FSU leaning on veterans with rocky start

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Even for a Florida State basketball team that has started slow the past few seasons, this has been a rocky opening seven games.

In the 2010-11 season, the Seminoles opened 11-5 and struggled in early January losses at Auburn and Virginia Tech. But Florida State recovered to finish 23-11 and reach the Elite Eight.

Last season, the Seminoles started 9-6 after beginning the ACC schedule with a road loss to Clemson. But they recovered to win 10 of 11 games, finish 25-10 and win the conference tournament.

This season, Florida State has been out of rhythm from the start. Florida State has lost two straight games, at home to Minnesota and Mercer, and is 4-3 going into Wednesday’s showdown with No. 6 Florida (6-0) in Tallahassee.

“We’ve had pretty good practices but we have not always transferred those good practices to the actual games,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We’ve been a little inconsistent in that area. We have a better understanding of where we’re coming up short.

“Any time you have a lot of new players, there are learning curves. But we also need our veterans to lead by example, to step up and give us the type of performance that’s necessary to win games while our newcomers are coming around.”

Florida State lost six seniors to graduation, and the result has been a hit-and-miss first seven games. Senior guard Michael Snaer (14.1 points) and junior forward Okaro White (13.4 points) lead the way for Florida State.

The Seminoles have looked good at times — especially in wins over BYU and Saint Joseph’s in Brooklyn, N.Y., to win the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic — they have since struggled.

After returning home to fight off a scrappy North Florida team, Florida State shot just 37 percent in a 77-68 loss to Minnesota. And while Mercer played well, the Seminoles committed 18 turnovers and missed 10 free-throw attempts in a 61-56 loss.

“The talent is there,” White said. “I’d just say we don’t have it all together right now in every aspect.”

The veterans were expected to carry the team, but that has been a tough burden. Snaer shot just 5 of 15 the last two games. White has shot better in his junior season but wants to be a better rebounder. And Ian Miller has a bone bruise on his right foot and has just five points — on 2 of 11 shooting — in the past two games since suffering the injury.

Florida State has plenty of talent between the veterans and the newcomers. They are beginning to mesh, but two problems have become apparent: the Seminoles are struggling to rebound, and they have been troubled by inconsistent ball-handling.

Rebounding is compounded by the loss of three 7-footers — Bernard James, Xavier Gibson and Jon Kreft. They have been replaced by junior-college transfer Kiel Turpin and freshmen Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo.

Turpin and Bojanovsky have less than 2.5 rebounds per game between them, while Ojo has played sparingly. Florida State’s leading rebounder is 6-8 forward Terrance Shannon, who comes off the bench and averages 6.9 rebounds.

The team lost its top point guards in seniors Luke Loucks and Jeff Peterson. They have been replaced by a group of true freshmen: Devon Bookert, Montay Brandon and Aaron Thomas.

Florida State has had 17 or more turnovers in five of seven games. But the trio has also had its moments: Bookert had 15 points and five assists in the win over BYU, Brandon had 11 points in the win over Saint Joseph’s and Thomas had 10 points in the win over Buffalo.

The inconsistency, however, is what concerns Hamilton. It was expected, but perhaps not to this extent.

“I think they’re getting better each game — there’s no doubt about that,” Hamilton said. “It’s a little stressful for them right now because at this level not only are they trying to contribute but they have the responsibility of knowing what everyone else is supposed to do. They are trying to lead and instruct when you are still trying to adjust yourself. It’s been a little bit challenging for them.”

Florida State is just seven games into the season and there’s not worry on the faces of Hamilton and players. They know that there is plenty of time to improve before the ACC schedule starts on Jan. 5 at Clemson.

But the frustration is evident.

“Our production as a group has to pick up because we have to set the tone for the younger guys to feed off of,” Miller said. “And as long as we keep playing the way we’re playing, they’re going to keep playing the way they’re playing, and the season will turn out to be crap.”