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Florida State sports notebook: Burning questions edition

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Just a few thoughts on Seminole sports. As always read at your own risk.

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since our last Notebook; exactly one calendar year in fact. Obviously a lot has happened since then. Since there tragically aren’t any sports that are currently being played that we can discuss, let’s take a look at how some FSU teams may look next year.

The biggest burning question for any program is whether the pandemic will allow sports to be played at all next year. However, since we can’t answer that question, for the purposes of this article we will assume that sports will actually be played next year according to their normal schedules. This is obviously a very big (and likely incorrect) assumption but it won’t hurt us to be optimistic right now.

These questions are meant to raise issues that will likely have a big impact on how well the particular team does next year.

Men’s Basketball

If you paid even the least amount of attention last year you already know that Leonard Hamilton has this program quickly headed toward elite status if it isn’t there already. The cancellation of the season really hurts since this team was on the shortlist of squads with a real chance at the Final Four. However, the program is in a place (at least for the next few years) where making the tournament is expected and the only real question is how far the team will advance. Let’s discuss a couple of questions that will help to decide the answer to that question.

  • How long will it take for Scottie Barnes to acclimate to the point guard position?

Scottie Barnes is the highest rated recruit to choose FSU in the modern recruiting era according to 247Sports. He just finished his high school season with Montverde Academy playing on perhaps the best team in high school basketball history. We discussed him about a year and a half ago in the comments to this article. In case you don’t want to click over, here is my scouting report on him from that article:

Scottie Barnes is a 6’8 “wing”. I put wing in quotes because Barnes can basically play anywhere. He is like a Swiss Army knife. His calling card is his versatility. Barnes is a fiery competitor who is an outstanding defender and rebounder. He is 6’8 but he has the quickness to check point guards. He also has a 7’3 wingspan so he has the frame to guard every position. He is a top 5 player so he would fit in anywhere but he would be perfect for the system Ham wants to run on defense with all the switching FSU is doing these days.

He is also extremely dangerous on the offensive end. He is highly athletic and he can score without plays being drawn for him because he is a monster on the offensive glass. He is also a threat for a triple double every time he steps on the court as he is an excellent passer.

The knock on Barnes is that his shot is a work in progress to be kind. Shooting is a skill and he will probably get better but right now he just doesn’t look comfortable when shooting. Frankly I don’t expect him to become a knock down shooter in HS or college. His shot could get better once he gets to the NBA though. He just needs time.

Barnes NBA comp: Magic Johnson

I stick by that evaluation except that I would probably change the NBA comp to Ben Simmons.

There is no question about whether Barnes will be an impact player at the college level. He will be. The question is how he will deal with running the point consistently in the ACC and how long it will take him to feel comfortable.

I have little doubt that he will eventually be just fine (or better) running the point but he may not get there immediately especially as the team’s training camp will likely be impacted by the coronavirus. Due to this and other factors next year’s team may very well be much better at the end of the year than the beginning.

  • Who, if anyone, will make “the leap” this year?

The last couple of years Florida State has defied preseason expectations in large part because at least one player greatly increased his production from the prior year.

In 2018-19 Mfiondu Kabengele was that player. Kabengele raised his per game production from 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in 2017-18 to 13.2 points and 5.9 rebounds in 2018-19. He also almost doubled his blocks going from 29 to 56. Fi went from a lightly recruited (barely) three star to an NBA first round pick.

Devin Vassell was taking notes. The sophomore raised his per game production from 4.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 2018-19 to 12.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in 2019-20. Vassell went from a lightly recruited (barely) three star to a (likely) NBA first round pick.

This probably needs to happen again for FSU to end the season in the top 10 of the AP poll for the third straight year. Fortunately for the Noles there are a number of candidates who are capable (MJ Walker, Raiquan Gray, Anthony Polite, Malik Osborne, Balsa Koprivica, etc.) but I will go with Walker. He made a mini-leap this year and he should flourish playing next to Scottie Barnes.

Soccer

It will be a shame if next season isn’t played because this team is absolutely loaded. I will have more in my season preview but it is not often that a team can lose arguably the most talented player in program history and come back even stronger next year but Florida State is poised to do exactly that. FSU will be on everyone’s national championship shortlist next year.

  • How will Florida State replace Deyna Castellanos?

Castellanos is obviously the player that I was referring to in the introductory paragraph. Castellanos was a sublime player capable of creating the most absurd magic at almost any time. She will be missed for many different reasons on the field but she was also the most famous player in the history of women’s collegiate soccer with over 1.3 million Instagram followers. Now that she has taken her talents to Atlético Madrid the Seminoles will have to adjust.

Fortunately the Noles have many different options. Jenna Nighswonger was a 5* recruit but she was forced to play out of position too much on the wing last year. Look for her to play more centrally next year where she will be more comfortable and likely more effective. FSU also has options on the wing (health permitting) with Kristina Lynch, Leilanni Nesbith, Makala Thomas, and freshman phenom Jody Brown.

