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Preview: A closer look at FSU men’s hoops in 2020-21

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The wait has been a long one, nearly nine months. But the Florida State men’s basketball team will be on the court again Wednesday when the Seminoles play their season opener against North Florida.

Each of the ACC schools has played a game and 10 teams have played at least two games. North Florida has played three, all of them losses, including one apiece to Miami and NC State.

But the show begins on Wednesday for FSU. No exhibitions due to the pandemic, just jumping right into the first game.

“The term jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, that’s what it is,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said.

The adjustment will be an intriguing storyline as the first few weeks of the season unfold. Last year, the challenges were there from the start as FSU played at Pittsburgh and at Florida to open the season but the Seminoles also had preseason games.

Now there are some questions, notably at point guard, as well as how steep of a learning curve FSU faces with the loss of a pair of NBA lottery picks (Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell). But the roster is also a blend of veterans with experience and talented newcomers like Scottie Barnes and Sardaar Calhoun.

“In the preseason practice, their talent level was pretty much just screaming at us,” forward Malik Osborne said of Barnes, Calhoun and center Quincy Ballard. “All three have long wingspans and all three are as athletic as anybody else in the country. … It’s just about the mental piece. The physical piece is there. They have incredible talent.

“I think all of them have an unlimited ceiling. Now it’s just about getting them acclimated with our program, getting them to fit in our system and to a point so they can find spots to show their talent in the best way possible.”

Here is a look at what to watch Wednesday and in the early part of the season:

Head coach: Leonard Hamilton has won 360 games as he begins his 19th season at FSU. The Seminoles are an impressive 122-28 (81.3 percent) in the last 10 years.

Season opener: Wednesday vs. North Florida, 8 p.m. (ACC Network)

Projected starting lineup: If you know FSU basketball, you know it doesn’t matter who starts. But here is one lineup option: G M.J. Walker (10.6 ppg., 1.7 rpg.), G Anthony Polite (5.8 ppg., 2.9 rpg.), G RayQuan Evans (3.2 ppg., 1.4 assists), F Malik Osborne (6.0 ppg., 4.9 rpg.), C Balsa Koprivica (4.7 ppg., 2.4 rpg.).

Bench: Hamilton doesn’t start many true freshmen — remember that Patrick Williams and Mfiondu Kabengele were sixth men. Could Scottie Barnes be that guy? He averaged 11.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in high school. The bench is deep with the likes of guards Sardaar Calhoun, Wyatt Wilkes and Nathanael Jack as well as forward RaiQuan Gray and centers Quincy Ballard and Tanor Ngom.

Home win streak: FSU has won 38 straight games, including a 16-0 mark in 2019-20 and a 15-1 mark in 2018-19.

Strengths: It’s stunning to say but after losing Williams and Vassell, the biggest concern is at point guard. We’ll get to that more later, but doesn’t that say something about the quality and depth of talent? Walker is an extremely confident 3-point shooter and leader. Osborne is capable of a double-double on any night but it will depend on how many minutes he gets with FSU’s deep rotation. The expectations are through the roof for Barnes, and to a somewhat lesser extent Calhoun, but neither will likely have to shoulder the scoring load (that’s a good thing). FSU’s coaches demand a high amount of energy on both ends of the floor and the depth should allow the players to deliver.

Weaknesses: The big question is who takes over at the point as Trent Forrest made so many things run smoothly on the offensive end and often defended a team’s best guard. Evans will be looked at not to “replace” Forrest but to see if he can effectively distribute and defend. FSU also loses a pair of lottery picks (Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell), which is mitigated by the addition of Barnes and Calhoun. Last, how did FSU’s coaches navigate the offseason and the challenges of practicing through a pandemic? With no exhibition games and a canceled warm-up with Gardner-Webb, we know little about this team until we see the Seminoles play a few times.

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