By JOE REEDY
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — With its top six scorers back and a highly regarded recruiting class coming in, there are high expectations for Florida State’s men’s basketball team.
More than 7,000 fans showed up for an open practice on Oct. 16, which was more than the attendance for some games last season.
The excitement has extended beyond campus as well as many are predicting the Seminoles to contend for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012. After having a string of nine straight postseason tournament appearances end last year, coach Leonard Hamilton’s main worry is finding a way to get all the pieces to mesh.
"You can see the improvement of some of the returning guys along with the talent of the new players. The challenge is how to mesh that and sustain it for long periods of time," said Hamilton, who is entering his 14th season at Florida State. "We’re seeing a system starting to work but we still have to put it all together."
Before practices officially opened, senior Devon Bookert said that practices in during open gyms were the most competitive they have been in his four years on campus.
What pleases Hamilton the most is that he has depth which has been lacking the past couple years. Last season Florida State had three players average 35 minutes per game, which took a toll down the stretch as it dropped four of its final six games to finish 17-16 and 8-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The roster depth should also allow Hamilton to have more versatility with his roster. The Seminoles went with three guards most of last season but Hamilton has tinkered with four guards on the floor early in practice. Hamilton also has some added size on the bench with three players over seven feet.
If Florida State is going to have any chances of competing against the upper half of the ACC, they must do better against the top teams. Last season they were 0-7 against conference teams that made the NCAA Tournament.
Here are other things to know about Florida State this season:
THE X FACTOR: Sophomore Xavier Rathan-Mayes led the Seminoles in scoring last season (14.9 points per game) and had three games where he scored 30 or more points. Rathan-Mayes’ main point of development during the preseason has been improving as a point guard and doing a better job of getting everyone involved on the floor.
ATHLETIC IN THE PAINT: Montay Brandon led the team in rebounding last season (5.5) with Phil Cofer adding 4.5 boards per game. Jarquez Smith could also see increased rebounds this season as he is expected to see more time at forward.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH: Dwayne Bacon appeared in the McDonald’s High School All-American game and is in the mix to start at shooting guard. Malik Beasley, who was the 1A Player of the Year in Georgia, could be on the floor when the Seminoles go with four guards. Center Chris Koumadje at 7-foot-4 is the tallest player in school history.
PERIMETER STRENGTH: Bookert made 39.3 percent of his 3-pointers last season and has continued to look good from long distance during the preseason. Beasley has also shown a nice range of shots and was a finalist in the 3-poiint contest during the open practice.
SCHEDULE: After opening ACC play at Clemson on Jan. 2, Florida State faces a rough stretch by facing five likely NCAA teams. The Seminoles host North Carolina on Jan. 4 followed by road games against Miami (Jan. 9) and North Carolina State (Jan. 13), a home game against Virginia (Jan. 17) and on the road against Louisville (Jan. 20).
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