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The Verdict: Mizzou Hoops Program Building Series Part II — A History Lesson

Part II: A review of the late-2010s Florida State Seminoles run to prominence and the underlying characteristics of their rosters.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Florida State Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed our first installment of this series, you can find it here: Part I: A 24-Month Checkup on Mizzou’s Roster. This series will build off of each prior installment.

When Mizzou Athletic Direct Desiree Reed-Francois made the call to hire Dennis Gates in the Spring of 2022, the initial public reception was mixed. Gates was fresh off of two Horizon League regular season titles at Cleveland State. He resurrected a program that had hemorrhaged nearly an entire roster shortly before he took over. Gates quickly revamped the roster and found near term success. After two Horizon League coach of the year awards, Gates was on the radar of multiple high-major openings.

But many mid-major coaches experience success. Many more aren’t anointed as head coach of a high major program with just three years of head coaching experience at the young age of 42. Dennis Gates did great work in Cleveland, but there was something more at play here.

Reed-Francois told Mizzou supporters as much, in fact. She spoke at length about how Dennis Gates had long been on her radar dating back to her days at Virginia Tech. For at that time, she was well acquainted with Gates and his Florida State Seminoles as an Atlantic Coast Conference rival. His time as an assistant under future Hall of Fame coach, Leonard Hamilton, was undoubtedly a key bullet point on the resume. And for good reason. During the late 2010s, few programs matched the annual success as his teams did.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Auburn Julie Bennett-USA TODAY Sports

After tabbing the new Head Coach, only a matter of weeks passed before Gates brought in a premier assistant coach in Charlton “C.Y.” Young. Mizzou’s assistant coach salary pool was immediately expanded to allow the hire to happen. All indications were that these two hires weren’t a matter of happenstance.

If there were any doubts that Florida State’s “model” was being integrated in Columbia, they were taking on water fast. Dennis Gates was a member of Hamilton’s staff as an assistant beginning with the 2011-2012 season and concluding with the 2018-2019 team. Young was onboard in Tallahassee between 2013-2014 and the 2021-2022 seasons. A combined eleven seasons between the two coaches as members of Hamilton’s held sway with Desiree Reed-Francois.

Gates will be the first to tell you that it’s not his goal to simply mirror Florida State’s program. He is his own man and with it come his own ideas on how best to win basketball games. Yet between the obvious links to the program and how we’re seeing Mizzou’s roster constructed — as discussed in Part 1 of this series — we’re being shown that if it’s not an exact replica, the foundation is woven from same fabric. Those 2:00 a.m. phone calls between mentor and protege` weren’t just about the weather.

The Master Plan — The Florida State Model

If you’ve been around Mizzou hoops talk over the last 24 months, you’ve assuredly heard this term. A certain recruit might be described as a “Florida State,” type player. While it’s impossible to quantify the precise recipe, you don’t need to be the pitmaster to know brisket is on your plate.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Miami (FL) Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

There are several guideposts that can inform this discussion. While the following analysis will largely focus on a subset of Hamilton’s tenure in Tallahassee, it bears noting that there was nearly entire decade of Leonard Hamilton Florida State basketball prior. For a man who could easily pass for 50, Hamilton has been doing this gig a long time. For our purposes here, we’re going to look primarily at the years that the two current Mizzou coaches were involved.

The first thing I come to during a thorough review of the Seminole’s program is roster depth. Not just depth, but quality depth. The Florida State model is predicated on defensive intensity. And much like Mike Anderson’s “Fastest 40,” that requires more than an average number of bodies to properly implement. The first five years Gates was on staff, Florida State’s average finish in bench minutes (out of ~350 programs) was 139th per Ken Pomeroy. Over the next six seasons that number exploded to 35th most. In a given year, among high major teams, Florida State easily rated top 10 in the country. The Seminoles played the guys they brought in. And they played all of them.

2012-2022 Florida State Cornerstones

Year Average Height Block Rate Rank Steal Rate Rank 2 Point Shot Defense Defensive Efficiency Rank
Year Average Height Block Rate Rank Steal Rate Rank 2 Point Shot Defense Defensive Efficiency Rank
2012 5th 5th 66th 12th 10th
2013 3rd 24th 218th 157th 170th
2014 3rd 23rd 179th 18th 54th
2015 3rd 46th 264th 121st 83rd
2016 7th 72nd 65th 175th 61st
2017 2nd 21st 52nd 38th 31st
2018 12th 17th 103rd 17th 33rd
2019 10th 30th 66th 21st 10th
2020 1st 4th 10th 70th 15th
2021 1st 12th 72nd 12th 33rd
2022 1st 10th 19th 182nd 106th
All Numbers via Ken Pomeroy

The second principle is also relatively well known, and that’s disruptive length on defense. When the Seminole’s franchise was humming, they were brimming with long athletes who could get hands on basketballs. To cause max disruption you need max disruptors. During the six final years a current Mizzou coach was at Florida State, the Seminoles average height had a cumulative average that ranked fifth nationally. The signal of those physical attributes manifesting on the court come via defensive blocks and steals.

