This FSU team has me kind of excited. Not so much because I know who they'll be, but more because I'm excited to find out who they'll become.
With the new additions in XRM and Cofer, the energy seems much higher than it has seemed in recent years, reminding me of the energy this defense once possessed. They seem willing to get after it on defense, and Cofer leads me to believe he can be a monster on the boards.
It's clear, even after two exhibition games, that Aaron Thomas and XRM are the go-to guys when they head to the bench for a timeout, as they were both pulled aside numerous times throughout those two games to clearly talk strategy. AT is going to kill it this year, and that shouldn't be much of a surprise. Montay Brandon looks a little more refined, something I was happy to see, and Jarquez Smith seems to have made off-season strides as well.
As for the ACC, it's hard to imagine Florida State competing in this league in 2015-2016, but that shouldn't be the measuring stick for this team's grade at the end of the year. I think they're a tourney team, and with the length and athleticism, are always a threat and a recipe for an upset. So look out, world. To make the tourney, I'm guessing they'll need about 20 wins and I think that's doable, definitely doable, as George Costanza once requested.
The OOC schedule it tough, and the 'Noles will likely get of to a rough start with the first handful of games being against stiff competition, but don't give up on them just yet. I like FSU to finish the regular season 22-9 with a couple major upsets mixed in the pot -- they'll make the tourney, but won't go much farther than that. 22 wins and they're in, even without a good ACCT showing.
FSU once again has a better offense than defense (last year the O finished 54 in KenPom while the D was 57), but the return of Kiel Turpin and the addition of Phil Cofer and XRM makes both units slightly better. I'll go with a top 45 offense and a top 52 defense.
The schedule is difficult, even though FSU does themselves no SOS favors with the RPI by playing The Citadel, Charleston Southern, North Florida, and Stetson all at home. Accordingly, we may end up with a SOS in the 30-50 range.
Overall win/loss projection: I'll say 20-11 in the regular season, with an OOC victory over one of Nebraska or UF.
Record/Finish in the ACC: Welcome to the toughest league in America. The good news is, FSU only faces the projected top 5 teams in the conference (Duke, Louisville, UNC, UVA, Syracuse) once each--with Duke and Louisville coming at home. Because of that, I'll say we get off the two-year .500 snide and finish 10-8. I would have about equal odds of finishing 11-7 or 9-9. I think 10-8 will be good enough for a tie for 6th place with Miami and Pitt.
Do we make the Big Dance? 20-11 would get us on the bubble with us likely needing only to avoid a bad loss in the first round of the ACCT. We not only avoid a bad loss, but we win two games in the ACCT to finish at 22-12, earning a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
I think Florida State will surprise some people this season. It seems like players get better every season under Leonard Hamilton and I expect the same this season from a lot of the veterans. Defense is where Florida State has been successful when they are threat under Hamilton and I think this is the season the Noles make that jump defensively needed to compete at a high level in the ACC. Xavier-Rathan Mayes is a different type of player than FSU has had under Hamilton recently and Noles' fans will quickly find out what makes him special. Phil Cofer also should be a major factor for FSU this season with his tenacity and attitude on the boards. Aaron Thomas will be one of the best players in the ACC and I think Brandon, Bookert, and Turpin all will add reliable play for the Noles.
As for season record I think Florida State goes 11-2 in the non-conference portion of the slate with big wins against Providence, UMASS, and Nebraska. A 10-8 record in ACC play is what I think is fair with a decent shot at 11-7 or even 8-10 if injures occur. That brings the record to 21-10 (10-8 ACC) which I think in this version of the ACC will be enough to get FSU an NCAA berth for the first time in two seasons.
FSU will struggle early as the young guys learn to play without Okaro White and Ian Miller. Having three bigs will be huge (get it!) as Ham will be able to throw body after body into the middle to wear other teams down and force them to focus their defense inward. The offense will gravitate toward more high pick-and-rolls and if XRM and Jarquez can consistently knock down 3s, then FSU's offense will be in the nation's top 50. Defensively, the Noles should improve a smidge simply because no team can be as bad at defensive rebounding as last year's team.
This will play out to a 10-3 non-conference record and 10-8 in conference. At 20-11 we'll be looking for at least one ACC tournament win so that we can breath easy on Selection Sunday.
Oh, and we sign back-to-back top 10 recruiting classes.