By the end of this year, you can almost count on at least one coaching change in the ACC. The early leaders were Herb Sendek (NC State), Larry Shyatt (Clemson), and Steve Robinson (Florida State). All three coaches have been struggling for several years and all three have had some recent successes on the recruiting trails making any decision replacement decision a little tougher. Sendek's wins over Syracuse and Virginia may have been enough to save him from the Mary Anne Fox wakeup call, but Shyatt and Robinson remain on the endangered species list. In Robinson's case, the whispers about bringing former Seminole and NBA great Dave Cowens have become considerably less subtle.
Robinson is now in his 5th year at FSU and his win totals each of those years have been 18, 13, 12, and 9. Eventually someone in Tallahassee is going to graph those numbers and notice a trend. This year the Seminoles are 7-5 which sounds like improvement until you realize that has been posted against the 289th rated schedule (that's out of a total of 327 schools). Call me crazy, but I just don't think the Savannah State and Elon wins are going to help much if FSU is on the post season bubble. Actually, call me crazy for using "FSU" and "post season" in the same sentence.
So far this year, the Noles have faced two quality opponents - Florida and Wake Forest. In both cases, they were badly outplayed, losing each game by 21 points. They've gone on a bit of a run as of late, stringing together three victories as they head into the meat of their ACC schedule. However, those three wins came against the murderers row of Virginia Tech, Campbell, and Southern Florida which is about as much cause for optimism as wins over St. Joe's, NC A&T, and Texas A&M. An NIT bid would probably be enough to save Robinson's job and to do that, they'll need to get somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 - 17 wins. The problem for Robinson is that there are no out of conference opponents left on the schedule and he'll need to find 9 wins in their remaining 15 games. That would leave FSU with a 9-7 conference record which would be a minor miracle.
For the first time all year Carlos Boozer, Duke's 280 lb. center, will find himself outweighed in the post. 6-10 center Nigel Dixon is listed at somewhere in the neighborhood of 340 lbs. but the remarkable part is that he's actually lost weight to get down to 340. After a summer of shakes for breakfast, shakes for lunch and sensible dinners, Dixon dropped about half a point guard and the results have been noticeable. He's gone from being a sideshow to a legitimate player, primarily because he's been able to stay on the court longer this year. For the first time in his FSU career, Dixon is playing nearly 20 minutes a night and is averaging in double figures (10 ppg).
Dixon is still a huge presence inside - for perspective, consider that the "slimed-down" version of Dixon is still about 40 lbs. heavier than Temple's Ron Rollerson. All that size allows Dixon to be a physical defender. He relies on his strength to push opposing centers outside of their comfort range rather than attempting to block any shots. The problem for the Seminoles is that Duke's inside game, particularly Boozer, is well suited to take advantage of a player like Dixon. Boozer, as has been evidenced in recent games, is very comfortable operating further away from the basket. In addition, Duke's primary offense usually affords Boozer ample space to move around slower defenders in the post.
At the power forward spot, the Seminoles start Michael Joiner, one of three North Carolina natives on the FSU roster. The 6-7 sophomore is one of those promising recruits signed by Robinson. In his first year with the Noles, he led the team in rebounds and was a serious contender for ACC Freshman of the Year. This year he's added a more accurate three-point shot to his game and is hitting on 50% of his attempts. That's after starting the season averaging 3.5 ppg.
Joiner has a lot more to his game than just launching up threes. He'll put the ball on the floor and take it all the way to the basket. He also scores a lot of points off the offensive glass. Defensively he's quick and jumps well, but he typically gives up a bit of size at the power forward spot.
FSU has another three-point threat at the other forward spot with 6-5 senior Antwuan Dixon. (How many ways are there to spell Antwan, Antawn, Antwuan???) Little Dixon comes in hitting on 40% of his attempts and is also very effective in the open court. Like Joiner, he can get up off the floor and is considered to be the defensive stopper for the Noles.
Off the bench, the Seminoles turn to four talented younger players. Freshman Anthony Richardson of Raleigh, NC is the first McDonald's All-American to play for FSU since Randell Jackson in 1995. Like Jackson, Richardson could benefit from a few of those pounds that Nigel Dixon shed this summer. The 6-7 freshman is listed at a generous 190 lbs., but that may be a bit of a stretch. While he may be slight of frame, Richardson has big game. He can stroke the outside shot with ease and can get up and down the court for easy buckets in transition. He's had a little difficulty with the transition to the college game, but Richardson and Joiner are clearly the foundation for the future of FSU basketball.
Fellow freshman Adam Waleskowski is a bit more a banger inside at 6-8 and 230 lbs., but he also has enough touch to hit the mid-range jumper. He's been seeing most of his time at power forward with Mike Mathews and Trevor Harvey have been seeing most of the time relieving Dixon at the center spot. Mathews (6-10, 230 lb., junior) has been particularly strong defensively, averaging a 2 blocks a night despite playing just 13 minutes. He's somewhat raw offensively but does contribute on the glass. Harvey is about the same size as Mathews but has not been as effective. He comes to the Noles from Marshaltown Community College where he was a 13 ppg contributor.
