Author: Steve Lee
They have made three straight appearance in the Madness of March, with their most recent success including a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 2019 and topping out in the Elite Eight in 2018. Led by Leonard Hamilton, who is currently in his eighteenth year as the bench boss and fourteenth longest tenure in Division One college basketball, the Florida State Seminoles will battle the rest of the ACC to extend their NCAA Tournament run to a fourth straight year.
After battling the Pittsburgh Panthers that ultimately ended in a closely contested 63-61 loss, the Seminoles pulled up their proverbial britches and headed back out onto the road to pull out a convincing 63-51 victory over the then 6th ranked Florida Gators. While the Seminoles are currently on the outside of the top 25 poll looking in, it seems like it is only a matter of time before they find themselves part of the AP, Coaches Polls and Power Rankings.
So how has a team that has lost six of their top eight scorers from last season and four players to the NBA over the last three years remained competitive and relevant in the always challenging ACC? Although it was no surprise that Jonathan Issac would leave campus after a single season, losing Mfiondu Kabengele to the 2019 draft came as a bit of a shock, especially considering he didn’t start a single game during his two years with the Seminoles.
One of the Seminoles calling cards over Coach Leonard’s time with the team has been their focus on their athleticism and the transition game. With the 13th ranked recruiting class and a handful of uber athletic bodies on the roster, look for Florida State to push the rock this season off of the defensive glass and opposing teams’ errors. Led by point guard Trent Forrest, the Seminoles full court defence will aggressively force turnovers and break out in transition.
With Kabengele bouncing between the NBA G League and the LA Clippers, former five-star recruit MJ Walker will be given every opportunity to live up to expectations placed on him as a high school star coming out of Riverdale, Georgia. After a relatively quiet first game of the season, Walker showed what fans of the garnet and gold have been hoping for in the “upset” over the Gators with a twelve-point, three rebound effort.
Although it was only his second game as a Seminole, Leonard will need more from five-star freshman and seventh ranked small forward Patrick Williams. In his first 42 minutes of court time, Williams has contributed nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks.
While Williams has the ability to knock down the open shot from downtown, it will be his defensive skills and elite athleticism that will potentially land the freshman as a first round selection in the 2020 NBA Draft, at least according to ESPN mock drafts. Maybe in the future he will be one of the NBA MVP long shots worth a gamble in 3 or 5 years. He definitely has potential.
Being tested early by taking on and beating Florida will help prepare the Seminoles for a tough pair of back to back games against Tennessee and either Purdue or VCU as part of the Emerald Coast Classic. The Boilermakers and the Rams are currently both top 25 teams and the Volunteers are just on the bubble with all three near locks for the 2020 NCAA Tournament. With Forrest and Walker as the only two upperclassmen who project to be significant contributors, the Seminoles will rely on their sophomore and freshmen to step up throughout the season, often by committee. Shocking the Gators was an eye-opener for both the Seminoles and the entire Atlantic Coast Conference.
Most experts have the obvious Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia inked in for a spot in the round of 64 bracket. If Florida State can hold their own in hostile territory against the Cardinals (Jan 4), the Cavaliers (Jan 28) and the Blue Devils (Feb 10), there will be little reason for the NCAA Tournament committee not to extend a fourth straight invitation to the Big Dance.