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ACC Preview #12 - Florida State

After last year’s injury nightmare, Florida State should be ready to roll again.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: AUG 08 Can-Am Shootout - Florida State at Carleton
 OTTAWA, ON - AUGUST 08: Caleb Mills (4) of Florida State University in the Florida State University at Carleton University game in the Can-Am Shootout pre-season basketball tournament on August 08 2022, at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
Photo by Sean Burges/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What to make of Florida State?

Last season the ‘Noles could have auditioned for the old TV show M*A*S*H* because Florida State had an insane level of injuries. Leonard Hamilton had to use 13 different lineups and as we recall, at times walk-ons got minutes they would never have seen in a normal year.

FSU still won 17 games and finished .500 in the conference, so Hamilton did very well under the circumstances.

This year?

Well there’s no way the injuries can be that bad again, and it’s going to be a very different team.

Hamilton loses eight players, most of whom were in the rotation: Rayquan Evans, Anthony Polite, Malik Osborn, Tano Ngom, John Butler and Wyatt Wilkes are all either graduated, out of eligibility, or, in the case of Butler, left for pro ball.

Quincy Ballard and Alaaeddine Boutayeb hit the portal. Ballard is at Wichita State and Boutayeb is at Arkansas State. Ballard is easily replaceable, and if you’ve never heard of Boutayeb, it’s because he joined FSU for the second semester and never played a minute.

Actually make that nine players. Harrison Prieto, mostly because of injuries, got in 12 games last season.

Unlike Notre Dame, which is loaded with them, Florida State has no grad students, much less seniors.

They do have four juniors and three sophomores of consequence though. Caleb Mills, a 6-5 guard who transferred from Houston, returns. He’s a dangerous, streaky shooter. Not to jinx anyone, but he has a history of injuries dating back to when he played for Houston. He’s from Arden, NC and if that sounds familiar it’s because the Plumlee Brothers went to Christ School, which is in Arden.

Matthew Cleveland, a 6-2 junior, pulled 26.2 mpg last season, which for Hamilton is a ton of minutes. He defends well which is good, because he’s a poor shooter: just 55 percent from the line and 17 percent for threes. That’s pretty bad. He’s still a force though and as you’ll see, plenty of other guys can shoot, so it may not matter that he can’t.

You may remember that Cam’ron Fletcher left Kentucky after being obviously, publicly unhappy. He played a lot more for FSU - he only got into nine games for John Calipari and played for about 60 minutes that entire season - so there’s that. He’s athletic enough to fit into Hamilton’s scheme and we’ll see how far he can go. Clearly his opinion of his own talent was inflated but perhaps he’s more realistic now. And hopefully happier as well.

We really liked Jaylen Warley last year. He was still learning but you can see the potential. A 6-6 guard, Warley got 19.3 mpg and averaged more assists than Mills, who got considerably more time. He’s very clever and may start at point.

As you probably remember, Leonard collects seven footers like other men collect baseball cards or high-end cars. He loves ‘em. The biggest big man for FSU this year is Naheem McCleod. His season ended with a February injury, so it’s hard to know a whole lot about him. He is 7-4 though and in HammyLand, that’s usually enough to get you time.

Cleveland Yates only played in three games and Michael Brown sat out, so who the heck knows?

Tibor Palinkas went to Clayton State and Tallahassee Community College before his move to FSU. He’s Hungarian and said to be a good shooter, which is what was said of Hungarians when they repelled the Mongols back in the day. Good genes! Well, Hamilton hopes so anyway.

Two D-1 transfers for FSU: Darin Greene, a 6-5 junior who played for Johnny Dawkins at Central Florida, and Jaylan Gainey, a 6-10 senior from Brown.

Greene shot well in the ‘Noles summer tour of Canada. If he can maintain that, he’ll help.

A native of Greensboro, Gainey played well on the tour also, and we liked him a lot after reading his page on the FSU site. Seems like an engaging character.

Not surprisingly, given the roster losses from last year, Hamilton brings in a bunch of freshmen: Jeremiah Bembry, 6-6, Cameron Corden 6-10/225, De’Ante Green 6-10/210, Tom House, 6-7, Chandler Jackson 6-5 and Baba Miller, 6-11/204.

