Last season ended in a layup line. The Florida State Seminoles had just wrapped up their first ever regular season ACC basketball title, and were set to play Clemson in the ACC tournament. The Seminoles had won 19 of their past 22 and were heading for a likely 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But that tournament never happened. COVID-19 showed up and shut it all down. It might’ve been FSU’s best shot at a Final Four since 1993. The ‘Noles featured two lottery picks (Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell), and they had an all-time point guard in Trent Forrest. It turns out the last we’d see them play was blowing out Boston College on Senior Night.
Fast forward eight months, and the season feels almost as precarious as the ACC Tournament felt in March. Dozens of programs are already shut down due to Covid. Rick Pitino - the head coach of one of those teams - is calling for the season to be delayed. The NCAA has no real plan despite the luxury of eight months to devise one.
The likelihood of actually playing 25 games seems to be zero.
All the team can do is prepare. They’re ranked No. 21 in the AP Poll, and if there is an NCAA Tournament, they should be a lock.
Let’s take a look at the roster.
Players lost: Trent Forrest
JUCO transfer Rayquan Evans (6-4, 210) began last season hobbled, and it took him a while to become comfortable in the rotation. However, once he was healthy, he was a solid backup to Forrest. He averaged just 11 minutes a game, but that should jump drastically this season, although it still remains to be seen if he’s in the starting lineup. He showed the ability to knock down 3s (41%), but only attempted 17. He wasn’t a knock-down shooter in JUCO (but was a high-volume scorer), and one key to this season is knocking down 35%+ from beyond the arc. That would free up the better part of his game, which is taking smaller guards into the paint.
Evans’ time at PG will largely depend on FSU’s newest unicorn - Scottie Barnes (6-9, 227). Barnes believes his future in the NBA is in a lead guard role, and that’s what this staff is prepping him for. But will he take over on the opening tip of the first game, or will they work him in more slowly, playing him alongside Evans or Anthony Polite (who got a few minutes at PG last season)? Barnes is the highest-rated recruit entering the ACC this year. He has great size, vision, athleticism, and a non-stop motor. It shouldn’t shock anyone if he ends up leading FSU in points, rebounds, and assists. Early feedback from his workouts have been great.
We’ll cover Polite (6-6, 215) here, but in reality he’ll spend most of his time in a 3-and-D role. He may be FSU’s best perimeter defender, and he hit 35% of his 3s last season, improving as the calendar turned. The success of FSU’s offense will depend on a few factors, and having multiple shooters who can spread the floor is probably the biggest. Can Polite work his way up to 40% from deep? If injuries or C-19 affect the roster, he could spend time running the point.
Players lost: Devin Vassell, Patrick Williams
Senior M.J. Walker (6-5, 213) is the unquestioned leader of this team. FSU’s leading returning scorer is primed for a big senior season. He proved he could be more than just a 3-and-D player during his junior campaign, flashing a newfound ability to take the ball to the basket and to be the ball handler on pick-and-rolls. In his first two seasons he drew fewer than 3 fouls per 40 minutes, but that jumped to 4.1 last season. He also had career bests from beyond the arc (36%) and the FT line (80%). He and Polite give FSU two lock down defenders who can harass the ball handler for 94 feet.
Sardaar Calhoun (6-6, 220) may be the best JUCO to D1 player in the nation, especially after Louisville’s Jay Scrubb opted for the NBA Draft. The Dennis Gates recruit luckily stuck with the Seminoles after Gates left to coach Cleveland State. He has the ability to be an elite shooter, making 44% in JUCO (219 attempts in his sophomore campaign). Primarily a spot-up shooter on offense, he’s big and physical on defense. He should make an immediate major impact at this level.
RaiQuan Gray (6-8, 260) offers great flexibility to FSU’s roster. He can initiate the break, play on the wing, or be a small-ball five. He started every conference game save one last season, and while he’s not a stat stuffer, he does a lot of little things well. Unfortunately, his 3-point shot hasn’t developed (he’s made just 26% in his career). He showed increased ability to get to the line last year, and if he could force defenders to guard him out past the 3-point line, he’d become an NBA prospect.
Joining Gray in the roster-flexibility department is junior Malik Osborne (6-9, 225). He was the best rebounder on the team, blocked shots, and took care of the ball. His offense was limited to put backs, and the occasional 3-pointer (36%). He’ll likely continue to be a low-volume scorer, but with all the other things he does well, he’s impossible to keep off the court.
FSU is looking to stretch the floor more this season, which could bode well for Wyatt Wilkes (6-8, 220). More than 75% of his shots were 3-point attempts (38% overall, 43% in conference play). Coach Hamilton has said Wilkes is the best shooter he’s ever coached, and if he can flash that in games, he’ll earn plenty of minutes. Matchups are key, as he can be a defensive liability.
Nathanael Jack (6-5, 195) barely played as a junior and that won’t change if he hasn’t fixed his defensive issues. He also took plenty of bad shots. He made 33% of his 3s, but is known to be a better shooter.
Players lost: Dominik Olejniczak
Balsa Koprivica (7-1, 240) showed flashes as a freshman, but should show improvement as a sophomore. He’s bulked up some, although he’s still probably a year away from being as strong as he needs to be. He only played double-digit minutes in five ACC games, but was limited by injuries. Koprivica made 70% of his shots last season, and if he can stay healthy, he should be the benefactor of countless lobs to the rim, asssuming FSU can do a better job spacing the floor. Ham experimented a bunch last year switching 1-5 defensively when Balsa was on the floor, so that’ll be something to track this season.
The wildcard for this team may be senior Tanor Ngom (7-2, 236). The transfer from Ryerson University (Canada) put up great numbers against lesser competition (16.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg), improving tremendously each season. His first year of organized basketball was his freshman year in college, so the key will be how much his skills improve, as he’s still quite raw.
Joining the bigs is freshman Quincy Ballard (6-11, 240). He’s been earning rave reviews during workouts, but the 3-star recruit is still raw and likely won’t be much of a factor in ACC play. But that’s fine. Focus on development. Practice hard. Get better.