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FSU basketball: Answering 10 pressing offseason questions

What’s the latest with Seminoles basketball?

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State Seminoles basketball had a reset year of sorts in 2021-2022, falling short of the NCAA Tournament-qualifying and ACC title-contending standard that head coach Leonard Hamilton had established over the recent years of his tenure.

The Seminoles lost a few players to graduation, as well as one early NBA Draft entrant in John Butler, but return a good bit of talent alongside an infusion of new names.

To break down some of the bigger storylines surrounding FSU, from new faces on the roster and coaching staff to outlook for the ACC, here’s Tomahawk’s Matt Minnick.

1. FSU will have a host of new faces next year, with potentially seven new players seeing time. What’s your very early starting five look like?

As most folks who follow FSU hoops know, Ham and Co. don’t really put as much emphasis on starters as they do their finishers. We’ve consistently seen guys who come off the bench be in the top 5 of percentage of total possible minutes played. Look no further than Matthew Cleveland, who led the team (admittedly an oft-injured team) by playing 60% of the possible minutes last season off the bench. Before him, Scottie Barnes and Pat Williams played 58% and 52% of possible minutes (both 3rd on the team their respective years), with both coming off the bench.

All that said, if I had to pick a starting 5 right now I’d go with Jalen Warley, Caleb Mills, Cleveland, Cam’ron Fletcher, and Naheem McLeod. That seems to be the best combo—at least for now—at blending perimeter shooting, defensive versatility, and slashing.

2. Florida State and Coach Hamilton have made the sixth man position a coveted spot at FSU with the success of Scottie Barnes, Patrick Williams, and Matthew Cleveland. Who fills that role this year?

It seems like there might actually be multiple candidates for the annual FSU 6th man of the year award. Baba Miller could certainly fit the bill as a talented freshman who starts a game or three, plays 50-60% of the possible minutes, and impacts the game in a variety of ways.

If Jaylan Gainey, a defensive standout who transferred in from Brown, does enough in the preseason to earn a starting role, maybe someone like Fletcher snags 6th MoY with his 3 & D potential.

Or perhaps Darin Green, a sharpshooting transfer from UCF, proves to be lighting in a bottle off the bench and grabs the award based on double digit scoring per game?

If I had to put my poker chip on one person, I’d go with Miller.

3. Last year, injures and inconsistency sunk Florida State as the healthy players didn’t fully complement each other. Does this team, on paper at least, appear to be set up as a more cohesive unit?

It honestly might be best if we crumple up most analysis from last year and toss it in the trash heap. Aside from discussions about a few of the first-year guys who are now in year two, it’s difficult to even begin to make direct comparisons due to all the injuries. How do you properly weigh for the fact that a walk-on was in our second most used lineup over the last 5 games of the season? Who do you even consider the starters from last year?

That said, yes—even at the beginning of last year Michael Rogner and I had a robust discussion on the pod about concerns over how the players on the roster fit the 4-out, 1-in half-court offense FSU likes to run these days, or the switch-everything defense. And those concerns were noted as being magnified if Malik Osborne got hurt…which he did in early January.

This year, at least on paper, it feels like our roster complements our system a lot better. And that the individual players seem to have much more clear roles. The Seminoles have long, more athletic wings and big men who can hopefully stay in front of their man a little better on the perimeter. FSU has more size and physicality underneath and should be an improved rebounding team. And if Mills, Fletcher, Green and Tom House can all knock down shots from the perimeter consistently, the Seminoles have multiple guys who can attack slashing lanes and either finish in traffic or kick to the corner. Oh and I’d expect lineups with guys like Fletcher, Cleveland, Gainey, Chandler Jackson, Miller, Warley, and Mills to be absolutely lethal in transition.

Lastly, the depth of this team feels better than it’s been in the last two years. I think one could argue that this year's team (if healthy) would be better at every single spot from 4-12 than last year.

4. The Seminoles were susceptible to long offensive droughts last year. Which player has the best chance to be FSU’s “instant offense” and keep the score moving?

Part of the droughts last year were due to injuries. Hard to score consistently when Osborne, Anthony Polite, and Mills were all hurt. But yes, even when healthy Florida State had some struggles shooting the ball. The Syracuse home game in December was perhaps the worst shooting performance at home that I can remember in the last 10 years.

Mills is the obvious answer here, as he can get buckets in a variety of ways. I’d like to see him operate more within the flow of the offense this year—dribble less and keep the ball moving more. But as Rogner has pointed out, there were times last year where Mills’ passing options were uhhh, let’s just say limited.

Darin Green should play the PJ Savoy “microwave” role off the bench, except that Green is more explosive and subsequently can attack a little better off the bounce than PJ.

And if Matthew Cleveland can develop even the threat of a jump shot, he will be able to get to his spots pretty easily and get sent to the free throw line frequently.

Wild card might be Jackson. That kid is just a basketball player. He plays downhill, he plays with a chip on his shoulder, and he’s built like a strong safety. Remember when Trent Forrest would just bully guys like Kihei Clark in the paint? You might be seeing more of that.

5. Baba Miller might have the highest potential of any Seminole. How do you expect his playing time and impact on the floor to look as the season progresses?

