After 10 games, the Florida State men's basketball team sits at 7-3, owns a win over a then-Top 10 team and is a combined three points away, in losses to Michigan and No. 16 Florida, from a likely national ranking.
Sophomore guard Aaron Thomas is coming off a career-best performance against Charlotte.
With only two games remaining before the start of Atlantic Coast Conference play, today's contest against Massachusetts in the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in South Florida, represents the Seminoles' best chance to add an impressive, non-conference win to their resume.
The Minutemen are 10-0, ranked No. 20 in the nation and No. 2 in the ratings-percentage index (RPI). They own wins over then-No. 19 New Mexico, NCAA tournament regular Brigham Young and ACC opponents Boston College and Clemson.
And, according to FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, they offer a stiff test for the Seminoles.
“They have a senior-dominated team, they've been together now for four years,” Hamilton said. “They're comfortable with their system, they're comfortable with each other. They're playing with an extremely high level of confidence.”
UMass' small point guard is a big reason for that confidence. In 5-9 senior Chaz Williams, the Minutemen have one of the top players in the nation. The back-to-back All-Atlantic 10 selection leads UMass with 16.3 points per game and a 33.7 shooting percentage, and also distributes nearly eight assists per game.
The way the speedy Williams darts up and down the floor reminds Hamilton of a former ACC player of the year, national champion and first-round NBA draft pick.
“We haven't seen one like him since Ty Lawson,” Hamilton said, referring to the former North Carolina star. “He's got extremely good quickness, speed. He can shoot it and then he creates offense for his teammates as well.
“He's one of those unique players who is an 5-9, 5-10, NBA-type player.”
According to FSU guard Aaron Thomas, who is coming off a 26-point performance in a 106-62 win over Charlotte earlier this week, the Seminoles's best hope of containing Williams is to get in his way and prevent him from reaching top speed.
“He's a one-man fast break,” Thomas said. “As long as we stop him from going full-speed, I think we should be good.”
Williams makes the Minutemen go, but he's hardly their only dangerous player. UMass features four more players who average scoring in double-figures, including junior center Cady Lalanne, a 6-10, 253-pound Orlando native who averages just short of a double-double (14.4 points, 9.6 rebounds) per game.
Hamilton hopes that the challenge UMass provides will prove beneficial once the Seminoles dive into their ACC slate, which begins Dec. 4 against Virginia.
"This is the way it's been for us the whole year, basically," Hamilton said. "I think we'll look back at these games we had early and hopefully we'll be able to say that these games helped prepare us for the ACC.
"But this is a definite ACC-type opponent."
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