ACC Preview: Florida State’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on October 29th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. 

Burning Question: How quickly can Leonard Hamilton assimilate his talented recruiting class?

Leonard Hamilton has had a reputation as a crack recruiter for a while (the buzz reached its peak when it looked like Florida State might land Andrew Wiggins), but as a result of the school’s relative lack of investment in basketball, he’s only landed three McDonald’s All-Americans during his 13 years in Tallahassee. Von Wafer certainly didn’t push Hamilton’s team to the next level, but Michael Snaer and Chris Singleton were big parts of some of Florida State’s best teams of the last decade (2009-11).

Xavier Rathan-Mayes will be one of the best offensive players in the ACC. (photo: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Xavier Rathan-Mayes will be one of the best offensive players in the ACC. (Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

What he hasn’t had in raw talent, Hamilton has made up in player development. His best teams have relied on a stout defense that is usually anchored by upperclassmen. The Singleton and Snaer squads combined rim protection with elite on-ball defenders (both were among the best defenders in the country), but in recent years that formula has fallen short. That’s not to say the Seminoles have been awful, but they simply haven’t been able to reach the outstanding defensive efficiency of those teams. This year’s bunch may again have some question marks on the defensive end, but it also has a chance to be different in that it may be the first elite offensive team Leonard Hamilton has coached in a long while.

On paper, this is the most talented Florida State team in years. It is also one of the youngest. A star-studded recruiting class of Dwayne Bacon (consensus top 20 wing), Malik Beasley (consensus top 50 shooting guard), and Terrance Mann (consensus top 100 shooting guard) should quickly vault Florida State into the upper half of the ACC. Bacon and Beasley, both of whom look ready to contribute immediately, will join Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Devon Bookert in the backcourt. What’s different about this team is the robust potential for offensive firepower. Rathan-Mayes should be the favorite to lead the ACC (if not the country) in scoring, while both Bacon and Beasley project as good offensive players right away. Montay Brandon, one of the more overlooked players in the ACC, will also add some punch to the offense. It should go without saying that comparing this team’s talent to those of the traditional national powers would be an overstatement, but this year’s group is substantially more talented than any of his last three teams. There are definite reasons for optimism here.

The frontcourt will be particularly interesting. There’s a lot of experience here — Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo are both seniors — but Jarquez Smith and Phil Cofer played more than either last season. Neither Ojo nor Bojanovsky has made the leap many expected them to make, but the latter, a player who didn’t start playing basketball until high school, could have some improvement left in him. Either way, the return of this quartet (the only departure was Kiel Turpin) means that the worst case scenario in the frontcourt isn’t that bad.

At the end of the day, the big question in Tallahassee is how well the veterans — especially Bookert and Brandon — will mesh with the talented newcomers. The other big question: How do the two offensively-minded freshmen fit in with Rathan-Mayes, a player who absolutely must have the ball in his hands to succeed. Answers to both these questions are attainable, but they will directly impact the “buy-in” Hamilton receives from his team. The veteran coach has made a career of instilling belief in his players, as evidenced by the run of elite defensive teams constructed from tremendous effort and development from his players.

Still, these Seminoles are not like the team that won the ACC four seasons ago. They won’t have the necessary defensive chops to regularly beat the ACC’s best, but when viewed in the context of Hamilton’s recent recruiting, Florida State has a chance to be even more exciting. Could this be the start of another string of NCAA Tournament appearances? And taking it a step further, could this group possess the seeds of a team that could win an even tougher ACC down the line? Crazy questions, yes, but not that crazy. The main point is that things are again looking up for the ace recruiter in Tallahassee.

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