Hamilton traditionally collects big guys who clog up the lane and maybe rebound if he’s lucky. Miller is not likely to be one of those guys.

He grew up in Spain and was in the Real Madrid equivalent of a farm team from the time he was 12 until now. He’s said to be a very fine shooter and a guy who could be a major surprise. He chose to play NCAA basketball because he’ll get more help developing. We’ll be excited to see him. Florida State beat out Gonzaga for Miller, which is saying something.

Cameron Corden is a big kid from Texas who had major offers from Kansas, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Houston and a bunch of others. He also has three point range and he’s a good defender. He’s worth keeping an eye on. It’s interesting that after so many years of just getting the biggest guys he could, no matter if they could play or not, Hamilton has now recruited three bigs in two years who can hit a three. But wait - there’s more!

De’Ante Green is out of Asheville.Like Miller and Corden, he is a big who can step out and shoot. Note to State fans: a lot of good home-state talent is in Tally. Just sayin’.

Bembry is out of Brooklyn and his high school coach said he can “jump out of the gym.” He’s another point guard candidate. He’s a good but probably not great shooter yet. He does need to put on some muscle but time will cure that.

Tom House, a 6-7 kid out of Ohio, is said to be a really good shooter as well but with questionable defense in high school. He’ll have to pick up on that end but it sounds like he can help if he does. Get ready for lots of puns about his name, and not just here.

Chandler Jackson is a 6-5 guard out of Memphis. He’s said to have superb lateral quickness and is a penetrator who can also shoot. On his Florida State bio, he says his mother and grandmother named him Chandler after Chandler Bing on the TV show Friends.

LIke almost everyone in the class, he mentions that Hamilton “gets [people] to the league.”

Unlike everyone else, he’s under 6-6. Not surprisingly, FSU, which puts a major premium on height, is once again the tallest team in the country.

Interestingly though, Hamilton has changed up his formula, though not on defense. The basic plan of having long, versatile defenders switch constantly with several big guys to make life tough in the lane is still there.

It’s on offense where he’s making impressive adjustments. He has two tall point guards in Warley and Bembry. We saw enough of Warley last year to know he’s going to be a pain in the butt and Bembry sounds promising too. Think of it this way: how many point guards can you remember at Duke, UNC or Virginia? Now ask yourself how many you can remember from Florida State? We’ve always thought that was a major weakness there, that perhaps Hamilton’s constant substitutions worked against him in that regard. It may not now.

We never thought Hamilton would mix things up this much at the age of 74. Making major changes in the twilight of his career is pretty remarkable.

At FSU, his formula has worked - to an extent. He can compete with Duke, UNC and Virginia, but rarely pull ahead of them. He’s only gotten to the Elite Eight once and only made the Sweet Sixteen three times and he’s been in Tallahassee nearly 20 years. And this year’s team, with six sophomores and seven freshmen is quite young. Florida State doesn’t really identify walk-ons as such, simply calling them members of the Green Team or the J.U.I.C.E. team (Just Us In Combat Everyday) , but the roster lists 19 players so he has a bunch.

What he doesn’t have is tons of experience. The roster lists five juniors, but Fletcher, so far, is a relatively average player. Mills is a load but with an injury history that’s a concern. Beyond that, Yates redshirted last season and had minimal impact prior to that. He might be a brilliant practice player, but he hasn’t done much on the court. Green and Palinka might be really good, but they are in their first year in Hamilton’s system.

Those are the caveats. That said, Hamilton has a deep and talented roster. His biggest issue is inexperience. However, never forget that he took a team that was absolutely devastated by injuries last season to a 17-14 record and 10-10 in the ACC. That demonstrated a certain level of coaching brilliance because at times he was forced to use deep reserves and walk-ons. All things considered, you’d have to say the season was a success and one of his best coaching performances ever.

This year, assuming his team is even minimally healthier, his roster is deep and versatile on both ends of the court. True, they’re very young. But if he can succeed with an improvised, rag-tag group like he had last year, he should do well with this highly talented roster.