Basically there won’t be one player capable of replacing Castellanos but the Seminoles will have a deep roster and will likely be able to get it done by committee.

  • Will the defensive issues get sorted out?

The Seminoles won the national championship in large part because they were rock solid defensively. In 2018 FSU played 27 games and gave up a total of 13 goals. In 2019 the Noles played 24 games and gave up 27 goals. The defensive performance must improve next year. The good news is that it probably will.

FSU returns the entire back line from last year and adds senior Emily Madril who missed last year with an ACL tear and highly regarded freshman Linn Bogren. These additions will shore up the backline while simultaneously allowing players like Gabby Carle and Heather Payne to move up to the midfield where they will likely be even more effective.

Florida State does lose starting goal keeper Caroline Jeffers to graduation. However, the Noles will replace her with former starter Brooke Bollinger along with highly regarded freshman Cristina Roque. The goal keeping will probably be just as good if not better than last year especially considering the fact that the defense will likely be improved in front of the new keeper.

If healthy, which they weren’t last year, this team will be primed for an 11th College Cup appearance.

Softball

Unfortunately this team had their season cut short but there were still several moments to remember. Even though head coach Lonni Alameda has gotten the program to the point where it is a legitimate national power and the flagship program in the ACC, there were bumps in the road this year. However, there is still a wealth of talent in Tallahassee.

  • Which freshman will have an instant impact next year?

Florida State welcomes the top recruiting class in the nation next year. Jahni Kerr (No. 6), Kalei Harding (No. 10), Hallie Wacaser (No. 18), Michaela Edenfield (No. 34), and Autumn Belviy (No. 47) are all top 50 players and any of them could become fixtures in the lineup next year.

Due to the addition of these players and the talent remaining on the team FSU should have a potent lineup next year. Scoring runs should not be much of a problem.

  • Will the pitching issues get sorted out?

The pitching wasn’t terrible this year but the bar in Tallahassee is high. We will never know but the pitching staff probably wasn’t pitching at a level that would have been good enough to earn a return trip to the College World Series.

In 2018 FSU won the national title behind Meghan King’s brilliance in the circle in Oklahoma City. However, led by King and Kylee Hanson the staff was stellar all year ending the year with a 1.50 ERA. In 2019 FSU was dominant all year earning a #4 national seed in the NCAA Tournament. Although the Noles were upset in the super regionals the pitching was again outstanding finishing with a 1.87 ERA. This year the Seminoles finished the shortened season with 2.34 ERA. That mark is 25% higher than last year and a whopping 56% higher than 2018.

If Florida State can’t figure this out it won’t matter much how potent the offense is because the Noles won’t be able to beat the top teams in the nation with only offense.

Women’s Basketball

Florida State had a roller coaster season in 2019-20. The Noles started the season on fire going 13-0 and elevating to eighth in the AP poll. However, the Seminoles couldn’t keep it going as they went 9-7 the rest of the regular season including embarrassing home losses to Georgia Tech, Boston College and Notre Dame. But then the Noles seemingly found themselves and played some of the best basketball that we have seen from them all season in the ACC Tournament as they smoked Wake Forest, outlasted a top 5 Louisville team and fell in a close (somewhat controversial) loss in the ACC Championship Game to NC State.

It was hard to get a firm reading on this year’s team. Next year the team will try to find more consistency.

  • How will Florida State replace their very impactful senior class?

The three senior tri-captains (Nicki Ekhomu, Nausia Woolfolk, and Kiah Gillespie) accounted for 62% of the points, 40% of the rebounds and 69% of the assists last year. They also obviously supplied the majority of the leadership on the team. They will be extremely hard to replace.

Florida State is going to be a very young team next year. They will have no official seniors as Savannah Wilkinson will likely be a redshirt junior next year.

FSU will likely have to “replace” the seniors by committee. The Noles will need to have players like Izabela Nicoletti and Bianca Jackson to have an immediate impact. They will also need returning players like Valencia Myers and Kourtney Weber (among others) to continue to grow.

The pure talent is in place but FSU needs to find some consistency. The three seniors were the only true consistent players on the team this year and obviously they won’t be able to help next year.

  • Will the Seminoles enjoy better injury luck next year?

I almost didn’t choose this question because you could ask it about any team at any time. However, FSU would have been a clear cut top 10 team this year with better health. The Seminoles lost Nicoletti and Sayawni Lassiter for the year in the preseason. Wilkinson only played a total of 12 minutes all year and Amaya Brown was far less than 100% coming back from her ACL tear. Having those players back healthy will make a huge difference next year especially as the ACC will probably be even better next year.

Hopefully we will have sports next year and we will be able to see how all of these questions get answered. Until then the comments are yours.