ACC Burning Questions: Florida State Seminoles

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 25th, 2016

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

Burning Question: Will the stable of talent Leonard Hamilton has assembled in Tallahassee finally manifest into an NCAA bid?

The preseason hype swirling around the Florida State basketball program has seemingly become a summer rite of passage. But sure as we are to be inundated with grand proclamations of Leonard Hamilton‘s crew becoming a factor in this season’s ACC title race, it is almost as certain that results will fall significantly short of expectations. Heading into his15th campaign at the helm, Hamilton once again has a roster that appears capable of earning the Seminoles’ first NCAA Tournament berth since 2012. In light of recent disappointments, however, it would be prudent to exercise a cautious approach with this bunch.

It's Dwayne Bacon's team now that classmate Malik Beasley left early for the NBA. (Greg Oyster, 247Sports)

It’s Dwayne Bacon’s team now that classmate Malik Beasley left early for the NBA. (Greg Oyster/ 247Sports)

Upon his arrival on campus last year, the popular belief was that McDonald’s All-American Dwayne Bacon was a one-and done player. And while classmate Malik Beasley parlayed his immediate success into a first-round NBA Draft selection, Bacon opted for another year of seasoning. From a physical standpoint, Bacon’s size and strength are commensurate with that of typical NBA wings – the issue is with refining his skill set. The freshman led the team in scoring and rebounding, crossing the 20-point threshold an impressive 12 times despite only shooting 28 percent from behind the arc. He will be relied upon to make the leap from productive freshman to an all-ACC performer this season. He has the talent and pedigree to do just that.

The mercurial Xavier Rathan-Mayes was almost a forgotten man a season ago. After pacing the team in scoring two years ago as a freshman, Rathan-Mayes’ overall production and efficiency took a dive in the Seminoles’ crowded backcourt last year. If any player represents a microcosm of the program’s volatility over the last half-decade it would be the junior — capable of blowing up on occasion (e.g., a 30-point explosion in a 5-minute against Miami as a freshman), yet equally as likely to disappear for long stretches. Consistency will be the buzzword for a guy who has proven to be a quality facilitator, leading the club in assists in each of his two seasons in Tallahassee.

While the return of productive players like Bacon and Rathan-Mayes engender moderate optimism, Florida State is downright giddy at the prospect of welcoming 6’10” Jonathan Isaac into the fray. Blessed with ball skills that belie his height, Isaac is the modern day stretch four who can cause defensive nightmares for the opposition. Cultivated as a guard, Isaac added a whopping seven inches to his frame in high school and his perimeter skills remained elite. He has already drawn comparisons to Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant, and while invoking those names is a significant stretch, Isaac looks like the type of rookie who can make an immediate impact and push the Seminoles to the next level.

If not for Isaac’s arrival, the most impactful addition may have been the return of junior Phil Cofer. Ankle surgery cost the freakishly athletic forward 23 of the team’s 34 contests a season ago, stripping him of the opportunity to build on what was a promising rookie campaign. The combination of a healthy Cofer and Isaac provides Hamilton with a scary duo that is as skilled as it is physically imposing. Speaking of which, the 7’1” Michael Ojo returns as well after missing all of last year with a meniscus tear. The fifth-year senior, along with the likes of defensive specialist Jarquez Smith, and the school’s tallest player in its history, 7’4” Christ Koumadje, will be tasked with anchoring a defense that has slipped immensely during the course of Florida State’s four-year NCAA Tournament drought. In truth, a direct line can be drawn between Florida State’s defensive deterioration and their overall struggles. The Seminoles’ NCAA Tournament teams from 2009-12 never ranked lower than 10th nationally in defensive efficiency, highlighted by a group in 2010-11 that boasted the nation’s best defense. Even more impressively, the Seminoles also ranked among the nation’s top six in block percentage during those four campaigns. Conversely since 2012, Florida State’s best defensive finish was 54th in 2014, and its block percentage has plummeted to 72nd nationally, its worst showing since 2008.

Leonard Hamilton

2016-17 sets up as a make or break year for Hamilton, entering his 15th season in Tallahassee. (AP)

Hamilton has the horses (which also includes a pair of four-star freshmen point guards in CJ Walker and Trent Forrest) to reverse the struggles and begin to recapture the hallmarks of the successful run from five years ago. Patience is running thin in Tallahassee, though, and the pressure to succeed on a club this talented and deep is palpable. With the probability that this is the only season Bacon and Isaac will play together, this becomes a pivotal year at Florida State. Another disappointing failure to make the NCAA Tournament could result in wholesale changes within the program next spring.

Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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