FSU basketball begins tomorrow, and it begins with what will likely be a very competitive game. In fact, according to kenpom.com, this is the best opening opponent that Florida State has played in Leonard Hamilton's tenure. The Jaspers are experienced, returning seven players who played at least 30% of the minutes last year. And they're talented. Not only do they have a bunch of players who were able to help Manhattan hang with Louisville in last year's tourney, but they've added a transfer from Cincinnati who was higher rated as a recruit than anyone on FSU's roster.
They are coached by Steve Masiello, who briefly held the South Florida job before a discrepancy on his resume sent him packing back to Manhattan. Masiello is a Rick Pitino disciple, and his teams play like it. They thrive on ball pressure. FSU's newcomers are going to quickly learn what the speed of a Division I game looks like. How they handle that pressure will go a long way in determining whether or not FSU starts the season with a positive win.
Manhattan's defense was rated 35th in the nation last year. They were 17th at forcing turnovers. On the good side for FSU they were a weak defensive rebounding team, and they committed a lot of fouls. If FSU can maintain their aggression without turning the ball over on more than 20% of the possessions, then this is a team they should handle. But if the turnovers mount, and those turn into easy scores, then look out.
Manhattan, to pull the upset, needs those easy scores. They graduated their most gifted offensive players, and they weren't a great offense to begin with. All three players who used at least 22% of Manhattan's possessions are now gone, and new leaders will have to step up. Look for talented Cincy transfer 6-9 Jermaine Lawrence to be one of those guys.
Florida State will likely stick with a 3-guard lineup for the entire game, meaning that Xavier Rathan-Mayes will get plenty of minutes. His poise under pressure will be a key to victory. Beyond that, the experienced trio of Aaron Thomas, Montay Brandon, and Devon Bookert need to be able to handle Manhattan's pressure.
Are the Seminoles an NCAA tournament team? I don't know. But a convincing win in the opener will get this team off to a confident start.
The game tips at 1pm from the Tuck, and will be broadcast on ESPN3. FSU is an 11.5 point favorite, while Pomeroy has FSU -9.