FSU hopes to follow up Elite 8 appearance with another deep run in March
Making another deep run in the NCAA Tournament won’t be a surprise for Florida State this time around. With seven players who earned significant minutes back from a team that was one win away from the Final Four, the Seminoles are loaded with experience and depth. Now comes the challenge of learning how to win when you are expected to.
“Going to the Elite Eight puts a target on our back. Teams know what we are capable of,” says versatile senior Terance Mann. “But we’ve got a lot of guys who know how to act in big-time situations and have a lot more confidence. I think we’ll be as good as last year and probably better. I think we can win at least 25 games.”
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Leonard Hamilton
2017-18 RECORD (ACC): 23-12 (9-9)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Michigan 58-54 in the Elite Eight
G Braian Angola-Rodas (12.5 ppg, 3.0 apg)
G CJ Walker (8.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.4 apg)
Getting Phil Cofer back for a fifth year of eligibility should pay off immensely. A stretch-4 with good shooting range, Cofer transformed from a role player into the team’s leading scorer last season. Longtime coach Leonard Hamilton often likes to play Cofer with four guards, creating lots of mismatches for opposing defenses.
“Phil has had to overcome a lot of injuries, and that has made him mentally strong,” says Hamilton, who enters his 17th year in Tallahassee. “Now that he’s injury free, I think you are going to see him take another jump in improvement.”
Hamilton’s biggest wish is to get improvement out of his two returning post players: 7'4" Christ Koumadje and 6'10" Mfiondu Kabengele. Kabengele, who has good athleticism and a soft shooting touch, looks poised for a breakout year after averaging 7.2 points off the bench as a freshman. Koumadje isn’t much of a scoring threat, but his staggering length has always made him a huge defensive force. Adding much-needed weight should help him contribute more.
Freshman forward Raiquan Gray will likely earn his way into the rotation and add depth after redshirting last year.
As usual, guard play will be Florida State’s strength. Mann is not only one of the ACC’s most versatile players but also among its most efficient — the senior is shooting a remarkable 57 percent from the floor for his career. “I will do whatever the team needs me to do to win, whether it is score the most points or score the least,” Mann says.
Trent Forrest should flourish after taking over most of the minutes at point guard and playing well in the NCAA Tournament, which led former starter CJ Walker to transfer. Forrest excels at attacking off the dribble and getting to the rim, and he also provides good pressure on defense.
“He’s been like a sponge this offseason,” says Hamilton. “He’s watching a lot of film. I have a hunch he’s going to have an outstanding year.”
Snagging graduate transfer David Nichols should more than make up for the loss of Walker. A point guard who can create his own shot, Nichols averaged 17.9 points per game two seasons ago for Albany.
Sophomore M.J. Walker, possibly the team’s best athlete, is capable of giving the Seminoles another double-digit scoring threat. PJ Savoy, a 3-point specialist, will continue to provide an offensive spark, and redshirt freshman Anthony Polite gives Hamilton yet another guard to add to what promises to be a deep rotation.
Much like last season, the Seminoles are going to be one of the nation’s deepest teams. But the quality of that depth, especially in the backcourt, will determine just how good this team will be. If players such as Walker and Kabengele can take a leap forward, the Seminoles could very well get back to the Elite Eight. Worse case, this team will be back in the NCAA Tournament.
Postseason Prediction: Sweet 16
ACC Prediction: 6th