This is a tough team to predict. Seven of the twelve scholarship players are about to play in their first games as Seminoles. Matt and I have been giving you our input, but sometimes it's nice to get a fresh perspective from someone outside the circle.
So I asked Rob Dauster a few questions about FSU hoops. Rob is part of the talented crew which runs College Basketball Talk over at NBC Sports, and he's a regular columnist at Sports Illustrated. Prior to these gigs he got his start running the popular blog Ballin' is a Habit.
Thanks to Rob for taking the time.
TN: FSU seems to be landing right on the fringe of a lot of preseason top-25s (either just in, or just out). Where do you have them, and why?
RD: I had them just outside the top 25 when I put together my rankings about a month ago, and my opinion hasn't changed since then. I also have no problem with anyone that slots them in the back end of the top 25; the difference between No. 20 and No. 45 this season is very small. You know what you are going to get from this group defensively on a night-to-night basis -- more bruises than clean looks at the rim. But I still have concerns about them on the offensive end of the floor, and I think there are question marks along their front line that need to be answered.
TN: Duke, NC State and North Carolina are dangerous teams. But FSU has finished in the top four of the ACC (regular season) for four straight years. Which teams are coming up in the rear view mirror that have the best chance of knocking FSU out of that top bracket?
RD: There are two teams that I think have a chance to finish in the top four in the league: Miami and Maryland. Miami is kind of an obvious pick, given their talent perimeter attack and the duo of Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji up front. Exhibition loss aside, I think the 'Canes have a chance to really sneak up on people this season.
But I also like Maryland quite a bit, and it's more than simply thinking Alex Len is on his way to becoming a lottery pick. I really like the combination of Nick Faust on Pe'Shon Howard in the back court. I think they'll be good enough to allow newcomers Seth Allen and Logan Aronhalt to take their time getting used to Maryland's system. I also think freshmen Jake Layman and Shaquille Cleare will make it easier for Len to operate as they'll take a bit of the pressure off of him. More than anything, however, I'm a believer in Mark Turgeon. He gets his teams to hard, smart and fundamental basketball. Maryland is probably still a year away, but with some of the other question marks in the conference, you never really know.
TN: Michael Snaer is obviously getting a ton of hype, and this is well deserved based on his development. Besides him continuing to grow as a player, what are the keys for a successful season for the Noles?
RD: The key, to me, is going to end up being Ian Miller. FSU really needs him to be a guy that can take the pressure off of Snaer, who is going to have to deal with defenses geared to shut him down every night. If Miller can consistently score -- consistently stay on the floor -- it will makes the Seminoles that much tougher to stop. Taking it a step further, I think that the development of FSU's youngsters as a whole is going to be the difference between FSU being a tournament team and a tournament team that could actually win a game or two. How good will Montay Brandon end up being? Can Aaron Thomas and/or Devon Bookert play major minutes? What about those freshmen seven-footers? Are they ready to contribute right away?
That last question could end up being the most important. I think that Bernard James' value to that Florida State team last year was somewhat underrated. He gave FSU a lot -- shotblocking, rebounding, scoring, toughness, leadership. How will they replace him?
TN: Stepping out to the ACC as a whole, where do you think the ACC is in the pecking order of conferences? What about after the addition Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame?
RD: This season, I think the Big Ten and the Big 12 are the two best conferences, followed very closely by the Big East. I think the SEC and the ACC trail those three by a good amount. When Syracuse, ND and Pitt join the mix, however, I think it will be tough to say the ACC isn't the best league. UNC and Duke are both in a bit of a down year (comparatively, obviously) while NC State and Maryland are only going to continue to get better. It will be a bit ugly near the bottom of the league, but there is enough power at the top to balance that out.
TN: Which ACC teams will make the Tourney? Who has a chance at the Final Four?
RD: I think Duke, NC State and UNC are pretty much locks. I think Florida State and Miami should make it. I think Maryland has a chance to make a run. Beyond that? Meh.
I think Duke and NC State probably have the best chance to make a run to the Final Four, but both have some question marks. I won't be sold on UNC being a contender this season until Marcus Paige proves that he can lead the Carolina break.