Mitch White/FSU athletics
To the chagrin of many, Florida State basketball did not get to finish its 2019-20 season. The Seminoles enjoyed their best regular season in program history, finishing 26-5.
For the first time in program history, FSU claimed the ACC regular season title with a conference mark of 16-4. In their final appearance on a basketball court this season, FSU was recognized as ACC champions in Greensboro on March 12. FSU was set to play Clemson before the tournament was cancelled.
For head coach Leonard Hamilton and staff, the Seminoles will try to reload again next season. FSU will be replacing three of its four leading scorers. Guard Trent Forrest is graduating. Freshman forward Patrick Williams and sophomore guard Devin Vassell have each declared early for the NBA Draft.
Nothing New for FSU
It may seem like FSU has a steep hill to climb, but this will be the third time in four seasons that it loses its top two scorers. Vassell averaged a team-high 12.7 points per game. Forrest added 11.6 points per game to go with team-highs of four assists and 1.9 steals per contest.
This past season, FSU set new program records for ACC and regular-season wins despite losing five seniors and a first-round draft pick in Mfiondu Kabengele. FSU was forced to replace 64 percent of its points, 61 percent of its rebounds, 44 percent of its assists and 80 percent of its blocks. That was from a team that won a school-record 29 games, reached the ACC Championship and the Sweet 16. The Seminoles notched their highest final ranking ever at No. 4 in the AP Poll.
Following the 2015-16 season, guard Malik Beasley became the first “1-and-done” in program history. The following season, FSU would finish 26-9, undefeated at home and second in the ACC.
For the 2017-18 season, FSU was replacing a pair of NBA Draft picks in Jonathan Isaac and Dwayne Bacon. At sixth overall, Isaac was the highest Seminole selected since Dave Cowens in 1970.
Although FSU settled for an eighth-place finish in the ACC, the Seminoles would go on to reach the Elite Eight for the first time in 25 years. During that NCAA Tournament run, the Seminoles knocked off a No. 1 seed for the first time ever in Xavier and the reigning national runner-up in Gonzaga.
What’s Coming Back
Replacing Forrest, Vassell and Williams is a tall task for FSU. Hamilton however, will be returning three players who averaged at least six points per game this past season.
Guard M.J. Walker, who will be a senior next season, was the third-leading scorer at 10.6 points per game. Walker shot just 37 percent from the field, but was an x-factor. When Walker hit double-figures scoring, FSU was 14-1. That included a career-high 23 points in a 78-65 win at No. 7 Louisville on Jan. 4 that thrust FSU into the top 10 for the first time.
RaiQuan Gray is a big forward who can handle the ball. As a redshirt sophomore last season, Gray averaged six points, but made strides as the season went on.
FSU should also return plenty of firepower from deep. Walker, Anthony Polite, Wyatt Wilkes, Rayquan Evans and Malik Osborne all shot better than 35 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
Evans, a point guard and junior college transfer, quietly shined as the backup to Forrest. Largely overshadowed by the accomplished senior, Evans shot nearly 46 percent from the field and better than 41 percent of deep. He did so while maintaining a nearly 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Not to be overlooked is center Balsa Koprivica. As a freshman last season, Koprivica battled a back injury, but has NBA potential. In just over 10 minutes per game, the 7-foot-1 native of Serbia averaged 4.7 points on 70 percent shooting in 27 games.
What’s Coming In
With only four players set to leave, FSU has just two signees for 2020. One of those however, is the highest ranked FSU commitment ever.
The No. 6 overall prospect, according to the 247Sports, forward Scottie Barnes could take the ACC by storm. Barnes is a complete player with the ability to score, handle the ball and defend. There is a decent chance that Barnes joins Beasley, Isaac and Williams as players to last just a season before entering the NBA Draft.
FSU will also get an extremely talented wing in Sardaar Calhoun, a 6-6 junior college transfer. Don’t be surprised if FSU hits the transfer market as well. Hamilton has found success in doing so recently with additions of Osborne, Dominik Olejniczak and David Nichols,.
More than a decade ago, FSU struck gold with the addition of Auburn guard Toney Douglas. Needs include a backup center and another point guard.
Fans in Tallahassee will always wonder what could’ve been for the 2019-20 Seminoles, but there is no reason to believe this run is over. At 71, Hamilton seems to be getting better with age like a fine wine.
Although there was no NCAA Tournament, FSU was given the ACC’s automatic bid. That means the Seminoles tied a program record by making the tournament in four straight seasons. Over those four seasons, FSU has averaged 26 wins per campaign. Prior to this stretch, FSU had won more than 25 games just once in its entire history.
As a program, Florida State is in a place in terms of national stature that it may have never been before. Over the last few seasons, the Seminoles have turned potential rebuilds into reloads. There’s no reason to believe they’ll be going away anytime soon.