After four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the 1st time in program history, will the Noles push that streak to five?
In the preseason we've covered all 12 scholarship players with individual posts (sorry walk-ons!). We took two features to break down the schedule. There were player and unit reviews from the exhibition games. (And all of it can be found on the TN Basketball page). And now it's time for the season prediction.
Last year it was easy to look smart. FSU was a relatively static team within a relatively static conference. So early on when FSU was struggling and every game I was getting hate tweets for suggesting that the team was better than the previous year's version, I just counseled patience. And that's when Coach Hamilton made what had to be one of the more difficult decisions of his career. A third of the way through the season the team was not only on pace to have the 3rd consecutive No. 1 defense in the nation, but it was on pace to have the best defense in all of college basketball since advanced statistics became available (~2000). Yet Ham could see that the offense just wasn't getting it, and decided that coaching wasn't going to get them there in time. So he switched the scheme. FSU needed better spacing and another handle, so he went with a 3-guard lineup and never turned back.
Now we go into a season which is very difficult to predict. Seven of twelve scholarship players have never played a game in a Seminole uniform. And the ACC is in transition as well. The conference has been down for a couple years - really down - but now it's on its way back up. And it's going to happen quickly. The bottom teams are rising, and the reinforcements are coming. Beginning next year the ACC will be the basketball conference.
So once again I'll counsel patience. Not because I'm convinced I'm right and the haters are wrong, but because this is an inexperienced team in a rapidly changing landscape. It's going to take a while for this team to find its identity. It's going to take a while to gel. Let's just hope that during that growth there are no low scoring triple overtime losses at home to inferior teams.
OFFENSE: Six seniors are gone. You're going to hear this ad nauseum from broadcasters. And while it's true - down let it be overblown. Looking at last year's roster those seniors were No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6 in turnover rate. So the five players who return were the ones who took care of the ball. They're also gifted, offensively. Only Bernard James had a higher offensive rating than a single one of the returning players. FSU is continuing with the 3-guard lineup, though this time more as a necessity as there is little front line depth.
FSU's offense scored a strength adjusted 1.07 points per possession (PPP) last season, which was good for 75th in the nation (out of 345 D1 teams). This year I'm predicting a significant increase to 1.095 PPP, which will be around 50th in the nation. That would make this the best offense since Al's senior year (2006-07).
DEFENSE: Six seniors are gone. You're going to hear this ad nauseum from broadcasters. And while it's true - down let it be underblown. Bernard James was a defensive gift. Xavier Gibson and Jon Kreft were dependable. Luke Loucks was solid, Deividas Dulkys was very very good, and Jeff Peterson had a pulse. Losing the seniors will have a huge impact on this team. Some of it positive (the offense) and some of it negative (the defense). Still, Leonard Hamilton has a long track record of molding all sorts of rosters into stalwart defenses. But I'm not sure he's ever done that with a roster that is so inexperienced. If FSU has an elite defense this season, then just put the man into the Hall of Fame as a defensive genius.
FSU's defense allowed a strength adjusted 0.893 PPP, which was No. 15 nationally. This year I see a fall to around 0.955 PPP, which will be about 65th in the nation.
RECORD: For the year I'm going with 21-10 (11-7), which would avoid any serious handwringing on Selection Sunday and probably land somewhere around the 8/9 line (depending on who those wins came against). Matt Minnick is slightly more bullish than me, coming in at 22-9 (12-6). And - despite those predictions - both of us feel that the ceiling for this team is higher than last year's. It's just that the floor is also lower.