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

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.

BYU erases 23-point deficit, beats Dayton in overtime 79-75

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NASSAU, Bahamas – Gideon George scored 21 points and combined with Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams for BYU’s 15 overtime points as the Cougars came back from a 23-point deficit to beat Dayton 79-75 in overtime Friday.

BYU’s victory came in the seventh-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

George’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left in regulation gave BYU (4-3) its first lead after Dayton scored the first 10 points of the game and led 32-9 with six minutes left in the first half.

Mike Sharavjamts’ basket gave the lead back to Dayton but George’s free throw with a minute left sent the game into overtime.

Dayton got the first points in overtime but Robinson’s 3-pointer gave BYU the lead for good halfway through the extra period.

Robinson had 14 points, Dallin Hall 12 and Williams 11 to join George in double figures for BYU.

DaRon Holmes II scored 21 points and Sharavjamts 15 for Dayton (3-4). The Flyers lost starting guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith to lower-body injuries in the second half, Smith with with just seconds left in regulation.

Portland beats Villanova 83-71 in Phil Knight Invitational

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Moses Wood scored 16 points and Portland beat Villanova 83-71 on Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Villanova (2-4) has lost three straight games, including an overtime loss to Iowa State on Thursday to drop below .500 for the first time since March 7, 2012.

Vasilije Vucinic’s layup with 4:16 remaining in the first half gave Portland the lead for good. The Pilots had an eight-point lead at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half.

Wood added six rebounds and three blocks for the Pilots (5-3). Tyler Robertson scored 15 points while shooting 6 for 12 (1 for 5 from 3-point range) and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Kristian Sjolund recorded 14 points and shot 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range).

Caleb Daniels finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Villanova also got 14 points from Jordan Longino. Brandon Slater had 11 points.

Caleb Grill, Iowa State topples No. 1 North Carolina 70-65

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Grill has followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV and now back to Iowa State hoping the pair could share a moment like they did Friday.

Taking down the No. 1 team in the country was another bookmark moment in a long journey for the pair.

“I’m actually really enjoying sitting next to him from this moment right now just thinking about how long we’ve known each other and how cool this really was,” Otzelberger said.

Grill hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points and Iowa State rallied in the final five minutes to stun No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Iowa State (5-0) picked up just its third win over a team ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones are 3-22 against No. 1 teams, with the other wins coming against Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016.

The Cyclones can now add North Carolina (5-1) to the list.

“I was just staying the course of the game. I never really thought about it and the game just kind of came to me,” Grill said.

Grill was averaging 7.3 points and had made just 4 of 24 3-point attempts for the season entering Friday. But he couldn’t be stopped from beyond the arc, hitting a pair of big 3s to spark Iowa State’s late rally. His deep fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point line with 1:40 left gave Iowa State a 63-61 lead and the Cyclones did just enough at the free throw line in the final minute to close out the upset victory.

Grill’s previous career high was 27 points while playing for UNLV in the 2020-21 season against Alabama. He also hit seven 3-pointers in that game.

Grill originally signed with South Dakota State when Otzelberger was the coach there. He was released from his commitment when Otzelberger took the head job at UNLV and started his career at Iowa State before deciding to join his coach in Las Vegas.

When Otzelberger returned to Ames, Grill followed again.

“Just having him be the first person that really had belief in me, it’s just really special what he’s done for me and my family and everything we’ve done,” Grill said.

Jaren Holmes added 22 points and the Cyclones withstood off shooting games from Aljaz Kunc and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for three points and missed all eight of their shot attempts. Both were averaging double figures scoring for Iowa State.

RJ Davis led North Carolina with 15 points, Armando Bacot added 14 and Caleb Love scored 12. But the Tar Heels will lament a series of mistakes in the closing minutes that allowed Iowa State to rally.

“We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn’t make those shots,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

North Carolina led 57-49 after Leaky Black’s layup with 5:43 left, but missed four of its final six shots and had four turnovers during that span.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can’t do that in late-game situations,” Davis said. “You have to be sound and discipline and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn’t do it.”

NO. 1 LOSSES

North Carolina lost as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 21, 2015 when it lost 71-67 at Northern Iowa. The Tar Heels also lost as No. 1 to UNLV in 2011 at a Thanksgiving tournament.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Pete Nance wasn’t able to contribute in the same way he did in Thursday’s opening round. Nance, who tied his career high with 28 points against Portland, didn’t score for the first 27 minutes and finished with seven points.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were playing a No. 1 team from outside their conference for the first time since 1999 when they faced Cincinnati in the championship game of the Big Island Invitational.

UP NEXT

Iowa State will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 20 UConn in the championship game while the Tar Heels will face the loser for third place.

No. 8 Duke locks down late, holds off Xavier 71-64

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PORTLAND, Ore. – After a shaky offensive performance in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, Duke coach Jon Scheyer wanted to see Jeremy Roach get back to playing more instinctively, especially at the offensive end of the floor.

Roach responded with a season-high 21 points, Mark Mitchell added 16 and No. 8 Duke withstood Xavier’s second-half comeback for a 71-64 win on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-1) advanced to the championship game thanks to the play of their standout guard and another strong defensive effort. Roach came one point shy of matching his career high, and the Blue Devils rebounded after an unexpectedly tight victory over Oregon State in the opening round of the event.

Roach was 3 of 14 shooting against Oregon State as the Blue Devils scored a season-low 54 points. He made 9 of 15 shots and had five assists against Xavier.

“There’s a lot that falls on your shoulders so you can end up overthinking it a little bit,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I love for him today is he just was him. And when he’s that way, he is to me the best guard in the country.”

The Musketeers (4-2) were held to two points over the final five minutes and missed their last four shot attempts. Souley Boum scored 23 points and Adam Kunkel had 13. Kunkel didn’t play the last 11 minutes after taking a hard fall committing a foul.

Xavier leading scorer Jack Nudge was 1 of 13 shooting and finished with five points.

“Jack played a great effort. He really did. He was ready for the game. He just had one of those nights where the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.

At the same time, Miller was disappointed in what he called the “fracturing” he saw from his team.

“There were spurts and segments of the game where I thought we reflected our style, how we’re trying to play, whether it be defense and offense. But there were way too many segments of the game, if not most of the game, where we were at times in our own way,” Miller said.

Mitchell scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half, including a pair of layups, and he hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Duke a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.

That’s when Xavier’s comeback started. The Musketeers pulled within three points on several occasions, but Duke answered each time. Desmond Claude’s driving layup pulled Xavier within 63-60 with 5:51 left, but Ryan Young scored for Duke and Xavier didn’t make another basket.

Roach’s jumper with 2:40 left pushed Duke’s lead to 69-62.

“We like to play inside out but I mean, when guys are hitting shots it just opens up for everybody else,” Roach said. “Just try to continue to be consistent hitting shots and I think we’ll be fine.”

Kyle Filipowski had 12 points and was not Duke’s leading scorer for the first time in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils’ dominance on the backboards finally came to an end. Duke had outrebounded each of its first six opponents by double figures, the longest such stretch in school history. But Xavier’s interior size limited Duke to a 33-32 advantage on the glass. The Blue Devils had 12 second-chance points.

Xavier: The Musketeers played an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Xavier dropped to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season, having lost to Indiana last week. The Musketeers will play another ranked foe in Sunday’s third-place game.

UP NEXT

Duke will face the Gonzaga-Purdue winner in the championship game on Sunday, while Xavier will play the loser.