Florida State finished last year with a 10-9 record earning a nine seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles fell to Oregon State in the first round. Last year was a season like no other. The coronavirus forced the cancellation of seven games, the team was ravaged by injury, and Head Coach Sue Semrau took a leave of absence to care for her ailing mother.
In the face of all that adversity associate head coach Brooke Wyckoff took the reins on short notice and somehow managed to guide the Noles to their eighth straight NCAA tournament appearance. Wyckoff did a very good job under trying circumstances and now the Seminoles are set to have an even better season now that Coach Semrau has returned and almost the entire roster is back with even more experience.
Let’s take a closer look at the Seminoles.
Mariana Valenzuela (freshman/Mazatlan, Mexico)
O’Mariah Gordon (freshman/Bradenton, FL)
Erin Howard (transfer/redshirt junior/Madison, WI/Auburn)
Makayla Timpson (freshman/Edison, GA)
Sayawni Lassiter (transferred to Rutgers)
Savannah Wilkinson (transferred to SMU)
Florida State returns nearly it’s entire roster. The benefits of that retention begin in the backcourt. However, returning point guard Tiana England is out indefinitely with a non-Covid related ailment. There is no timetable for her return. This is a significant blow to the Seminoles as England was set to be the starter and she would have likely helped FSU to fix the point guard issues that they have had to deal with in the last couple of years.
In England’s absence, Bianca Jackson (14.1pts/3.6ast) will step into the point guard role. Jackson is a natural shooting guard but she has the ability to run the point as she showed last year.
Sara Bejedi was hampered by injury last year and only played four games. However, she is healthy this year and she could also help at the point guard spot.
Another player who has struggled with injury in her FSU career is Amaya Brown. The junior from Albuquerque missed the entire season last year nursing an ACL injury. Brown is back and her on ball defense is something that the Seminoles have missed in her absence.
Finally, there is O’Mariah Gordon from Bradenton, FL. Gordon is a former consensus top 40 recruit and she is loaded with talent. Gordon is likely the future point guard for the Seminoles and Florida State would like for that future to be now with England not available. How soon Gordon is able to take the reins will be a big factor in determining how successful the Noles will be this season.
Florida State is blessed with several high quality wings and it starts with Morgan Jones (12.8pts/6.3reb). The coaches named Jones to the All-ACC first team and performances like the one she had against then #3 Louisville when she went for 26 points and 10 boards are a major reason why she was recognized by the coaches. The next step for Jones will be consistency. If she can become more consistent with those impressive performances the sky is the limit with her talent.
Sammie Puisis (6.9pts/4.9reb) is a player who was forced to play out of position in the frontcourt last year due to all of the injuries that FSU had to manage. Puisis is FSU’s best three point shooter but her percentage from deep fell from .398 two years ago to .292 last year. This was due to the fact that defenses were keying on her as a shooter and FSU didn’t have enough offense in other areas to make them pay for that attention. Therefore, Puisis was forced to take shots that were outside her range or highly contested. This year she should be able to find more space which should help her percentage rise to where it was a couple of years ago. The women’s three point line has been moved back to 22 feet, 1¾ inches (the same distance as the men) and Puisis has adjusted well to that new distance.
Kourtney Weber (11.8pts/3.5reb) is a player that can provide instant offense. Weber has a reputation as a slasher but she has added the three point shot to her game and shot .397 last year on a credible 68 attempts. If Weber can continue to diversify her game she has a chance to become a major factor in FSU’s offense.
Izabela Nicoletti is a former 5-star top 20 recruit. Unfortunately, her career at Florida State hasn’t been able to get on track as she has battled injury (ACL tears) since she has arrived in Tallahassee. Nicoletti was a McDonald’s All-American guard in high school capable of stretching the defense from three as well as slashing to the basket for buckets. She was also a willing passer and a fiery competitor. If Nicoletti can return even close to the form the she displayed in high school and at the international level for Brazil she would add another dimension and this team would rise substantially. We haven’t seen the real Isabela Nicoletti due to her injuries. Could this be the year?
Valencia Myers (8.2pts/5.6reb) has been the starter in the middle for FSU. Myers joined Nicoletti in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American game and has been a stalwart post player in her time at FSU. The next step for Myers is to turn into a player that can consistently get the ball in the post and score or get fouled. If she can provide that type of consistency she will provide another dimension to the offense.
River Baldwin (3.6pts/3.6reb) is another former McDonald’s All-American. As a junior Baldwin now has a couple of years of experience and is primed to make a leap in her progression as a player. The offense will come for Baldwin but if she can use her size to play tough defense and increase her rebounding she will be just what the doctor ordered for the Noles in the middle.
Erin Howard is another player that FSU is counting on in the frontcourt. The transfer from Auburn plays bigger than her 6’1 size and she could really help the Seminoles with her rebounding ability.
Makayla Timpson and Mariana Valenzuela are members of the freshmen class and they have already started opening eyes. Timpson is gifted athletically and once she learns the game and gets more experience the sky is the limit for her. Valenzuela is a monster on the glass. She is capable right now of improving FSU’s rebounding which was an issue last year with all of the injuries.
The best case scenario for this team is for Gordon or Brown (or someone else) to take over the point guard duties so Jackson can return to her more comfortable off guard spot. If that happens it will put everyone back to their normal more preferred positions and this team could take off. In such a scenario, if FSU could avoid injuries this team is capable of making a serious run maybe earning a number two or three seed in the NCAA tournament and scaring the daylights out of the number one seed in the Elite Eight.
In the worst case scenario, the point guard position remains unsettled, injuries occur, the team never really jells and the Noles are on or near the bubble on Selection Day. They get in the tournament (there is too much talent on this team to miss the tournament even in the worst case scenario) but they get an eight or nine seed and they are bounced in the first round.
This team has a lot of talent due to basically everyone returning. However, many teams have this same advantage due to the Covid year that the NCAA has granted. Therefore the competition is high.
Right now my top six teams in the ACC look like this:
- NC State
- Georgia Tech
- Virginia Tech
I really like FSU’s roster so to put them fourth tells you a lot about what I think of the competition. The ACC is going to be extremely tough. This year several teams have a chance because everyone has talent. Things will be decided less on talent level and more on things like how the talent develops, which teams jell the best and who can avoid injuries.
However, with this roster the Seminoles have the chance to make a deep run in March. We will see if they can seize the opportunity.
Florida State opens the season against the University of North Florida tonight at 7pm in the Civic Center. The game will be broadcast on the ACC Network Extra.