How much Chris Singleton can play and contribute could determine if the 10th-seeded Seminoles (22-10) advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1993 or if their tournament run is short.
Singleton, a 6-foot-9 junior forward, is FSU’s top scorer, rebounder and defender. He missed six games after suffering a broken right foot Feb. 12 against Virginia.
Cleared by doctors after surgery and rehab, he returned to action in the Seminoles’ 57-50 NCAA victory over Texas A&M on Friday, logging 16 minutes off the bench. His numbers weren’t overwhelming: five points, two rebounds, an assist and a block. But the psychological boost he provided his teammates seemed to help them separate from the Aggies.
“It was huge,” FSU junior forward Bernard James said. “You can see it in the team’s energy. When he checked in, I got a really big surge of energy, just kind of got my second wind. Our spirits went through the roof.”
Singleton, too, felt plenty of power. Saturday, he rated his foot at 100 percent and said he hopes to contribute more against the Fighting Irish. Singleton said he didn’t require any special treatment after the A&M game, just ice.
“I felt like I could have played another game,” Singleton said. “And way more minutes than I did.”
Coach Leonard Hamilton will determine how long Singleton will go against Notre Dame. Hamilton said he didn’t expect Singleton to play considerably more than he did Friday, but he seemed to leave himself some wiggle room.
“We have to be careful how we utilize him,” Hamilton said. “He’s coming off the first game he’s played in a month or five weeks. He’s been in several practices, but we have not allowed him to go through every drill in practice. He seems as though he feels great.
“We’ll be going on the fly a little bit. We know what we’d like to do. But the game is going to dictate how we really utilize him. I thought things went really well last night. We’ll see how it goes.”
The Irish (27-6) aren’t sleeping on Singleton. Coach Mike Brey made it a point to talk specifically about the challenges Singleton could present.
“I don’t think you can over-analyze that,” Brey said. “We obviously included him in the scouting report. He played 16 minutes [Friday]. He averages 30 minutes a game. Will he play 30 [Sunday]? I expect him to play 30.
“What was interesting was how he ball-screened and flipped for jump shots [Friday]. I think we have to be aware of that. But he is a force defensively. He loves to rebound the basketball.”
Singleton is projected as a first-round NBA draft pick in June, in the second half of the round. He could extend his college career, and those of his teammates, with his skills, particularly on defense and on the boards. He averages 13.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.6 blocks per game.
“I get more comfortable as I keep playing,” Singleton said. “I get more comfortable every day.”
Singleton’s fitness and minutes could be game-changing Sunday. Anything he adds on offense is a plus. His ability to challenge and alter the shots of Notre Dame’s multi-faceted attack could be most vital.
Singleton said he has great respect for the Irish’s offense. Have the Seminoles seen anything like Notre Dame in the ACC?
“They remind me of Duke,” Singleton said. “All of them can shoot. They can drive it as well as Duke. They are equally as good as Duke. I’m just excited to play them.”
And why wouldn’t FSU want to meet a team on par with the Blue Devils? The Seminoles stunned then-No. 1 Duke 66-61 on Jan.12. Singleton had 18 points and three rebounds in that upset.
If he is healthy Sunday, another giant could be felled.