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Analysis: Looking ahead to FSU hoops in 2021-22

We got a basketball season. Florida State’s games were often fun to watch (especially in Tallahassee). The games were often frustrating to watch (especially on the road and on neutral courts. 

FSU played 25 games, finishing 18-7. The Seminoles were a win away from an ACC regular season title and a victory away from an ACC Tournament title. A win at Notre Dame in early March or over Georgia Tech in Greensboro, N.C., would have left fans and media feeling better about what was a challenging season and where the Seminoles showed some gritty performances. 

We’ll have some mixed feelings on this team. Overachieved at times, underachieved at times. Undone by turnovers in the end. FSU was really good on the defensive end in the NCAA Tournament first- and second-round games but Michigan was very efficient and shot 18 of 26 (69.2 percent) in the second half. The Seminoles flat out ran into a better team in the Wolverines and FSU’s issues with turnovers and foul trouble again popped up.

A Sweet 16 run is to be appreciated and it’s worth reminding FSU has done it three straight years (along with only Gonzaga and Michigan). It’s fair to want more and expect more but in a season where the Seminoles were replacing Patrick Williams, Devin Vasell and Trent Forrest, the accomplishments should be savored.

Looking forward, the next few weeks will be quite busy for FSU. There will be exit interviews with every player. Many of them will make decisions on whether to stay or turn pro. Leonard Hamilton will likely need surgery on his Achilles injury.

Let’s take a quick look at the players and recruits and how the roster could shape up for the 2021-22 season.

Likely departing

Seniors have the choice to stay or leave. If they stay in school, their scholarship would not count toward the NCAA-mandated limit.

Scottie Barnes: The decision to be a one-year college player was likely made before Barnes ever set foot on campus. He could of course benefit from a second season in Tallahassee but it’s tough to bypass the NBA when he’s a lock as a first-round pick (and potentially a lottery selection). Barnes averaged 10.4 points and 4.1 rebounds, was the ACC’s Sixth Man of the year and had 95 assists to 56 turnovers (a 1.7:1 assist-turnover ratio).

M.J. Walker: A 1,000-point scorer, Walker was limited due to tendinitis and ankle injuries in the last few months. He played through the injuries, which is admirable, but his best basketball was not really on display consistently in January, February and March. Still, he led FSU in scoring (12.3 points) and 3-pointers made (44).

RayQuan Evans: More was expected from Evans in his senior season. He averaged 5.2 points and 2.0 rebounds but was cold for much of March from the floor and had 32 assists to 27 turnovers.

Green Team / Green Vipers Justin Lindner, Harrison Prieto, Travis Light and Will Miles: They are all wrapping up grad school and moving on. Lindner intends to transition to coaching. They were all valuable pieces of developing redshirt players, giving the team a good preparation for ACC opponents and more. They often resembled coaches on the sideline and their impact will be felt moving forward, although FSU has a few more walk-ons (guards Isaac Spainhour, Cleveland Yates and Max Thorpe) who will step into expanded roles.

Decisions to be made

RaiQuan Gray: The redshirt junior forward was consistently quite good from mid-January through the end of the regular season, scoring in double figures in 12 straight games. He was second on the team in scoring (12 points) and led the Seminoles in rebounding (6.5). Gray is a tough one-on-one matchup at 6-8, is graduating in April and could opt to turn pro. He could also choose to stay and improve his NBA prospects. Gray doesn’t tweet often, but on Monday morning he posted “We’ll be back!” and then a four-photo post of himself with teammates and a heart emoji. Take those as signs he is at the very least thinking about returning if not planning to do so.

Balsa Koprivica: The 7-foot-1 center has a unique skill set, the ability to dribble and drive but also a variety of shots in the post and a jumper that he has shown off a few times with success. Koprivica averaged 9.2 points and 5.7 rebounds as a sophomore and could use more development at FSU before he goes to the NBA.

Coming back

Anthony Polite: While a shoulder injury kept him out of five games, the redshirt junior was FSU’s best on-the-ball defender and 3-point shooter (44 percent). He averaged 10.2 points with 4.5 rebounds. Polite is a native of Switzerland who will eventually do well playing pro ball, possibly in Europe, but he likely returns for next season.

Malik Osborne: The Rice transfer has done a little of everything for FSU, from averaging 5.7 points to pulling down 4.5 rebounds to making some clutch 3-pointers. His energy and closeness with players shows his leadership and will be leaned on next season.

Sardaar Calhoun: The junior-college transfer averaged 5.5 points and made 23 of 57 (40.4 percent) of his 3-point shots. He is set to take on an expanded role next season.

Wyatt Wilkes: The redshirt junior is graduating but is expected to return. Wilkes shot 24 of 63 (38.1 percent) from 3-point range but must develop the rest of his game.

Nathanael Jack: The junior-college guard is graduating but has told the coaching staff he intends to return. Jack made 17 3-pointers but just six from inside the arc. If he improves his defense and works to create more offense on his own, Jack will be a valuable bench player.

Tanor Ngom: The transfer center has told the coaching staff he intends to return. He averaged 2.5 points and 1.7 rebounds.

Quincy Ballard: The freshman center only played 61 minutes but was 10 of 14 from the floor with 11 rebounds. It wasn’t truly a redshirt season but his on-court experience will help moving forward.

Incoming signees

FSU has four signees in 6-foot-4 point guard Jalen Warley, 6-6 wing Matthew Cleveland as well as 7-1 center John Butler and 7-3 center Naheem McLeod. The Seminoles will also welcome Houston transfer Caleb Mills.

At Houston, Mills averaged 12.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.0 assists. He played in four games in 2020-21 before deciding to transfer. Mills has shot 40.5 percent from the floor and 36.2 percent from 3-point range. He is likely more of a shooting guard but it’s likely he can handle the ball enough to step in as a backup point guard.

Cleveland is athletic, energetic and an improving 3-point shooter. Warley is a natural point guard. Butler will need to gain weight (he’s listed at 180 and 190 pounds on various recruiting sites). Naheem McLeod is a prospect FSU signed previously but ended up going the junior college route. He is averaging 6 points per game and shooting 73.4 percent from the floor at Chipola College (in nearby Marianna).

Final thoughts

FSU would be a very inexperienced team if Barnes, Walker, Gray and Koprivica all turned pro. This would be the worst-case scenario and candidly is unlikely. Landing Milles from Houston is significant for the long term regardless of decisions made by the quartet above.

If the Seminoles return Gray and Koprivica, which is plausible, they could anchor a roster that should again be quite competitive in the ACC. It’s possible FSU could have five 7-footers on the roster: Koprivica, Ngom, Ballard, Butler and McLeod. That would be quite unusual for FSU, although Butler could redshirt to add weight and strength and Ngom wouldn’t count toward the scholarship limit.

We’ll revisit this story in the coming weeks as players make announcements.