Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE
Somehow, most people seem to have forgotten that FSU actually won the ACC crown last year (regular season and tourney, thankyouverymuch). With a predictable approach of rugged defense and an offense led by several capable scorers, can the Noles muscle their way into the top tier of the ACC yet again?
For the last four years, Leonard Hamilton's team has bested their pre-season predicted finish in the ACC. Last year, it was to the tune of the school's first ever regular season conference title (going 4-1 against Duke and Carolina) after being picked to finish third. All of which is to say that it is very likely that this team will outperform the 5thplace finish I am predicting, though it's really hard to imagine them cracking the top 3.
Florida State will have to replace a lot of experience this season, much of which was in the post. Tough guy Bernard James (10.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.3 bpg) and Xavier Gibson (7 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.3 bpg) were a fairly imposing duo in the paint, while Luke Loucks and Devidas Dulkys were always on-court emblems of Hamilton's hard-hatted if unspectacular approach to the game and cumulatively contributed 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per contest. Replacing that toughness on the interior and that amount of steadiness in the backcourt are probably the two biggest questions the Noles have to answer.
One of the advantages of having a coach who likes to routinely go 10-deep on his bench (not that a Duke fan would know) is that while you may lose minutes and experience from time to time, you will almost always be guaranteed to return some. Such is the case with Coach Hamilton and FSU. First team All-ACC candidate, lock down defender and leading scorer Michael Snaer (14 ppg) returns, along with Ian Miller, who was instant offense off the bench, scoring 10 ppg in just 23 mpg of playing time. Both of these guys will have expanded roles in the offense, which could only be good for them and the Noles. Also returning is 6'9" Okaro White, a guy with enough skill and athleticism to have a breakout year and improve on his 8-point and 4-rebound per game averages. Forward Terrance Shannon was hugely productive (8 ppg, 4 rpg in only 17 mpg) before an early season injury shelved him for the year, and he returns to add frontcourt depth.
Florida State will retain its title as the tallest team in the country because they bring in the tallest class anyone's ever heard of. Kiel Turpin (an unusual Redshirt Junior Juco combo), Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo are all 7 feet or taller. Turpin will probably be looked to to make the biggest impact of those three, with the other two being semi-projects. 6'9" Juco import Robert Gilchrist gives them another banger on the interior and Montay Brandon, the #9 shooting guard in this his class, went from 6'4" to 6'7" in the just the last 6 months. To this big group Hamilton adds Alaska's High School Player of the Year Devon Bookert (25 ppg) at the point, who will get a lot of playing time as the only true PG on the team. Rounding things out is 6'5" pure scorer Aaron Thomas, a very highly regarded SG out of Cincinnatti.
Looking at the numbers, there's very little that FSU didn't do well as a team last year and a few things (FG% defense, steals, blocked shots) at which they were outstanding. The notable exception to this was turnovers, where the Noles were atrocious, turning the ball over 16 times a game, and ended the season with 100 more than anyone else in the ACC. It is unlikely, given who departed and who remains, that FSU will make great strides at improving in that regard. Ultimately the performance and growth of their younger players will define their ceiling. They will, however, still be long, athletic, defensively minded and as well coached as anyone in the conference. I underestimate them at my peril.