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November 8, 2013

Seminole hoops hopes to get back to basics in 2013-2014

Hoops Game Day - Jacksonville at FSU (Fri. 8 p.m. / ESPN3)

Season outlook:

Starters returning: 3

2012-2013 record: 18-16, 9-9 ACC.

Key returners (2012-2013 stats): F Okaro White (12.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg); G Devon Bookert (6.5 ppg, 2.4 apg); G Ian Miller (5.3 ppg, 1.9 apg).

Key losses (2012-2013 stats): G Michael Snaer (14.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 apg), F Terrance Shannon (7.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg).

Season outlook

Things don't look grand for Florida State. Not only did the Seminoles lose their top scorer and late-game hero from last season in Michael Snaer, but low-post enforcer Terrance Shannon also elected to transfer after the season (as did reserve guard Terry Whisnant). To make matters worse, the gem of FSU's recruiting class, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, will have to sit out the season due to eligibility concerns. That's not an auspicious way to begin the season.

But FSU does have plenty of good pieces to work with. Okaro White has improved every year and is poised to leap into All-ACC conversations. With both Devon Bookert and Ian Miller healthy this season, FSU's backcourt and point guard situation seems to be more settled; and that allows the rest of the lineup to fall in place more easily. But there are still a lot of young players on the roster who are about to go to war in an ACC that got even more difficult with the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.

Getting defensive

FSU's successes in 2010-2012 were built on a stingy and intimidating defense that suffocated opponents. That type of defense was nowhere to be found in 2012-2013, and Hamilton said the newer Seminoles often didn't understand the defensive concepts of the system. The results showed: FSU finished ninth in the ACC in scoring defense giving up 68.6 points per game and finished dead last in the ACC in scoring margin.

That's a problem Leonard Hamilton said he hopes to rectify in 2013-2014. With another year under their belt, those newcomers appear to be at least grasping the defensive principles now - even if it's not quite to the level of FSU's previous teams.

"We're definitely better defensively than we were last year," White said. "But we're still not as good as we were my first two years or some of the years before that."

After the Seminoles' final exhibition of the 2013 preseason, Hamilton said the mistakes he was seeing defensively were minor, correctable things rather than wholesale misinterpretation of the scheme.

"I think we understand more what we should be doing defensively," Hamilton said. "I'm not real sure we're consistent with our execution. Those are things that at least now when we correct them they know exactly what the challenge is and what the mistake is and why they made it. Whereas last year I'm not sure that was the case."

Youth movement

Bookert's health limited him as a freshman, but the point guard still flashed enough potential to be named to the Cousy Award preseason watch list. His progression will be worth watching this season, as will a number of other young players.

A year removed from an abhortive attempt to try to run the point, Montay Brandon should be able to get back to his slashing and scoring ways. He's flashed an improved jump shot in the preseason and if he can create opportunities, FSU's offense suddenly looks a lot more dangerous. Freshman forward Jarquez Smith has also shown some impressive low-block scoring capabilities.

Even without Rathan-Mayes in the lineup, FSU will be asking a lot of second-year players like Brandon, Bookert and Aaron Thomas. Hamilton said he wants to run the floor and attack, and those players will be central cogs in a team that could be very good on the break between Bookert's speed and vision and the speed and finishing ability of White and Brandon.

FSU also has a trio of second-year big men in Michael Ojo, Kiel Turpin and Boris Bojanovsky. All top seven feet tall and fit the bill for the shot-blocking force Hamilton likes to have inside. But all three have been limited; Turpin with injury, Ojo with fitness concerns, and Bojanovsky with strength and finishing issues. FSU hopes one or more of those seven-footers develops into a reliable option, or at least a complete defensive player.

"We have the talent," Hamilton said. "But we've got to mature at an accelerated rate to be successful."



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