By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE – NWF State has lost its edge.
Ranked third in the country and 12-1, this may sound a bit harsh.
Yet it's reality for the Raiders, who have dealt with a litany of injuries, a stacked schedule and some general malaise that plagues even the best of teams.
That includes the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, who are by no means struggling but at 23-12 are not in playoff form.
"It's human to lose your edge, but we're not a pro team," NWF State coach Steve DeMeo said. "In college if you lose a couple of games it can drastically alter your national tournament résumé.
NWF State's résumé speaks for itself. Wins over four ranked foes validates that, which includes the wear-and-tear of a three-week road trip before Christmas break.
Even so, DeMeo sees a team that isn't playing with that "last-game mentality."
"I think our practices need to be more consistent," said the man who led the Raiders to a national title in 2015. "The next week or two we need to be grinding on the court and getting our conditioning back. We can't rest on our laurels."
NWF State vs Gordon State at Gulf Coast State College, Dec. 30 at 2 p.m.
With the steep grading curve established from the program's rich tradition, we're here to dole out midseason grades.
Javion Hamlet, 6-3 redshirt sophomore guard: A
Stats: 18 ppg, 63 percent FG, 47 percent 3-point, 1 3-pointers pg, 6.1 apg
Hamlet's the team leader, the facilitator at the point. He's also the team's closer, the guy you want to have the ball in the clutch. The definition of an efficient scorer, Hamlet just needs to work on his on-the-ball defense and rebounding. As he goes, NWF State goes.
Chris Duarte, 6-6 sophomore guard/forward: A-
Stats: 20.5 ppg, 57 percent FG, 43 percent 3-pointers, 1.8 3s per game, 7.3 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.2 bpg
Tyrie Jackson, 6-1 redshirt sophomore guard: B-
Stats: 8.8 ppg, 46 percent FG, 3.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.9 spg
Jackson is explosive on both sides of the floor, a ball of energy. He just lacks consistency.
Ludgy Debaut, 6-11 sophomore: B-
Stats: 5.6 ppg, 57 percent FG, six rpg, 2.1 bpg, .9 spg
Sidelined with a stress fracture in his foot until mid-January, Debaut's absence has been felt by the Raiders. His post defense allows teammates to be more aggressive, to pressure the ball and create turnovers. A great defender, Debaut just needs to get healthy and work on controlling his emotions a bit.
Eric Vila, 6-11 redshirt sophomore: B+
Stats: 10.4 ppg, 48 percent FG, six rpg, .8 bpg
Vila has been a "big-time surprise" for NWF State. Debaut's injury forced him to play more in the post as a true center, whereas his comfort level is at forward where he can stretch defenses on the perimeter. If he can be that stretch four when Debaut returns and knock down 3s, watch out.
Noah Morgan, 6-5 sophomore guard: B+
Stats: 9.5 ppg, 57 percent shooting, 1.3 3 pointers per game, 53 percent 3-pt, three rpg, .8 spg
Morgan's seen his role increase in Debaut's absence and has been an efficient scorer. Rebounding and energy is where he can improve.
Trey Diggs, 6-5 sophomore guard from Niceville: B
Most times Diggs sees himself as a shooter first, but DeMeo said he can be so much more. If that versatility can show up on the stat sheet along with his hot 3-point stroke, DeMeo sees a big-time contributor.
Anthony Mason, 6-10 freshman forward: B-
Stats: 6.8 ppg, 80 percent FG, 3.8 rpg, 1.1 bpg
Mason has been an incredibly efficient scorer and has come a long way. His conditioning is the only question mark.
Kayne Henry, 6-7 sophomore forward:
Stats: 6.6 ppg, 57 percent FG, 1.9 3-pointers per game, 3.4 rpg
Sam Baker, 6-4 sophomore guard: Incomplete
Stats: 2.5 ppg in just two appearances
Baker has an infectious energy in practice, it just hasn't translated to confidence in games. Baker has proven to be a big-time scorer before NWF State, and the Raiders hope to see that confidence in the second half.
Coaching Staff: B
DeMeo has always been hard on himself. It's those standards that have led NWF State to Panhandle and regional crowns and the aforementioned national title. It's the same expectations he places on his coaching staff, which includes assistants Adam Sweeney, Brannan Anthony and Rosbie Mutcherson.
He said the main thing the staff can work on collectively is holding the players accountable, fostering a better defensive makeup and preparing the team to be the best up-tempo, fast-break offense it can be.