He might have the highest potential, but as is typically the case, most of the potential will be realized at the next level. That said, he’s skilled enough and long enough that he can be an impact two-way player in his (likely) one season in Tallahassee. I can’t wait to see him in the fall, but from what I’ve found online he looks like a stronger, more physical John Butler. Capable of bringing the ball up the court, he might actually be more impactful in transition than Butler because unlike Butler he’s strong enough to grab the defensive board and start the break himself. His length and quickness will bother smaller wings on the perimeter and he can shoot well enough from deep (35% in Europe) that he will force bigs to step out and guard him. If he can up that 40% and also serve as a rim protector, he will be a first round pick.

6. Without seeing players in action, at this point what do you believe is the biggest weakness/challenge for this team?

Three-point shooting can’t just be assumed. Not after the results FSU had last season. Guys like Mills and Fletcher proved they can hit threes, but FSU needs more consistency. I’d rather have several guys who are 1-3 or 2-5 every game than a couple of guys who go 5-7 in one game and 0-5 the next. The hope is that Green, House, Warley, Mills, Miller, Fletcher, and Jackson can all shoot in the 33-40% range most nights, but until we see it, hope is all it is.

Another question mark is how effectively can FSU switch on the perimeter without having to go super small and getting pounded on the glass? And part of this answer likely lies in how quickly Cam Corhen adjusts to college ball, and how fast D’ante Green can recover from his torn ACL.

Truth be told, if Green had never been hurt I might be more excited ahout him than Miller. He’s a big time talent who has been improving at a rapid rate prior to his injury. If he’s healthy by the middle of the season, his versatility on D could be a huge boost.

7. Excluding Baba Miller, what are your thoughts on the incoming freshman class? Which player stands out the most?

I’m gonna include the transfers in this because in today’s college athletics landscape transfers are every bit the talent acquisition strategy as recruiting is.

On an overarching level, I love the group as a whole. You’ve got shooters (House and Darin Green), versatile wings (De’Ante Green, Miller, and Jeremiah Bembry) a rim runner (Gainey), a floor stretching big (Corhen), and an absolute dawg of a lead guard (Jackson). In some ways, it reminds me of the 2016 class (Jon Isaac, Forrest, Kabengele, CJ Walker, Braian Angola, and Savoy). That class was a little heavier on guards, but it was long, athletic, and versatile, and guys seemed to have clear roles they filled.

Just picking one guy beside Baba, I’ll say Jackson. This kid makes winning basketball plays. He’s a grinder who happens to also be really talented. And he’s also got the potential to be a team leader. He instantly upgrades the toughness on the team.

8. This off-season we saw R-Jay Barsh replace the departed Charlton Young on the FSU bench, what does Barsh bring to the staff and how will he most influence this team?

CY brought several strengths to the coaching staff, chief among them his relationships in AAU basketball (particularly Georgia) and his uncanny ability to build relationships and serve as a mentor for the players. However, X’s and O’s and targeted skill development were areas that FSU leaned on others for major impact, and after Dennis Gates left it was becoming clear the staff had a void in those areas. Barsh fixes that. He brings a level of X and O insight and player development for the guards that has been missing for a few years. And beyond that, he brings a toughness and grit with him that should rub off on the young Seminoles.

Oh, and his connections in South Florida aren’t to be overlooked.

9. With so many fresh faces, is there a player that stands out to you as the leader of this team?

In a perfect world it’s Matthew Cleveland. It’s always nice when one of your best players and guys who is able to impact the game on both ends is also a vocal leader and locker room presence. But candidly, I just haven’t interacted with Cleveland enough to know if he’s got that ability in his second year. Last year was such a mess with the injuries, it was hard to get a sense of who was leading or if there even was an established presence.

But maybe it’s Warley? He certainly was a leader on his high school team and point guards carry certain gravitas on the court. Speaking of point guards…is it possible that by March it’s Jackson?

Ultimately, I’m still in wait-and-see mode here. The summer months and fall practice will go a long way to building culture and mutual trust among all the new faces.

10. Zooming out a little, what does the top of the ACC look like as we enter the summer months?

UNC returns a significant core of the team that just made a run to the NCAA championship game. They need to figure out a way to replace the shooting and intangibles that Brady Manek brought to the table, but Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, Armando Bacot, Puff Johnson, and Leaky Black is a pretty darn good group to start with. The Tar Heels will likely be a top 3 team to start the season and would be my favorite for winning the ACC.

Duke is in the opposite position. They lose stars Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, Trevor Keels, and Mark Williams to the NBA, not to mention Coach K. However they bring in an absurdly loaded freshmen class, headlined by one-time FSU lean Dariq Whitehead, and they might still be adding to their roster via the portal. They will suffer the odd loss here or there due to youth, but their ceiling is certainly high.

After those two, you’ve got a handful of schools that could round out the top 5. Miami lost some talented experience, but Isaiah Wong is back (even if he’s unhappy about his contract details) and they pulled in two of the best transfers this off-season thanks to some massive NIL deals.

UVA is always going to win their fair share of games under Tony Bennett, and the Hoos not only bring in 3 top 70 recruits but they also convinced Jayden Gardner to return for his COVID year. So the Cavaliers should be back in the NCAAT after an NIT bid last season.

VT lost star Keve Aluma, but they return Justyn Mutts and a bunch of shooters. They will contend for a double-bye.

Notre Dame loses one-and-done Blake Wesley, plus 12th year vet Prentiss Hubb. But they are bringing in a freshman who might be even better than Wesley, in J.J. Starling. Three other guys are coming back for a covid year, so the Irish will feature grown men around the rookie. That’s typically a recipe for success.

If I had to pick the top 5 of the regular season standings right now, give me:

1) UNC

2) Duke

3) UVA

4) FSU

5) VT