ACC Hoops Preview: Florida State

After missing the NCAA tournament again last season, Leonard Hamilton may be starting to feel a little heat under his seat.

That makes nine seasons in a row, five under Hamilton, without an invite to the dance and that is something they hope to rectify this season. It all will depend on the health of Toney Douglas, the engine that makes the noles go. When he missed five games last season with a broken hand, Florida State lost four of the five and it sealed their tourney hopes. Douglas is a 6' sparkplug who drives and dishes and sets the team offense.

He will have help from returning guards Isaiah Swann, a 6'2" shooter who is the most explosive offensive threat for the Seminoles, Jason Rich, a 6'3" rebounding guard who slashes his way to the hoop, and Ralph Mims, the 6'3" backup point guard who needs to improve his offense. This quartet will give the Noles the most experienced back court in the ACC and will be the one advantage they will have against conference foes.

The front court is a work in progress to say the least and will struggle early against physical teams. There is no way any team could replace an Al Thornton who did everything for FSU except tie the teams tennis shoes, but that is the task Hamilton will face. Returning players up front include Uche Echefu, a young yet talented 6'8" forward who is more suited to play outside but will be forced to play inside, Ryan Reid, a 6'9" rugged rebounder who needs to step it up in order to keep his minutes with the new freshmen coming in, and Cassan Breeden, a 6'8" jumping jack who is raw but has plenty of talent.

The true hope for the Seminole inside game will have to come from the two freshmen big men being brought in by Hamilton. Solomon Alabi is a huge 7'1" center who specializes in blocking shots and rebounding. He is most definitely a developing offensive player but should help considerably on inside defense if he can avoid foul trouble. Also recruited to bang inside is 6'10" Julian Vaughn, whose stock slipped dramatically from his previous top 20 ranking due to an injury troubled senior year of high school. Vaughn has some low post skills and, while not overly athletic, positions well for rebounds. Jordan Demercy is also a front court addition and is a 6'7" athletic forward who may need some time to develop.

The only addition for the backcourt is unheralded 6'5" guard Chris Blake who will have time to develop because of the experienced talent FSU is returning in the backcourt. The rise or fall of this Seminole team will rest with the consistency and experience of the back court and the hope of rapid development of the freshmen in the front court.

Pros: Very capable, and at times explosive, experienced back court. This will be a very athletic team and will provide some interesting match ups for conference foes. Their ability to create will give them an opportunity to win some games against more physical teams with a power inside game.

Cons: Very inexperienced front court with little penchant for mixing it up inside and getting rebounds. Losing Thornton will be a tough obstacle to overcome because he was their inside game last year. While the freshmen bigs look promising, they are still freshmen and will take some time to acclimate themselves to the always tough ACC. The rebounding stats will have to get better and that is where Alabi and Vaughn will be especially critical.

Prognosis: This is a tough team to figure out but I feel an invite to the NCAA may still elude them this year. Their potential to finish in the top seven is there but it is hard for me to see them finishing above the 8-10 spots without Al Thornton.

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