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College Basketball 2014-15: Florida State Seminoles Team Preview

Aaron Thomas

Aaron Thomas

Two straight trips to the NIT have certainly dampened some of the momentum Florida State had built by rattling off four straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2009-12. However, expectations surrounding Leonard Hamilton’s club remain high, and for good reason. 

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Seven players with significant ACC minutes on their resumes are back, and six of them are either juniors or seniors. That group includes athletic guard Aaron Thomas, who emerged as the Seminoles’ best player in the later half of 2013-14. Add in highly touted recruit Xavier Rathan-Mayes and 7-footer Kiel Turpin, who each missed all of last season, and Hamilton’s roster suddenly boasts experience and depth.  

“Last year we were closer than it looked,” Hamilton says. “We lost to Florida by one point and to Michigan in overtime, but we didn’t have a complete team. There’s not as much drop-off in the rotation now. We have the talent. I think we can get back to where we were.” 

That’s not to say FSU doesn’t have some substantial voids to fill. Losing veterans Ian Miller and Okaro White takes away a pair of double-digit scorers. White was also the best rebounder for a team that struggled mightily on the glass. 

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Frontcourt

Thanks to the NCAA granting the 7-0 Turpin a sixth year of eligibility (he missed all of last season with a leg injury), FSU will once again boast three 7-footers — Boris Bojanovsky stands 7-3 and Michael Ojo is 7-1. 

While that trio will undoubtedly make for some intimidating shot-blockers, whether they can be inside scoring threats remains the major concern. None has averaged more than six points per game, but Bojanovsky and Ojo both arrived as particularly raw recruits and appear ready to contribute more after two years in Hamilton’s system. 

“Getting Turpin back is huge,” Hamilton says. “I don’t know many more big men who are as skilled as Boris either. He is a smart player, and the key is that he has gained weight and gotten much stronger.”

Hamilton also has faith that sophomore power forward Jarquez Smith will make big strides. The 6-9 Smith will compete for White’s vacant starting spot after raising his weight to 230 pounds in the offseason. 

“I’m extremely confident in Smith,” Hamilton says. “He played behind two seniors last year. He’s also extremely skilled.” 

Junior college transfer Kedar Edwards, a small forward, will also battle for playing time. 

Florida State Seminoles Facts & Figures

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Last season: 22-14, 9-9 ACC

Postseason: NIT

Last NCAA Tournament: 2012

Coach: Leonard Hamilton (241-157 at Florida State, 98-98 ACC)

ACC Projection: Sixth

Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64

Backcourt

After a breakout year, Thomas gives FSU a two-way player to build its team around. The 6-5 wing averaged 18 points in four NIT games and had 57 steals on the season — and Hamilton believes he be more productive at both ends of the court. 

“Aaron loves to play defense. He enjoys the best part of the game,” Hamilton says. “I expect him to have an All-ACC type of year. He has All-American type of potential.”

Fellow junior Devon Bookert gives FSU a veteran point guard to lean on. A dependable ball-handler and a remarkably accurate 3-point shooter — he shot 43.1 percent from 3 last year — Bookert enters his second year as a full-time starter. 

The versatile 6-7 Montay Brandon, who can play point or on the wing, started all 36 games last season. Rathan-Mayes, a prototypical shooting guard who played alongside No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins in high school, should bolster the offense instantly after sitting out 2013-14 due to academic issues. 

Junior college transfer Dayshawn Watkins and freshman Robbie Berwick will add depth at point guard. 

Final Analysis

Losing Miller and White won’t hurt as much as it might appear on paper. Thomas has all the makings of a go-to scorer and will be one of the best players in the ACC. More important, the Seminoles are now much deeper (Hamilton’s rotation could include as many as 10 players), making it possible to withstand the injuries and losses it couldn’t last year. 

Provided the big men progress as well as expected, Florida State should be back in the NCAA Tournament. Rebounding is the biggest key — the Seminoles were particularly bad on the defensive glass, grabbing only 64.2 percent of their opponents’ missed shots. In order to make any kind of postseason run, that will have to change dramatically. 

Newcomers

Phil Cofer may be the biggest find of the bunch. The powerful big man’s father (Michael) played in the NFL for 10 seasons. Kedar Edwards and Dayshawn Watkins were both brought in from junior colleges to add some immediate depth. Norbertas Giga, who is from Lithuania, continues Leonard Hamilton’s tradition of going overseas to find recruits.