Since joining the ACC in 1992, Florida State has dominated the league in football. Only Clemson has come close to keeping up with Florida State.
Basketball has been a different story. Pat Kennedy had two good seasons when FSU first joined the league, including beating Dean Smith in the Dean Dome his first time out (this sparked one of the great ACC lines ever with Sam Cassell calling the folks in the Dean Smith Center a “cheese and wine crowd,” a tag which stuck). He made the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight.
After that though his luck turned sour. He had three losing season and then one last winning season before leaving.
Steve Robinson washed out in five years with a 64-86 record. He now sits next to UNC’s Roy Williams who was also his boss at Kansas.
Leonard Hamilton came to FSU with a reputation as a builder, has done reasonably well.
The highlight was FSU’s 2011-12 ACC Tournament championship. In 2010-11, the Seminoles made the Sweet Sixteen.
In his fifteen seasons Florida State has made the NIT seven times and the NCAA tournament four times. Hamilton has won nearly 60% of his games.
It wouldn’t wash at Wake Forest, much less Duke or UNC, but it’s the best Florida State has seen since Hugh Durham.
Durham took FSU to the 1972 Final Four where he joined Adolph Rupp, John Wooden and Dean Smith.
He finished his run in Tallahassee 230-95.
So Hamilton has done fairly well by Seminole standards.
And this year?
Some people see Florida State as a dark horse for the Final Four. It won’t happen - we’ll tell you why later - but the team should be improved and has a solid tournament shot.
Last year FSU finished 20-14. Devon Bookert, Boris Bojanovsky, Michael Saxton and Montay Brandon are all gone. So is Malik Beasley, who left for the NBA after a promising freshman year.
Michael Ojo returns after sitting out last season with injury. He may be the most physically imposing man to ever play in the ACC: Ojo is 7-1, weights 304 and has single digit body fat.
When he last played at Cameron, students were stunned at the sheer size of Ojo, including his very large head.
Unfortunately he’s never become much of a basketball player, not that it matters.
Hamilton collects really big men and uses them to gum up the lanes defensively.
This year he has Ojo and Christ Koumadje, who is a 7-4 redshirt sophomore. He’s a bit short on big guys - usually he has a third center he can stick in.
No matter: those guys are plenty big and can affect shots, allowing FSU’s defense to extend.
Like Ojo, Phil Cofer lost most of last season to injury. His return will help; he showed as a freshman that he was a legitimate ACC talent.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, the 6-4 guard, is also back. He’s. junior now and also a high-level talent. You may recall that in his freshman year he did something freakish, scoring 30 points in the last 4:38 against Miami.
Think of all the ACC players who couldn’t do that: Michael Jordan. JJ Redick. Len Bias. Tim Duncan. David Thompson.
Incidentally, he’s yet another Canadian who will help build a great Olympic program.
Dwayne Bacon is back too. Both guys considered leaving for the NBA but ultimately chose to continue with FSU.
He’s a slasher and a guy who can really get to the basket.
Terrance Mann, 6-6, got 17 mpg as a freshman and he can build on that.
Senior Jarquez Smith, 6-9, also returns and will provide experience, depth and defense.
Hamilton brings in several newcomers, including Top Ten 6-9 Jonathon Isaac out of Naples. He’s about as good a recruit as anyone Florida State has ever had.
FSU has two JUCOS, 6-6 Braian Angola-Rodas out of Northern Idaho and 6-4 PJ Savoy out of Sheridan College.
The rest are freshmen.
CJ Walker is a 6-1 point guard out of Indianapolis. Trent Forrest, 6-5, is a physically mature wing out of Chipley, Florida.
Mfioundo Kabengele, 6-9, comes from Ontario. He’s said to be a quick jumper, a good rebounder and a shot blocker.
He may come by that honestly: his uncle is NBA great Dikembe Mutombo.
This is a deep and talented team with lots of parts. Hamilton has players to clog the lanes, to drive, to shoot and most of all to defend.
Under Hamilton, Florida State, at its best, is a defensive juggernaut. With long, pressing athletes applying heavy pressure, the big stiffs in the middle only have to be a last line of defense.
This team has the potential to be one of Hamilton’s best and indeed one of FSUs best. So why do we say it won’t make the Final Four?
Well first common sense.
Only a few teams are good enough to be assure of a Final Four. Don’t bet that a team will make it; bet that they won’t. If you eliminate the teams that don’t have a realistic shot, rather than trying to spot the one team that might break through, your pool will thank you.
Historically, Florida State has had little tournament luck under Hamilton.
Secondly, as much as we admire FSU’s defense - and at its best it’s as good as any in the country - Hamilton is not now and never has been a skilled offensive coach and honestly, we’re not sure Florida State has had a steady offense since Charlie Ward left in the early ‘90s.
Hamilton’s Florida State has always struggled with turnovers. Rathan-Mayes was a pretty good point guard last year but it’s not his natural position.
And even if FSU does manage to take care of the ball, even if the team has great luck in the NCAA tournament, you still have to make good decisions on offense because guess what: the deeper you go, the better the other defenses get.
Kentucky’s nearly undefeated team proved this a couple of years ago when it ran into Notre Dame and then Wisconsin. The Wildcats, as great as they were, couldn’t deal with a much tougher team and by tougher we mean they played together on both ends, executed very well and minimized mistakes.
You can talk about Florida State’s talent, but having talent guarantees you little. Unless Florida State can show a heretofore unseen ability to execute consistently in tight games, a deep March run is highly unlikely.
This could be a Sweet Sixteen team but not much more than that.