In fact, when the season abruptly ended in March, The ACC Champs were being spoken about as a Final Four favorite (if you’re curious about how FSU achieved its recent success, check out this fantastic video from Tomahawk Nation’s own Kevin Little).
Since then, Florida State lost two players (Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell) to the NBA Draft Lottery, plus a senior leader (Trent Forrest) who happened to be the winningest player in school history, all while dealing with an anything but normal off-season. However, the ‘Noles somehow bring back one of the more experienced teams in the league, with three starters back and another four guys who played at least 20% of the possible minutes last season. Oh, and did I mention a diverse cast of newcomers headlined by top 10 recruit Scottie Barnes?
Can Leonard Hamilton’s bunch match or exceed expectations once again? Our hoops staff answers this and much more during the preseason roundtable. As always, be sure to head to the comment section to share your own thoughts.
Before we talk this year’s team, let’s reflect once more on the last two seasons. Assuming full health, which team wins a best of 7 series: 2018-19 FSU or 2019-20 FSU?
Michael Rogner (MR): I’ll take the 2018-19 team, and I’ll steal David Nichols’ reasoning from his appearance on the hoops pod. That team had Devin Vassell and he barely played - that’s how deep they were. Even with all the injuries, it was arguably Ham’s best defensive team since the ugly years. Both teams were good offensively, but having a healthy Phil Cofer to go along with Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele would’ve been the difference.
Prince Akeem Joffer (PAJ): I will also take the 2018-19 team. That team had a clear talent edge. Even though the 2020 team had a better winning percentage (84% to 78%), the ACC was not as tough last year and many of the wins were close which is one reason why the advanced metrics didn’t love FSU as much as the human polls.
Austin Cox (AC): What’s really amazing is that this is almost like asking: 1988 or 1989 FSU football which Dynasty-era team are you taking? That’s how far this basketball program has risen the past few years. I would also take the 2018-19 team. Last season, 2019-20, was one of the greatest seasons in program history and their consistency was astounding. But I think the overall ceiling of 2018-19 was higher. To have Mann and Kabengele as secondary options late in a game when Forrest took over was just an embarrassment of riches. I think facing Gonzaga in a re-match was a terrible matchup for them.
Kevin Little (KL): I have to take the 18-19 team. If they had as good of injury luck as the 19-20 team then they would have had a completely different outlook. It doesn’t hurt that 18-19 is probably my favorite FSU basketball team of all time. You can’t not like Kabengele, Mann and Cofer.
Matt Minnick (MM): Looks like I’ll be the outcast who takes 2019-2020. The point raised by Nichols about Vassell is a great one. And, yes, that team had loads of versatility when at full strength (no one above even mentioned 2020 G-League Defensive POY, Christ Koumadje). But allow me to present the case for the 2019-2020 team, who while maybe possessing a lower floor, looked flat out unbeatable when “Peak FSU” showed up.
A), Vassell is a late-bloomer. In fact, he nearly redshirted because of how slight his frame was as a freshman. One major reason he didn’t play a large role in 2019 is because he took a significant leap forward as a player in 2020.
2) 3 point shooting. The 2018-19 team dearly missed Braian Angola and CJ Walker from the year prior, shooting only 33.2% from deep on the season (232nd in the country). 2020 saw Vassell—the best shooter on both teams—nearly double his volume, M.J. Walker improve from 30% to 39% in ACC play, and Wyatt Wilkes and Anthony Polite turn into bona fide weapons from downtown. Heck, Malik Osborne was a 36% shooter and Trent Forrest made more threes in a shortened 2020 season than in the rest of his career combined. As a team, the ‘Noles jumped up to 81st in the country at a collective 35.1%—and they did all that while shooting from a three-point line that was moved further back than 2019.
d) Turning teams over. The 2020 version was 9th in the nation, turning teams over nearly 24% of possessions. Compare that with 20.3% of possessions (69th) in 2019. This ridiculous rate was the product of having lottery picks Vassell and Patrick Williams patrolling passing lanes, with Polite giving Forrest a run for his money as the best on-ball defender on the team. It allowed the 2020 fellas to do what both teams did best—score in transition.