The Seminoles' backcourt prospects received a major boost this summer when the NCAA granted Delvon Arrington a 4th year of eligibility. Originally a partial qualifier, Arrington earned the additional year when he graduated this summer. With Arrington at the helm, the Noles have the quickest point guard in the league. He's not a great shooter, but he uses that quickness to get into the lane and score or distribute the ball. Last year the 5-11 point guard averaged 4.8 assists per game. This year, he's upped that figure to nearly 7 assists per game, which for a team that only makes 28 field goals a night is a pretty impressive figure. That said, Arrington can be overly aggressive with the ball and rack up the turnovers.
The final starter for the Noles is leading scorer Monte Cummings who is averaging around 14 ppg. Cummings will be easy to identify. The 25 year old senior will probably spend some time talking with Matt Christensen about their 401K plans before the game. Cummings spent some time in the military before going to a community college and eventually ending up at FSU. Despite his military background Cummings has had trouble with Robinson's discipline and has been suspended numerous times over the course of his career. His latest suspension was earlier this year.
When he's on the court, the 6-4 senior likes to take the ball to the rack. He doesn't shoot the deep ball often, nor does he do it particularly well. But he does get to the basket and to the free throw line often.
When Cummings was suspended, Robinson started sophomore JD Bracy at the off-guard spot. He probably won't be available for the Duke game though as Bracy has now been suspended indefinitely. Instead, the options are pretty limited for the Noles, with just several seldom-used players available for depth. On intriguing possibility is Adrian McPherson, a talented athlete who was the backup quarterback for the Seminole football team. The last time the Noles had a point guard who played a little quarterback it worked out rather well for them.
The big question for most Duke fans would be who starts for the Devils on Sunday. First there's the concern about Mike Dunleavy's ankle. Krzyzewski has said he expects Dunleavy to play on Sunday so it's likely he will be starting. But then there's the Casey Sanders or Dahntay Jones question. Was the lineup shakeup against Davidson the result of improved play in practice by Sanders? Or was it a message sent to Dahntay Jones?
Krzyzewski has never been afraid to shake up the starting lineup to send a message and motivate a player. In 1999, consensus National Player of the Year Elton Brand found himself on the bench at the start of the Michigan game. Regardless of Krzyzewski's motivations with the latest move, the results were evident. Jones put together his best effort in a Duke uniform, scoring 19 points in 25 minutes. Just as importantly, he committed just one turnover, an area where he has been struggling all season.
In all likelihood, Sanders will probably remain in the starting lineup - at least for the next game. If so, his defensive matchup with Joiner will provide a good measure of Sanders' development. Earlier this year, Sanders did a credible job of defending Kentucky's Tayshaun Prince. Joiner isn't quite the scoring threat of Prince, particularly from the outside. Joiner is however a bit quicker than Prince and could give Sanders some trouble off the dribble.
Duke has also been working on their rebounding and would like to build on the positive performance against Davidson where they out-rebounded the Wildcats by 18. FSU is a solid rebounding team with Nigel Dixon garnering a lot of position rebounds and Joiner, Richardson, Cummings, Antwuan Dixon, and even Arrington all pulling down 4 or more rebounds a game.
One thing that will heavily impact Duke's chances to out-rebound with the Noles is Chris Duhon's ability to contain the penetration of Arrington. Duhon has had some moments when he has struggled against quicker point guards. If Arrington is able to get penetration and force Duke's defense to rotate, it will make it more difficult for the Devils to rebound. One thing working in Duke's favor is that Arrington is apt to play as many minutes as Duhon will. During the Kentucky a well rested Cliff Hawkins was able to continually take Duhon off the dribble late in the game after the Duke guard had played the entire game.
Offensively Duke should start the game much as they have most games this season. Look for them to get the ball inside and establish Boozer. Other key players to watch are Duhon and Jones. The Devils will want Duhon to continue with the offensive aggressiveness he displayed against Davidson. In that game, Duhon was able to balance his deep, deep, deep three-point attempts against drives to the basket. With Jones, the team needs him to continue to play under control but at the same time explosive.
Defensively, look for the Devils to turn up the heat with the their ball pressure FSU is not very good with the basketball, committing more than 17 turnovers per game against that weak schedule. Against FSU, they turned the ball over 22 times. Against Florida they had 29 turnovers. The Noles can be very tentative with the ball, making it easier for defenders to get a double team. Duke has not been as effective without Shane Battier at the point of their press this year. While they have had several games where they forced a number of turnovers, they've yet to have on of those runs where the team would score several quick hoops off the press. That's one area of development the team will need as they build towards the post season.
FSU is a few years away from being able to be competitive in the ACC. If they can land some backcourt players to go with Joiner and Richardson they could return to their glory days of Sam Cassell and Bob Sura. But barring a remarkable ACC season it's unlikely that Robinson will be there to see it. Sunday afternoon's result should make it an even tougher task for Robinson.