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Thursday, February 23, 2012
Top 10 Thursday: FSU's turnaround

By Myron Medcalf

In the moments that followed a 79-59 road loss to Clemson on Jan. 7, Florida State’s coaching staff accosted players in the locker room about the multiple gaffes that had led to the lopsided score.

The Seminoles’ stubborn defense had failed them as the Tigers shot 49 percent from the field. They committed 16 turnovers. And their 24 fouls led to Clemson’s 28-for-33 mark from the charity stripe.

But as Leonard Hamilton and his staff pointed out the team’s flaws, Bernard James stirred in his seat, especially when coaches questioned players’ collective effort.

Michael Snaer
Michael Snaer and Florida State are rolling with wins in 10 of their past 11 games.
James, who scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds in that game, felt a need to speak. With a declarative tone, he told everyone in the room that he had played hard. And he asked his teammates, who’d just suffered their sixth loss in 10 games, if they’d done the same.

“I just kind of snapped right there. I kind of defended myself,” James told ESPN.com. “I felt like I played hard that game. I placed the blame on certain individuals. It wasn’t to tear anybody down. I just felt like somebody needed to take responsibility for the loss.”

That moment broke the ice for a Florida State squad that turned a postgame discussion into an intervention. James said the Seminoles expressed their frustrations with one another. They talked about the missed assignments that had led to their poor start. They vowed to implement more accountability.

“We pretty much had to let the frustration out to start off on a new foot,” said junior Michael Snaer.

They’ve won 10 of their past 11 games, a mark punctuated by wins over North Carolina and Duke. Tickets for Thursday night’s home game against Duke sold out in 15 minutes.

The Seminoles’ evolution was evident on the final play of their 76-73 road win at Duke on Jan. 21. After Austin Rivers tied the game on a late drive, the Seminoles didn’t panic. They just executed.

James said he “knocked the snot out of” Seth Curry on a screen as Luke Loucks drove up the floor and found Snaer in the corner for the winning 3-pointer.

“Something would have went wrong [if that had happened before the Clemson loss]. Something would have been out of place,” James said. “The reason why that play worked was because everything happened the way it was supposed to.”

Hamilton could see the surge coming. Even after the Clemson loss, the coach said he believed his team was struggling because it hadn’t jelled yet. Xavier Gibson had switched positions. Loucks was still getting comfortable as the starting point guard. Ian Miller was unavailable at the start of the season, but he’s averaged 10.5 points per game since his Dec. 22 return.

But Hamilton agrees that the Clemson loss jolted a team that needed a midseason wake-up call.

“That game just brought us back to reality,” he said. “It kind of refocused us.”

Here’s a list of the other squads that have managed to turn things around this year:

Drexel -- The Dragons lost four of their first six games. But they’ve lost just one game since Dec. 3 and are riding a 14-game winning streak. They’re on top of the CAA with a 15-2 record.

George Mason -- Paul Hewitt endured some early struggles in his first season at George Mason. Nonconference losses to Florida Atlantic and Florida International seemed to spell trouble for the Patriots. But the Patriots found some poise as the season progressed. At 14-3 in the CAA, they’re tied with VCU for second place.

Iowa State -- The Cyclones suffered from the chemistry issues that come with being a team that relies on transfers. Despite possessing talented players such as Royce White and Chris Allen, the Cyclones lost at Drake, to Northern Iowa at home and at Michigan in their nonconference season. Would they find a way to click and extract the full potential from their roster? Yep. The Cyclones are fourth in the Big 12 with a 10-5 record, and they’re probably headed back to the NCAA tournament.

LIU Brooklyn -- The Blackbirds own the Northeast Conference right now (15-1). But they lost six of their first 11 games.

Notre Dame -- It all started with Tim Abromaitis suffering a season-ending injury in November. The Fighting Irish’s 65-58 road loss to Rutgers on Jan. 16 was their eight defeat of the year. But that’s the past. The new Fighting Irish have won nine games in a row.

South Florida -- The Bulls are on the bubble with a 10-5 record in the Big East. In late December, that would have appeared to be a misguided forecast. From Nov. 19 through Dec. 28, the Bulls lost seven of 11 games.

UNC Greensboro -- The Spartans are on top of the Southern Conference’s North division with a 10-7 record. Somehow, this team recovered from a 2-14 start to its 2011-12 campaign. Now that’s a turnaround.

VCU -- Shaka Smart’s Rams look dangerous again. After losing most of the starters from last season’s Final Four team, the Rams lost three of their first six games. But Bradford Burgess (12.9 ppg) has embraced his role as a leader on and off the floor. They’re tied with George Mason for second place in the CAA at 14-3.

Washington -- There’s a lot of bad in the Pac-12. But the Huskies are one of the struggling league’s success stories. They lost to South Dakota State 92-73 at home Dec. 18. It was their fifth loss in seven games. But the Huskies have lost just three games since that disaster. They’re 12-3 in the Pac-12 and making a legitimate push for an at-large berth.