Okay, back to the present. 11 guys played at least 20% of the minutes last year. Will FSU have 11 or more play 20% of the minutes this season? **Bonus question: Who will be the top 5 minute getters on this year’s team?
MR: No. This team is deep, but Covid is going to wreck someone’s season. Top 5: M.J. Walker, Scottie Barnes, Anthony Polite, RaiQuan Gray, Malik Osborne.
PAJ: My answer is also no. I’m not sure that eleven players would play 20% of the minutes even if FSU experienced perfect health which is even more unlikely this season. My top 5 are Polite, Gray, Walker, Barnes and Calhoun. The first four are easy. There are a few players who could be the fifth.
AC: It could happen, but I would also have to say no. As for the top 5, I think it will be Walker, Gray, Barnes, Osborne, and Balsa Koprivica, with Anthony Polite coming in as a close sixth.
KL: I don’t think so. This year you might see Ham focus a bit more on the top 8 or so instead of going 11 deep like usual. I think the talent difference is starting to grow between the top and bottom and its just a consequence of that fact.
MM: I’ll answer this in reverse order. My top 5 in minutes played are (in order): Walker, Barnes, Polite, Osborne, and Gray. BK, Rayquan Evans, and Sardaar Calhoun all seem like a lock for at least 20% as well, which makes 8. Wilkes is probably a yes, but then...everyone else is more of an unknown. And even if we give Tanor Ngom 20%, that’s still only 10. So put me down for “No” as well.
True or False—Scottie Barnes wins ACC Freshman of the Year?
MR: It will be tough to bust through the ACC media and get an award that he’ll deserve, so I’ll go with Duke’s DJ Steward.
PAJ: Unfortunately, probably not. It’s tough for FSU players to get individual awards in the ACC because they don’t play on Tobacco Road and because of the system that Ham runs they don’t get to play as many minutes so they don’t tend to have the numbers that their rivals from other teams can boast. Barnes does have the advantage of hype that most FSU players don’t have. He is also playing on a good team so he will be playing important games that many media members will be watching so stats may not be as important for him. However, someone somewhere is going to put up big numbers and the media won’t be able to ignore that so Scottie probably won’t win it. If he does though it probably means the Seminoles are in for a great year (Covid permitting).
AC: I think he has an incredible year, but his statistics might not be eye-popping simply because of the system FSU runs, as everyone else alluded to. But if he were, say, a top-3 NBA Draft pick next year, that would not surprise me in the least.
KL: No. Hamilton doesn’t ride his freshmen like other coaches tend to. You can buy into the Tobacco Road conspiracies, but I just don’t think he will put up the stats to get there. Plus I don’t think he’s the scorer they usually look for in those post season awards.
MM: No, he does not wear a blue uniform enough games.
Over/Under double-digit scorers for FSU: 3.5
MR: MJ, Scottie, and one of Gray, Osborne, Koprivica, and Calhoun. So under.
PAJ: I’ll be optimistic and say over. I’ll go with Barnes, Gray, Walker and Calhoun.
AC: I’ll say under and just go with two- Walker and Barnes.
KL: MJ has to be. You need Barnes and Calhoun to be there too. I think I give the last to Osborne and we get the over. I think there are several more that are capable so I’m pretty comfortable with the over here.
MM: I’ll say over. Walker yes. Barnes should just with fast breaks and lobs alone. If Calhoun is the shooter he appears to be, then 3 threes a game plus a dunk gets him there. And for the 4th I’ll say Osborne based on improved shooting and FT attempts.
Last year’s team finished with the 15th best defense in the country, per KenPom, including 4th in block percentage and 9th in steal percentage. Will FSU’s defense finish 15th or better this year?
MR: Without Covid, I would say absolutely. This team is set up to be a monster defensively. But early reports from camp are that FSU is working more on offense than defense, and with three first year players getting significant minutes, I’ll say they finish between 16 and 20.
PAJ: I’ll be optimistic and say yes. Covid could wreck everything but that is a risk all teams face. Losing Vassell and Williams is a big deal obviously but Barnes is made for this system and guys like Polite, Gray, Osborne, etc have an extra year of experience in the system and that will be very helpful.
