Point-guard play holding 'Noles back

If Florida State is going to enjoy any more success in the NCAA Tournament, then the point-guard duo of Luke Loucks and Jeff Peterson must step up its play and run the offense much more efficiently.

It is the position on the team with the most experience, but it has become a reason for Florida State's recent struggles.

Luke Loucks and Jeff Peterson have a combined eight years of college basketball under their belts and are both currently graduate students set to walk this spring. Throughout the recent winning streak, the troubles of the two guards have been overlooked. But with Sunday's disappointing performance vs. Miami, the problems have become more apparent.

Peterson and Loucks combined for just four points on 2-of-9 shooting in the 78-62 defeat to the Hurricanes. They turned the ball over six times and were unable to penetrate a ‘Canes defense that gave the ‘Noles fits throughout the night. Many of the turnovers were unforced and came in critical moments that helped swing momentum Miami's way.

Even though Sunday's point-guard play was well below average, there have been situations this season when the two men manning the position have shown signs of development.

Just last month, Loucks sent a pinpoint pass to Michael Snaer, who then buried a last-second 3, that led directly to a stunning upset victory over Duke at Cameron Indoor. Loucks' composure that moment cannot be understated, and the win ended the Blue Devils' 45-game home winning streak.

In addition, Peterson made a similar play that, at the time, allowed the Seminoles to maintain possession of first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Springfield, Missouri, native penetrated the lane and sent a dart to Snaer that helped FSU overcome a double-digit deficit and defeat Virginia Tech. Peterson also nailed a 3-pointer vs. the Hokies in crunch time to keep Florida State within striking distance.

Nonetheless, the duo has failed for much of the year to live up to its preseason expectations.

Many expected this to be a career season for Loucks, and in many ways it has been. He is averaging career highs in points, assists, rebounds and steals. He also posted a career-high 18 points against South Alabama much earlier in the season.

Still, the Clearwater product is also posting nearly a turnover more per game than he has in any previous season and has only hit his season average in points once in the last eight games. Some untimely 3-point attempts have killed offensive opportunities, too.

The expectations heading into the 2011-12 campaign had been that when Loucks is given a rest, Peterson would be able to spell him and kick the offense into another gear. His ability to get into the paint can force the defense to collapse and create open shooters. It's then up to those shooters to knock down shots.

However, for whatever reason, that hasn't been the case for much of the year. Peterson hasn't adapted as well to his new team as many had expected him to, as his experience had been anticipated to serve him well. His career lows in every major category are somewhat misleading since the two-time transfer is playing fewer minutes per game then he ever did at Iowa or Arkansas, but his production when on the court has been less than stellar.

Peterson and Loucks are the quarterbacks of the offense, and when they struggle, the entire offense struggles. That was especially apparent in Sunday's defeat.

Both failed to facilitate the offense, and as result FSU couldn't hit outside shots for much of the game. The ‘Canes switched to a 2-3 zone midway through the first half, and that effectively put the Seminoles out of any type of offensive rhythm. The two point guards could not find a way to penetrate the lane. Therefore, much of the ball movement occurred above the 3-point line, and Florida State couldn't find an open shot.

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With the loss and only two games remaining in the regular season, any hope of a conference title is unrealistic. Florida State has lost two more conference games then both North Carolina and Duke. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils play each other once more, so FSU cannot tie them atop the conference standings.

Still, the ACC tournament is on the horizon, and Florida State will most certainly be participating in March Madness. If the Seminoles are going to have any hope of eclipsing last year's success, then the point-guard play simply has to improve.

Otherwise, a promising season may not end as positively as many had hoped.

Matt Ritter is the basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.

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