Even though Florida State has a history of atoning for losses to lightly regarded foes with marquee wins in league play, this year's Seminoles may have already dug themselves too deep a hole.
A season-opening home loss to middling South Alabama set the tone for the non-conference slate. Next came a brutal loss to Mercer sandwiched around more excusable defeats at the hands of Minnesota and Florida. And finally there was Wednesday night's demoralizing 78-72 road loss at an Auburn team that so far has been one of the worst power-conference teams in the nation.
Where that leaves Florida State is with an 8-5 record and an RPI of 112 entering the start of ACC play. The only remotely good wins the Seminoles have so far are against BYU and Saint Joseph's, neither of whom would likely make the NCAA tournament if Selection Sunday was this week.
"We've kind of dug a hole for ourselves now that is going to create a sense of urgency on every game we play for the remainder of the year," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton told the Tallahassee Democrat on Wednesday night. "Even though we had won (four straight games), I feel like we are creeping along with our progress as opposed to making significant jumps in our progress."
There is time for Florida State to rebound from its poor start, but the Seminoles' margin for error in ACC play has dwindled and their need for notable wins has increased. They only play top-ranked Duke, which actually may work to their disadvantage as they seek RPI-boosting victories.
It's hard to see this year's Florida State team toppling the likes of a Duke simply because the Seminoles don't defend the way past editions did.
In the past three seasons, Florida State ranked first, second and 17th nationally in points per possession surrendered, enabling the Seminoles to finish in the top three in the ACC and reach the NCAA tournament each year despite a perennially erratic offense. So far this season, Florida State still isn't a model of efficiency on offense and it's surrendering a very mediocre 0.96 points per possession on defense, only eighth-best in the ACC and 138th nationally.
Why the downturn in defense? It's a combination of inconsistent effort and major personnel losses.
The Seminoles lack a rim-protecting big man to replace the graduated Bernard James, which is making it harder for them to gamble for steals on the perimeter without having to worry about giving up a layup if their man beats them off the dribble. Furthermore, a young rotation featuring three freshmen, one sophomore and only one senior isn't quite as adept with Leonard Hamilton's defensive rotations as past teams were.
Perhaps, the young players will improve defensively as the season goes along. Perhaps, an offense that boasts more scoring talent than usual will increase its efficiency as guard Ian Miller gets healthy again. Regardless, something needs to change in a hurry or Florida State will be watching the NCAA tournament from its sofas this March.