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Florida State basketball: Season preview

Breaking down some storylines surrounding the Seminoles.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Tip Off Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State Seminoles basketball is set to start preseason play tonight in an exhibition game vs. the Mississippi College Choctaws.

Ahead of tip-off, we gathered some of our basketball big brains to discuss some of the details surrounding head coach Leonard Hamilton’s 2021-22 Noles squad and break down what you need to know heading into the season.

What’s going to be the main storyline of the 2021-22 season?

Prince Akeem Joffer: The main storyline for FSU since Jonathan Isaac and Trent Forrest arrived on campus in 2016 has been whether Coach Hamilton can get to his first Final Four. This year one of the big factors in FSU’s run in the NCAA Tournament will be how much production the Noles can get out of the frontcourt. Therefore, that frontcourt production will be a big storyline.

Matt Minnick: Can the Seminoles get either A) a breakout year from one of Quincy Ballard, Tanor Ngom, or Naheem McLeod, or 2) the coaching staff figures out some rhythm of rotation that allows for 35+ solid minutes per game from the aforementioned trio plus Malik Osborne at center. Florida State doesn’t need senior year Bernard James level play from the five spot in order to secure another double bye in the ACC Tournament. (Heck, we might not even need junior year Bernard James to do that). But the Seminoles have to find some way to get solid rim protection, capable rebounding, and limited turnovers from this group in order to maintain some version of their recent level of success.

Michael Rogner: Has FSU entered a new tier where we can expect top-4 finishes in the conference? FSU has finished there in four of the past five years, so can that be maintained?

Who are some of the new faces to know?

PAJ: There are so many. This team has had a lot of turnover. I will pick three; Jalen Warley, Caleb Mills, and Matthew Cleveland. Warley could be a big factor on this team if he can provide the consistent point guard play that FSU has lacked since Forrest departed. Mills will be relied on to provide the consistent offensive production that he did as a freshman at Houston. Cleveland could be the latest one-and-done from FSU if he has a breakout season.

MR: I’m really intrigued by Kentucky Wildcats transfer - Cam’Ron Fletcher. He has all the physical tools, but they need honing to make him a basketball player. If FSU can get good defense from him, and maybe 8 points and 5 boards, that would be a huge key to success.

MM: Matthew Cleveland is going to have some SportsCenter Top 10 type of highlights.

Physically, he reminds me of a cross between Okoro White and Patrick Williams. But I’ll be interested to see if he can truly handle the grind that is a 20 game ACC schedule and bring the necessary intensity night in and night out. I’m also intrigued by McLeod. The FSU coaching staff stuck with him all the way through his JUCO detour, so they clearly see something they like in the big fella. If he can step in and provide a physical, intimidating defensive presence and just grab lobs and putbacks on offense, that would be a major boost.

How does this Seminoles basketball squad compare to the ones of the last few years?

PAJ: I think that this year’s team will be more guard and wing dependent than recent teams. That die was cast when Balsa Koprivicia left early for the NBA Draft (somewhat unexpectedly) last year. If FSU can get solid defense and rebounding from the bigs this year anything else would be a bonus.

MM: Similar to last season, it should be a good shooting team. Will the ‘Noles repeat the ACC leading 40.3% three point percentage from last year’s league games? Maybe not. But 36.5 or 37% should be well within reach, which is a vast improvement from the 33.2% mark from the 2019 season. And I’d expect us to be deadly in transition like we have been most of the last 6-7 years. But what about games when the shots aren’t falling? Will this team have the one-on-one playmakers to create something out of nothing? If that answer is yes, I’d guess Caleb Mills is that guy. And what about the defense? Who protects the rim at a Chris Koumadje level? Who jumps the passing lanes like Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell, or Terance Mann? Find answers to all those questions and maybe this is a 2-3 seed in the NCAAT type of team? But if those questions persist through February, we might be looking at our first bubble squad in a few years.

MR: Last year FSU was graced with the best offense in the Leonard Hamilton Era. We need basically everything to go right to repeat that type of efficiency. And relying on freshmen to play defense usually isn’t a good recipe. Still, a healthy FSU team has proven shooters, some nice additions attacking the rim. and plenty of experience to at least be solid on the defensive side. I’d expect a slight decline overall from last year.

What’s a hot take about this year’s team?

PAJ: Anthony Polite will lead the ACC in three point shooting this year.

MR: Quincy Ballard will be the most improved player in the conference. Too hot? How about RayQuan Evans silencing his message board critics? Every team has a player the fans are irrationally hard on, and Evans has been that guy.

MM: Evans makes more threes this year than his first two years at FSU combined (16). And 1 — Caleb Mills has a 35 point game.

Give a quick summary of your predictions for this year

PAJ: This team will again challenge for the ACC title. I predict that FSU will earn a top 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will get to at least the Sweet 16.

MR: Top-5 finish in the ACC. Six seed in the Dance. Survive and advance.

MM: FSU stutters to a 4-3 start to the season as all the newcomers figure things out, but close the season winning 8 of their last 10 and then rolls into the ACC Tournament Championship game against the Duke Blue Devils. I’ll save my prediction for that game until March.