AC: It’s tough to tell how team statistics may shake out this year with the fluid scheduling situation and the possible disparity in games played between teams that could occur. But I’ll pick us to stay in the top 15, as long Evans can continue to improve and make up some of the lost steals from Forrest.
KL: I think the defense takes a small step back. Theres a lot of communication needed to flawlessly operate a switch heavy defense. With FSU’s relative inexperience and wonky offseason compared to last year I think you see a few more holes in this defense. Still a top 25 defense I would just be weary of going top 15.
MM: Put me down for no. FSU will have fewer cupcake games than most, and those games are where you can really put up some great efficiency numbers. I’m thinking somewhere around 25, although playing like a top 10 unit by March.
With Trent Forrest gone, the Seminoles will be forced to turn to someone else late in close-games. With 10 seconds left and FSU down 1, who do you want with the ball in their hands?
MR: Scottie Barnes, no question.
PAJ: I’ll say Barnes to make the play, but MJ Walker to score the ball.
AC: It might be a copout, but I say a mix of Walker and Barnes. In the 2015-16 season, we saw freshman Dwayne Bacon have the ball in his hands late in games plenty. He drilled a game-winner at Florida just a month into his FSU career. But that didn’t mean he had the ball in his hands that season every time in that situation, either. So I think it will be a mixture of Barnes and Walker.
KL: Call me old fashioned, but I have to go with MJ. Not only is he the most senior player on the roster this year, but he’s one of the better playmakers. I don’t foresee Hamilton leaning on a freshman no matter how talented.
MM: I’m gonna throw a curveball and say Evans. Ten seconds is enough time for him to make a play, and he flashed play-making abilities in some important games last season. So give me Evans as the initiator, Walker and Polite standing in opposite corners, and Barnes or Balsa ready for a lob from Evans if it’s there.
Florida State shot 35.1% from 3 last year, the best mark since 2014, despite the line being moved back. Will the ‘Noles equal or better that percentage this season?
MR: They’ll do better. This team can shoot. Calhoun is a knock-down shooter, and he’ll be the difference.
PAJ: I also say yes. Calhoun’s shooting should translate even with better competition, and Walker will probably be improved.
AC: I’ll say under—I think they’ll miss Vassell too much. Plus, will this year’s primary ball handlers (Barnes, Evans, Polite) be able to set up teammates in position to make three-pointers as well as Forrest could last year?
KL: I think they take a small step backward. I think Calhoun takes up a lot of the slack but Devin Vassell was a special shooter at the college level and I don’t think he’s so seamlessly replaced.
MM: Better. Walker, Calhoun, Polite, Evans, Wilkes, and Osborne could all be 37%+ guys.
Does FSU finish in the top 3 of the ACC?
MR: Barring major losses to Covid or injuries, yes. The Virginia Cavaliers, Duke Blue Devils, North Carolina Tar Heels, and Louisville Cardinals all have major flaws that’ll keep them from running away with the conference. Those four plus FSU should be in a pack atop the league.
PAJ: Probably. I think Louisville will be hurt by Jay Scrubb choosing to go pro, so my top four are Virginia, Duke, North Carolina and FSU in some order. FSU will probably be able to make it into the top three in that group. Covid permitting it should be a fun season.
AC: I’m locking it in, barring really bad luck with the pandemic. I just think with the trajectory this team is on, it’s extremely likely they will finish top-three again. Plus, the ACC even picked them to finish top-three! Last year, they tabbed FSU to finish fifth, and the year before that in 2018-19, they had the Noles finishing seventh.
KL: Definitely in the conversation. I don’t think the top of the ACC is elite, but I don’t think they’re as weak as last year. UNC has bounced back a bit, and Virginia is most likely better despite their early season faux pas. If I were a betting man I’d take them, but I think I’m lower on this team than others in this round table.
MM: Assuming COVID impacts most teams similarly, give me a top 3 of UVA, Duke, FSU (in that order). Louisville is already dealing with two significant injuries and UNC, while improved, still has flaws. No other team looks to be a serious top 3 candidate at this point.