After a third straight Sweet 16 appearance, Leonard Hamilton's Florida State program has reached a place where that type of success is now expected — including this season, even after the Seminoles lost their top three scorers, and four of their top five, to professional basketball. Add in two players who transferred out of the program, and the Seminoles will be replacing six of their top 10 contributors from last season.
Restoring that firepower might not be quite as daunting as it sounds, however. FSU not only is bringing in one of the most talented freshman classes in Hamilton's tenure, but the Seminoles also landed two high-profile transfers who should contribute immediately.
After posting a 27–8 conference record the last two season, winning the ACC regular-season title two years ago and narrowly missing out on repeating that feat in 2021, the Seminoles should be in the hunt yet again.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Leonard Hamilton
2020-21 RECORD (ACC): 18-7 (11-4)
2020-21 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Michigan 76-58 in the Sweet 16
G/F Scottie Barnes (10.3 ppg, 4.1 apg)
G Sardaar Calhoun (5.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg)
F RaiQuan Gray (11.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
C Balsa Koprivica (9.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
G M.J. Walker (12.2 ppg, 2.5 apg)
Forward Malik Osborne likely will be the leader of this group. At 6'9" and 225 pounds, he has the size to play center when the Seminoles go small, and he's a good enough shooter (36.5 percent from 3-point range last season) that he creates matchup problems for opposing big men. Osborne also is an exceptional defender and emotional sparkplug.
It wouldn't be a Hamilton team if there weren't at least a couple of 7-footers on the roster, and this year is no exception. Reserve centers Tanor Ngom (2.4 ppg, 1.7 rpg) and Quincy Ballard (1.2 ppg, 0.7 rpg) did not exactly flourish in their first season at FSU, but Hamilton and associate head coach Stan Jones have garnered well-earned reputations for transforming raw, athletic big men into quality ACC performers.
Transfer Naheem McLeod also checks in at 7'3" and averaged 5.8 points and 4.0 rebounds last season in junior college.
Kentucky transfer Cam'Ron Fletcher is a wild card; the 6'7" small forward was a top-100 prospect coming out of high school but played sparingly as a freshman before entering the transfer portal.
Houston transfer Caleb Mills will be asked to pick up much of the scoring load and perhaps even handle point guard duties. After averaging 13.2 points as a redshirt freshman in 2019-20, Mills was a popular preseason pick to be AAC Player of the Year, but he left the Cougars after battling an ankle injury and playing in only four games, enrolling at FSU in January. The 6'3" North Carolina native can attack the basket and also do damage from 3-point range.
The Seminoles return three other experienced perimeter players, including senior point guard RayQuan Evans (5.1 ppg, 18 starts), 6'6" wing Anthony Polite (10.1 ppg, 16 starts), and 6'8" shooting guard Wyatt Wilkes (3.9 ppg, nine starts). Evans is the only strong ball-handler in that group, but the other two are dangerous shooters from the perimeter.
And then there are three highly touted freshmen whom Hamilton is adding to the mix this season.
Five-star wing Matthew Cleveland was the nation's No. 22 prospect overall according to 247Sports.com, and he will be joined by four-star freshmen Jalen Warley and John Butler. Cleveland and Warley are big guards at 6'6", but the 7'1" Butler is on a different level. FSU's coaches say his game is similar to that of former Seminole star and NBA lottery pick Jonathan Isaac.
With so many new faces expected to fill significant roles, this could be a team that takes some time to jell. Osborne, Polite, Evans and Wilkes will provide veteran leadership at both ends of the floor early in the season, but Mills and the other talented newcomers will need to step up if the Seminoles are going to make another strong run in the ACC and the postseason.
Hamilton's teams are always going to be solid on defense, but the Seminoles would benefit greatly from the emergence of either Ngom, Ballard or McLeod as a shot-blocker. That was one element that Florida State lacked for most of last season.
Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Round of 32
ACC Prediction: 3