 Florida State Seminoles can surely identify.

It’s easy to forget now, but for all but a few weeks of Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins’ recruitment, Florida State seemed the favorite to earn his services. Both of Wiggins’ parents -- Mitchell Wiggins and Marita Payne-Wiggins -- are FSU athletics alumni, and it was considered a matter of recruiting-scene-rumor dogma that both very much wanted their talented son to follow in the family footsteps. Until the final days of Wiggins' well-guarded recruitment, when even Jayhawks coach Bill Self didn't know where he stood, it seemed just as likely Wiggins would take his talents to Tallahassee, Fla., as Lawrence, Kan., or Lexington, Ky.

You know what happened next. And just as quickly and quietly as the decision was announced, Florida State was summarily written off. A bad and suddenly defense-allergic 18-16 team losing its leading scorer, senior Michael Snear, the Noles would be mediocre at best. Nothing to see here.

Leonard Hamilton's team has staunchly defied those expectations. Just as quickly as last season's team departed from the consistent defensive excellence that defined FSU in the past half-decade, the 2013-14 Seminoles have reclaimed it. This season, Florida State, which ranked 190th in adjusted defensive efficiency last season, is allowing just 0.93 points per possession to opponents, No. 16 in the country. Statistically, Florida State has been as good offensively as any good team Hamilton has had since 2007 -- the combination of Okaro White, Ian Miller and Aaron Thomas proving far better than 2011's, which made a Sweet Sixteen run, or 2012's, when FSU finished 12-4 in the ACC and won the conference tournament in March.

The question now: How much of that improvement is real?

Because those overall efficiency numbers don’t accurately describe FSU’s play of late. In November and December, the Seminoles appeared to once again possess their league's best defense. But since ACC play began, Florida State has allowed 1.00 points per trip, a mere fifth-best in the ACC. Its scoring is down slightly too. At times, the Noles have been dominant. At other times, not so much. Thus far -- at 4-2, with both losses coming to Virginia -- the Seminoles' best league win came at Clemson. None of their other opponents (Miami, Maryland, Notre Dame) are likely NCAA tournament teams.

We should get a much better picture Saturday, when Florida State travels to Duke (noon ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). The Blue Devils' defensive woes have been well covered, but Duke is still among the best offensive teams in the country, with one of those other pesky freshman stars (Jabari Parker) producing as frequently and efficiently as any forward scorer in the country not named Doug McDermott. On paper, White is as good and as obvious a defensive matchup for Parker as exists in college basketball. But can the Seminoles control the game? Can they force Duke off the 3-point line? Can they do enough on the offensive end in Cameron Indoor Stadium to leave with a win?

It's a tantalizing strength-on-strength matchup. Or is it? We'll find out Saturday, when Florida State comes to perhaps the key moment of its season to date. Life as a historical footnote need not be so grim.