And manifest they did. The ‘Noles average finish in block rate nationally from 2017-2022 was 16th. Steal rate? 54th. Any time an opponent was set to play a Hamilton squad, they were in for an uncomfortable 40 minutes of basketball. Those attributes in concert drove a true defensive wagon late in the decade.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-West Regional-Gonzaga vs Florida State Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

While the first two keys have been bandied before, the third is truly the most important in my view. The Seminoles were elite at four very important things, all of which are interconnected. 1. Talent identification. 2. Talent acquisition. 3. Player development. 4. Player retention.

Florida State did bring in talent that would bounce for the NBA after one year — but that was the exception, not the rule. Maximizing production from their prep recruiting haul over the long term was truly their ticket to the big kids’ table in college basketball. We’ll fully explore this point a bit later. But first, we’ll lay the foundation for why this is a model one would even want to replicate.

Success of the Seminoles

A model is only as good as the results it provides. And Florida State provides something of an interesting case study. The chart below reflects the years that both Dennis Gates and/or Charlton Young were seated aside Leonard Hamilton from 2012-2022.

Florida State Basketball 2012-2022

Year Record Leage Record League Finish Pomeroy Rating NCAA Tourney Seed
Year Record Leage Record League Finish Pomeroy Rating NCAA Tourney Seed
2012 25-10 12-4 3rd 24th 3
2013 18-16 9-9 6th 120th n/a
2014 22-14 9-9 7th 38th n/a
2015 17-16 8-10 9th 99th n/a
2016 20-14 8-10 11th 48th n/a
2017 26-9 12-6 2nd 26th 3
2018 23-12 9-9 8th 27th 9
2019 29-8 13-5 4th 14th 4
2020 26-5 16-4 1st 15th 2*
2021 18-7 11-4 2nd 15th 4
2022 17-14 10-10 8th 105th n/a
*2020 Tournament Cancelled due to Covid; Seed Is Projected

Before this era started, Hamilton had coached nine years at Florida State. His first six seasons failed to return an NCAA Tournament bid. The selection criteria changed somewhat significantly since those days, so it bears noting that in three of his first six years the Noles were a top 40 outfit via Ken Pomeroy — that is to say, a tournament quality outfit. No matter, it wasn’t until year seven that the rubber met the road. Hamilton would go on to land four consecutive teams in the postseason gala, culminating with the 2012 team mentioned above — the first in our sample.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Florida State Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Through Dennis Gates’s first four seasons aside his mentor, things had plateaued to the naked eye. There were a few solid years, but no tournament invites after his first season in 2012. But something was percolating underneath the surface. With Young joining the ranks in 2013, the staff got busy — and hot — on the recruiting trail. And the program would soon take off.

By the time the last current Mizzou staffer left the Sunshine State, FSU had reeled off five straight tournaments, three top four seeds and three second weekend appearances. Arguably the strongest team of the bunch had their season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic after nabbing the ACC regular season title. That 2020 Noles team was projected as a 2 seed and was poised for a deep run.

The program was humming. And this is how it was built.

Laying an Elite Foundation

Turning to the real nuts and bolts of the history lesson, we’re going to take a look at just how well Florida State recruited during the time period in question.

Rankings via 247 Composite Index

This chart simply indicates the 1. recruiting class year, 2. prep recruit class rank, 3. number of commitments and the 4. individual rankings of the players from highest to lowest within the respective class. “Miscellaneous,” simply indicates non high school prospects. During this period, FSU established a median class size of five players with the prep recruits ranking 18th nationally.

If you focus in on a more limited time frame, the pieces really begin to fall into place. The 2015-2019 classes were the cycles that really pushed Florida State from a competitive program to a much higher tier.

