It's been 7 months and 3 weeks since FSU last played a basketball game. Since then, Michael Snaer graduated, Terrance Shannon and Terry Whisnant transferred, and consensus top-40 freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes was declared ineligible. Oh, and the ACC got a whole lot tougher.
That puts the Noles in an interesting position this year, as FSU isn't expected to make the NCAA tourney. After two years of being a low-end media darling, now FSU is back to the place they're used to. They're the underdogs. They aren't commanding respect.
This is a team that is going to take everything the coaches have if they're going to find success. And tonight that journey starts. The opponent is Jacksonville, and don't take anything for granted.
Last year - when FSU was expected by the media to make the dance - I prepped the opening game preview with a warning that the Noles had a likelihood of losing even though they were heavy favorites. Sure enough, they dropped that opener to South Alabama. This year they're once again a heavy favorite, and who knows how they'll perform?
Starting center Kiel Turpin hasn't been able to practice or play in the exhibitions because of a lingering knee issue, and he isn't expected to play tonight. Senior Ian Miller and sophomore Aaron Thomas both missed the exhibition games as punishment for some unnamed infractions. But none of that matters now. It is what it is, and FSU needs to kick this thing off with a convincing win.
Coach Hamilton and Jacksonville's coach Warren know each other well. They know the systems. They've likely sat through each other's coaching clinics. This is the fifth time in nine years that the two coaches have squared off in the opening game of the season. There won't be any surprises.
FSU has two distinct advantages: talent and height. Jacksonville has one advantage: experience. For FSU to win convincingly they'll need to do what tall, talented teams do. They need to score off of putbacks. They need to get stops. They need to convert defense to offense.
When the season ends, a win tonight versus Jacksonville will look the same whether it's a 2-point squeaker or a 20-point blowout. But I'm stressing the need for a convincing win, because that is what a good team - barring some sort of demonic loss in the 3-pt lottery - would do. And this is the first game of the season. A convincing win would allow me the most dangerous of things: hope. At least until the next game.
If Jacksonville gives FSU trouble, it is likely to come from one of three players. Preseason All-Conference guard Keith McDougald takes about 40% of his shots from beyond the arc and had six games last season where he made at least three. 6-4 Jarvis Haywood was on the All Freshmen team last year, and he does most of his work inside or from the line. They also have 6-8 R.J. Slawson, a graduate transfer from South Carolina, who is capable of giving FSU headaches on the offensive glass.
The game tips at 8pm from the Tuck, and will be broadcast on ESPN3. Pomeroy has the Noles -13.