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No. 14 Florida State: Can they repeat last year’s Elite 8 run?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 14 Florida State.


It wasn’t but six years ago that Florida State had a reputation for playing some of the ugliest basketball imaginable.

Leonard Hamilton’s program had gone through a four-year stretch where they never finished outside the top ten in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric while managing to find a way to finish no better than 89th in any of those four years; three of the four they couldn’t crack the top 115.

While the basketball world at-large was trending smaller and towards more skilled players at every position, it seemed like Hamilton was recruiting bigger and bigger players every season. It was as if more height and more athleticism at every spot on the floor would help them beat smaller, more skilled teams.

It helped them win games even if it was a misery to watch. They reached the NCAA tournament every year from 2009-2012 before diving headfirst into a four-year tournament drought. In the last three years, however, things have started to change. Hamilton has put a priority on recruiting switchable pieces that actually have some semblance of offensive ability, and it’s paid off.

The last three years, the team has finished top 50 nationally in both tempo and adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. In each of the last two seasons, the Seminoles have reached the NCAA tournament and won a game, which includes last year’s run to the Elite 8.

And this year, Hamilton has a roster at his disposal that brings back the majority of the important pieces from last year’s run, including a pair of sophomores primed for big years.

What that all means is that Florida State has the makings of being a top 15 team with a very real chance of getting back to the Elite 8 once again.

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FLORIDA STATE WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

Leonard Hamilton returns essentially everyone of significance from a team that won 23 games and reached the Elite 8, coming within four points of beating Michigan and getting to the Final Four.

The big news was Phil Cofer’s return. A tough, athletic 6-foot-8 forward, Cofer is a fifth-year senior that was given a waiver from the NCAA for this season. He led the Seminoles in scoring last year and is the perfect fit for the positionless, aggressive style of defense that Hamilton has his guys playing. He’s listed at 230 pounds and has been a four for the majority of his career, but not only is he versatile enough to defend perimeter players, he shot 37.5 percent from three last season. The times when he is on the floor with Mfiondu Kabengele — more on him, and M.J. Walker, below — the Seminoles become really, really hard to guard.

Walker himself was a key returnee, as he is the kind of talent that had the potential of being a one-and-done player. He should step into a bigger role this season as he fills the void left by Braian Angola — again, more on that below.

Terance Mann is probably the most well-known name on the Seminoles, as he scored 18 points in the rout of Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 and popped off for 20 points multiple times last season. He’s probably Florida State’s most dynamic scorer and, along with Cofer, the guy that allows them to play the way they do defensively.

The biggest question mark is going to be at the point guard spot, as C.J. Walker, who started 34 games, transferred out of the program. But with Trent Forrest, who was arguably better by the end of the year, back and Albany grad transfer David Nichols joining the fray, it should work out just fine.

The bigger picture here is that this is less about the individual names. Florida State didn’t make their Elite 8 run because they were more talented than the teams they beat, per se. They made that run because they have a bunch of good players on their roster that all fit into — and buy into — the way that Hamilton wants to do things, and when that is the case, teams tend to have success.

And with all of those pieces returning, it’s hard to picture a scenario where it doesn’t pay off.

Terance Mann (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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BUT FLORIDA STATE IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

Part of me feels like the Seminoles are getting ranked this high because they got hot at the right time in March.

At no point during the 2017-18 season did Florida State seem like a top 25 team. They ended up earning a No. 9 seed in the tournament which, at the time, was somewhat headscratching; they felt closer to the bubble than the committee ended up seeding them after entering the tournament with a 20-11 record. They went 11-11 after a 9-0 start to the season and finished with a losing recorded against ACC foes after flaming out in the first round of the ACC tournament against Louisville.

Put another way, Florida State was fine last season. They were good enough to earn a bid to the Big Dance and then caught fire for a two-week stretch that brought them to within four points of getting to the Final Four. It’s not all that different from the run that Kansas State or Loyola-Chicago made.

Which leads me to this season.

If the Seminoles are losing one of their top three scorers as well as the player that spent essentially the entire season starting at the point from a team that was never that great to start with, is that enough for us to pencil them in for a jump from just outside top 25 to inside the top 15?

Probably.

But it’s not enough to take the possibility of another 9-9 run through the ACC gauntlet out of the picture.

M.J. Walker (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

If Florida State is going to make the leap from tournament team to Final Four threat, the change is going to have to come from someone currently on the roster. Hamilton only landed one recruit in the Class of 2018 in Devin Vassell, and neither he nor the two redshirt freshmen on the roster — Anthony Polite and RaiQuan Gray — are expected to be more than bench pieces this season.

There are no reinforcements coming in the way of new additions.

But that doesn’t mean the Seminoles will be without an injection of talent, and that is because a pair of sophomores currently on the roster — M.J. Walker and Mfiondu Kabengele — are in line for breakout seasons.

Walker is the most intriguing name here. A former five-star recruit that was played in the McDonald’s All-American game, Walker is a powerfully athletic, 6-foot-5 wing that had a reputation for being a bucket-getter coming out of high school. A former four-star recruit as a football player, Walker is the perfect fit for the way that Hamilton is going to play this season, and he should be able to make up for what the Seminoles are losing in Braiain Angola.

Once again, there will be two wings on this team capable of going for 25 points on any given night, and that is exactly what Florida State needs with the way that they play.

Kabengele might actually be more interesting here. He’s 6-foot-10 with long arms and a sturdy frame, meaning that he can place the five for Florida State. In limited minutes last season he proved himself a capable shot-blocker, an excellent rebounder and a guy that can make threes; he shot 38.5 percent on limited attempts. A productive scorer despite getting just 14 minutes a night, he should see more time this year with Ikey Obiagu transferring, and this is probably a good thing for the Seminoles. Kabengele has legitimate NBA upside, and it should benefit them to have him on the floor more.

These two are where the difference will be made.

We know what we are going to get out of seniors Mann, Koumadje and Cofer.

What we don’t know yet is what these two sophomores will turn into. Both have all-ACC upside and if they get close to that potential, then this top 15 ranking for Florida State will look savvy.

2018-19 OUTLOOK

Florida State is one of the more difficult teams for me to project this season.

In all honesty I wasn’t that enamored with them last year. They were fine, and winning a couple games over Missouri, Xavier and Gonzaga during the tournament doesn’t drastically change the way that I think about the whole of their 2017-18 season.

The continuity carried over by returning so many key pieces is going to be big, as is any improvement that will be made by Walker and Kabengele. The bare minimum this season should be a trip to the 2019 NCAA Tournament. There’s upside, but I tend to think that ranking them 14th is the high-end of their range of outcomes.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 15 TCU
No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.