TALLAHASSEE -- The No. 25 Florida State men’s basketball team enters the 2012-13 basketball season in uncharted territory — as the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion.
During the past decade, coach Leonard Hamilton quietly has raised the profile of Florida State in the massive shadow cast by the school’s main staple, the football program.
Without much fanfare, Hamilton’s teams have posted seven consecutive winning records and made four NCAA Tournament appearances in a row, and last season the Seminoles finally cracked the ACC’s glass ceiling, going 4-1 against perennial stalwarts UNC and Duke on their way to the school’s first ACC basketball championship.
That team, which was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the third round by Cincinnati, has largely moved on.
Six seniors are gone, including the team’s most dynamic big man, Bernard James, who now plays for the Dallas Mavericks. In their place is a talented, yet inexperienced group of freshmen is trying to build on the success of that class.
“We have an unusual situation where I have six or seven guys where I’m trying to just let them learn our system a little better,” Hamilton said. “The good thing is we have a corps of guys that if we just wanted to tighten it down and play fewer guys we could probably be a whole lot more efficient on the floor and just let the other guys come in and earn their playing time.
“But I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. We’ve got to get these guys on the floor, and we’ll have to see how liberal we’re going to be able to be subbing guys and giving them minutes.”
Fortunately for Hamilton, he returns a group that includes senior guard Michael Snaer, a consensus preseason All-American guard, as well as scorers such as juniors Okaro White and Ian Miller.
“I’m very comfortable that Michael [Snaer] and Okaro [White] are where they need to be,” Hamilton said. “Ian [Miller] needs to improve his defense, Terrance [Shannon] hasn’t played in a year, and I thought that even though he played well the other night [in the exhibition], I think he realizes it’s a conditioning thing.”
Although FSU’s core group of veterans is extremely gifted, the season will hinge on how quickly the newcomers can produce.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have nearly as much time now to experiment,” said Hamilton, whose team will play its final exhibition against St. Leo on Tuesday.
Florida State has boasted one of the nation’s top-five defenses in each of the past three seasons. Although it will likely take some time for the newcomers to learn FSU’s complicated defensive system, this year the Seminoles offense should help carry the team.
“Just knowing we have all these weapons, I know we can win games,” Snaer said. “I’m just confident enough our offense can actually win us games now. Before it was just straight defense without the offense being asked to win us games. Now we can play up there in the 80s with people, and even though we’re not going to want to — we want to try to keep teams in the 60s while we’re in the 80s — but that’s just going to make us that much better.”
But FSU knows it cannot win the ACC with offense alone. For the Noles to defend their ACC title, they will need to get their defense up to speed before conference play starts.