It has taken coach Leonard Hamilton just two seasons to deliver Florida State to its first postseason trip in six seasons. For his next trick, Hamilton will try to improve upon last season's 19-14 campaign with a revamped backcourt.
Long on talent but short on proven experience, particularly at the offensive end, the Seminoles will have to find their bearings quickly to improve on their 6-10 mark in an expanded Atlantic Coast Conference.
"This team has potential, but it's going to be challenging," Hamilton said. "It's definitely a new phase in the development of our program."
Florida State must find a way to get along without graduated All-ACC guard Tim Pickett. The Noles will also be breaking in a new starting point guard and forward.
FRONTCOURTGraduated post players Michael Joiner and Mike Mathews combined for 47 starts last year, but their combined stats (8.2 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) shouldn't be tough to replace.
Alexander Johnson powered his way to a spot on the ACC's All-Freshman team. The team's top returning scorer (9.5 ppg.), Johnson is expected to make a quantum leap following a rigorous off-season regimen.
Adam Waleskowski was undoubtedly the Seminoles' most improved player last season. A rugged rebounder, Waleskowski has the versatility to knock down the 3-point shot -- a commodity Hamilton likes in his frontcourt players.
Andrew Wilson returns as the starter at small forward, despite another off-season surgery, this time to correct a foot problem. Energy and a defensive presence are Wilson's greatest assets, but the Seminoles are also hopeful that his career-best .394 3-point field goal mark carries over.
Senior small forward Anthony Richardson spent the final half of last season searching for his confidence and meaningful minutes. The former McDonald's All-American must continue to improve his rebounding and defensive work to hold off a host of contenders for extended action.
Hamilton is most excited about a pair of newcomers. Junior Diego Romero spent last season battling the NCAA to regain his eligibility and opted to sit out half the season after he was cleared to play. The 6-foot-10 Argentinean national player brings savvy, passing skills and hunger. Former junior college transfer Antonio Griffin, a 6-6 leaper with a solid mid-range jumper, adds length, athleticism and an edge to the competition that the Noles have missed.
BACKCOURTPickett and Nate Johnson were the only Noles who started all 33 games. There were few meaningful possessions when the ball wasn't in the hands of one or the other.
There's no shortage of candidates to fill their roles. Jet-quick junior point guard Todd Galloway has served a two-season apprenticeship as the Seminoles' floor leader. His knowledge of the system gives him an edge in the early going, and his quickness could provide FSU with the kind of easy scoring opportunities it will need.
Sophomore Von Wafer, the Seminoles' most heralded '03-04 recruit, labored through the predictable freshman ups and downs while trying to make an impact in limited minutes at shooting guard. Wafer is the team's No. 2 returning scorer (7.9 ppg.), but Hamilton was most encouraged by his improved defense.
The future of FSU's backcourt rests with a trio of freshmen. Isaiah Swann spent last season at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy making the transition from shooting to point guard and could give the Noles their first legitimate scoring threat as the floor general since Sam Cassell more than a decade ago.
So, too, could Ralph Mims. The high school Player of the Year in Maine, Mims has the versatility to play either backcourt spot. Jason Rich, a highly touted Orlando prep product, is a proven scorer with a high basketball IQ.
FINAL ANALYSISAfter his team flirted with an NCAA berth, Hamilton said the Seminoles were ahead of schedule in his building plan. But the trick now is to keep moving forward, instead of taking a step back with a roster full of newcomers.
One of the biggest challenges will be teaching a team with only two tested seniors how to win on the road in the ACC. The Noles can tackle the challenge with better roster depth than they've had since the Pat Kennedy days.