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FSU heads into what could be busy offseason with significant questions

Injuries and inconsistency. One quickly led to the other and an early end to the season for the Florida State men’s basketball team.

The road to March was indeed madness: From Feb. 9 through March 9, the Seminoles lost to two of the ACC’s worst teams (Pitt at home, BC on short rest on the road), stunned two of the league’s top six teams (at Virginia and home vs. Notre Dame), battled Duke on the road for a half and were non-competitive in an ACC Tournament loss to Syracuse. 

FSU’s season resume was all over the map, featuring upsets like the one over Duke and a sweep of Miami but also losses to the likes of those in the league’s basement in BC, Georgia Tech and Pitt (KenPom ranked those teams at 132, 167 and 204).

The Seminoles went 17-14 and 10-10 in the ACC, nowhere near the expectations going into the season but somewhat respectable considering the volume of injuries. Malik Osborne wasn’t himself in January before he missed the final 14 games due to ankle surgery. Anthony Polite lost a month due to wrist surgery. Naheem McLeod (finger/hand) missed 13 games, and Cam’Ron Fletcher was lost late in the year to thumb surgery.

FSU coach Leonard Hamilton often said he had never experienced anything like it in his decades of coaching. Rotations were juggled by necessity, with coaches often leaning on Harrison Prieto’s leadership and knowledge of the coaches’ game plans on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

It’s still early in the offseason and there are probably more questions than answers. We’ll start with what we know and work our way from there.

Senior decisions to watch

FSU honored seven seniors before the final home game. Guards RayQuan Evans and Justin Lindner as well as forward Harrison Prieto and center Tanor Ngom have seen their eligibility expire. Polite, Osborne and Wyatt Wilkes have the option to return for the 2022-23 season. Note that all of the seniors have earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

Osborne would bring needed leadership and could improve his value as a pro prospect if he returns. Polite was FSU’s best defender and would have immense value. But he has more options overseas: Polite was born in Switzerland and could play in Europe, where many leagues have limits on the number of U.S. or international prospects on the roster. Wilkes is expected to move on and pursue a career in coaching (as does Lindner).

What the FSU roster could look like

There’s always a chance a player will turn pro or enter the transfer portal. But FSU could return a roster that includes Caleb Mills, Matthew Cleveland, Jalen Warley, Cam’Ron Fletcher, John Butler Jr., Naheem McLeod and Quincy Ballard, with all but Ballard being first-year players in Tallahassee in the 2021-22 season. That’s a good core of seven to build around for the future, although we still haven’t seen much from Ballard in his limited minutes (he did not play in 13 games by coach’s decision and played in only 86 total minutes in 18 games). Hamilton has indicated he thinks at least one of the seniors will be back, although Osborne and Polite have not yet made announcements. 

FSU coaches have one signee already enrolled in 7-foot center Alaaeddine Boutayeb as well as five signees in guards Chandler Jackson and Jeremiah Bembry, forwards Tom House and De’Ante Green, and center Cameron Corhen. The core of seven, five freshmen, Boutayeb and either Osborne or Polite puts FSU at 14 (one above the NCAA limit of 13). But the transfer portal could also open up a spot as FSU lost Sardaar Calhoun (who landed at Texas Tech and left) and Nathanael Jack (Cleveland State) last spring.

Could FSU still be portal-hunting?

Cleveland scored in double figures in nine straight games. Mills scored in double figures in 17 of 26 games (he missed five due to injury). While they may take time to contemplate their decisions, neither has shown they are consistent on a nightly basis to be ready to make a jump to the NBA.

But if we’re getting into a hypothetical situation, FSU coaches may need to jump back into the portal. Losing Osborne would be significant as he is looked to as a glue guy, a respected leader who brings energy to the team and is also the team’s top rebounder. It would be tough to see FSU compete on the boards with big men like McLeod, Ballard and the newcomers next season. 

Depending on who is available in the portal, as well as if FSU has an available scholarship, the Seminoles could be an enticing destination for a big man. One example of how a team upgraded: Auburn benefitted from grabbing UNC center Walker Kessler, who averaged 4.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in Chapel Hill as a reserve in 2020-21. This season as a starter Kessler is up to 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.5 blocks as Auburn (27-5) is a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The demand for big men will be high but they could change the outlook of FSU’s 2022-23 team if the coaches have an opening.

Bottom line

FSU will have a significant amount of turnover and the team will begin to take shape in the next month or so. For reference, RaiQuan Gray, Scottie Barnes and Balsa Koprivica announced decisions between April 2-13, 2021. How FSU takes shape for 2022-23 might take some time to develop.