Rankings via 247 Composite Index

These five classes proved to be the backbone of Florida State’s ascent into the VIP area of the college basketball universe. You’ll notice that they were all signed during years that Dennis Gates and Charlton Young were both on staff. The median class again was five players strong, but the median class ranking had jumped to 12th. The lone class outside of the top 20 was a one-man effort in 2018. That man was Devin Vassell whom Charlton Young personally plucked out of Suwanee, Georgia, and was drafted 11th overall after his sophomore season.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State’s rise to prominence was built on these years and specifically these prep recruiting efforts. And if you refer back to part 1 of this series, you’ll see some staggering parallels with what Dennis Gates’s staff has accomplished in quick order here at Mizzou. The median rank of all 16 Florida State high school recruits from 2015 through 2019 was 85.5 per 247’s composite index. The median rank of each one of the 10 prep recruits Dennis Gates has brought into Columbia is 79.5.

Florida State Roster Development Patterns

I promised nuts and bolts and more nuts and bolts you shall receive. The following graphic describes each and every one of the 16 Seminole recruits from 2015-2019 in terms of minutes percentage played — of 40 minutes — and their Bayesian Performance Rating “BPR,” by year. For ease, I’ve once again included a quick conversion graphic that helps quantify BPR.

*Christ Koumadje’s BPR Data was unavailable for three seasons.
Credit to Evan Miya for BPR Data; Credit to 247 for Composite Index Recruit Ranking

Admittedly I’m throwing a lot your way, but it’s important to show the basis of the analysis. For ease, I’d like to focus on the bolded portion at the bottom of the graphic. We’ve already noted that the “median,” Seminole recruit rated 85th nationally. Now we can put a figure on how big of an impact they had — both in minutes played and production— each year they were in the program and how that changed as the players got more experienced.

Only four of these Seminole freshmen saw 20 minutes or more a game — and three of those were headed to the NBA after a single season. On balance, the average freshman saw less than 15 minutes a game. However, they performed at a very productive level with the average player landing among the top 500 of ALL Division-I players. These younger players often served as spots deeper on the team’s rotation and provided a valuable impact.

NBA: Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When those freshmen turned to sophomores — and 75% of them returned to do so — the minutes and production skyrocketed. At that point the average Seminole sophomore was averaging over 20 minutes a game and was pushing the top 150 player mark among their D-I peers. With just a little patience, Florida State would turn good freshmen into a difference-making sophomores.

After their sophomore campaigns the results began to plateau for various reasons. This is due in part to over half of the freshmen who were brought in as high school recruits departing the program prior to their junior seasons. But those seven remaining players still provided vital production. Five players proved to be key players as juniors. Four continued to make major impacts their senior season as well. Though the “core,” of players dwindled over time, the remaining upperclassmen provided the quality experience that every successful program needs.

Another component of Florida State’s run was the smart use of the junior college market to supplement their roster with upperclassmen to fill roles. They did so quite effectively. It was rare that a player from the junior college ranks starred for the Seminoles. But what they did do is provide upperclassmen experience and quality depth in place of the departed two-year players. One might say that Florida State had found their version of the transfer portal before it even existed.

BPR via Evan Miya; Rankings via 247 Composite Index

While these players didn’t yield the top end results that Florida State’s freshmen did over time, they offered a high floor to plug in holes caused by departures from their high school classes. For a program that was intent on beating teams with depth, the importance can’t be overstated. Quality minutes off the bench are imperative.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-West Regional-Michigan vs Florida State Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Turning back to the high school talent Florida State accumulated, consider the following graphic — my last of this volume! — which shows how the tables turned with that 2015 recruiting class onward in terms of production compared to previous years.

Credit to Evan Miya for BPR; Rankings via 247 Composite Index

It’s not exactly groundbreaking to discover that better recruiting leads to better results. But the mechanics are important. Even in the less-heralded 2012-2014 classes, those players became valuable pieces for the Seminoles program, it just took a year in the program. Similarly, the better rated class performed at a higher level sooner, but they also saw a big jump between their first and second years.

This is all to say that the Florida State “model,” requires some degree of patience despite lofty recruiting rankings. Playing a deep bench is great in theory but struggles surface when the back half of the rotation isn’t up to standards. That requires consistently effective recruiting, development and player retention. The Seminoles in the late 2010s excelled at all of those things. Now, Mizzou is relying on two key actors in that film to do the same thing in Columbia. If their first two full recruiting cycles are any indication, they’re well on their way.

Before we depart, it does bear noting that Florida State has seen a performance drop off in very recent years. The reasons for that are many. In our next installment, we will identify and discuss the pros and cons of this strategy in the ever-changing era of modern college basketball.