After a relative down year last season, Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State Seminoles are looking to prove it was just an aberration.
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Under Leonard Hamilton, the Florida State basketball program has been consistently good and, at times, great. The program under his tenure has produced 22 NBA players. However, it is somewhat alarming that the past two years have produced a combined 26-37 record. Beset by injuries last season, the Seminoles started the season 1-9 and never won more than 2 games in a row the entire season en route to a 9-23 finish, the first time the program failed to win double-digit games since 2000.
The team’s modus operandi has been simply physical basketball under Leonard Hamilton, whom some may consider one of the most underrated coaches in the game. While last season seemed to stray from that norm, getting an offseason to regroup, examine the roster, grab from the portal, and pound in the Hamilton mentality will make this team more in line with what has worked in the past. While Matthew Cleveland and Caleb Mills transferred out, the Seminoles still bring back 5 of their top 7 leading scorers. Darin Green Jr., Cam’Ron Fletcher, Cameron Corley, Jalen Warley, and Baba Miller all return and will have expanded roles this season. Jaylan Gainey, a transfer from Brown who missed last season with an injury, will have his first true season with the Seminoles and should make an impact. If there’s a player to make a real jump from last year to this year, it’s Miller. Don’t be surprised if the Spaniard takes hold of one of the starting forward spots, especially with Fletcher coming back from injury. Miller has true NBA potential, it just may take a bit of time to get there.
In the transfer portal, Hamilton brought in Josh Nickelberry from La Salle, Primo Spears from Georgetown, and Jamir Watkins from VCU. At least one will likely start the season in the starting lineup, but all three have the potential to start at some point. Spears might be the best of the bunch, and will slide into Mills’s role last season. Nickelberry is a sharpshooter and will help greatly improve upon last season’s 33.0% mark from behind the arc. Watkins is an all-around dawg that will help on defense and the boards.
In terms of the freshmen class this season, it is really just the freshman class, as Taylor Bowen is the only recruit signed by Hamilton this past offseason. The 6-10 freshman was ranked as the No. 107 recruit by the 247Sports Composite, and should provide frontcourt depth.
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Head coach: Leonard Hamilton (36th season, 22nd at Florida State)
2022-23 record: 9-23 (7-13)
2023 postseason finish: None
Notable departures: Caleb Mills (Transferred to Memphis), Matthew Cleveland (Transferred to Miami (FL)), Naheem McLeod III (Transferred to Syracuse)
Notable non-conference games: at Florida (Nov. 17), vs. Georgia (Nov. 29), SMU (Dec. 16)
PG: Primo Spears (6-3, 185, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 16.0 PPG, 5.3 APG, 3.0 RPG (Georgetown)
SG: Darin Green Jr. (6-5, 195, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 13.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.0 APG, 36.4 3PT%
SF: Jamir Watkins (6-7, 210, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 9.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.5 APG (VCU)
PF: Cam’Ron Fletcher (6-7, 220, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 10.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.1 APG, 10 games played
C: Cam Corhen (6-10, 225, So.)
2022-23 stats: 8.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, 79.2 FT%
6: Jalen Warley (6-6, 200, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 6.8 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.3 SPG
7: Baba Miller (6-11, 204, So.)
2022-23 stats: 4.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.8 APG
8: Josh Nickelberry (6-5, 195, Gr.)
2022-23 stats: 10.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.7 APG (La Salle)
9: Chandler Jackson (6-5, 220, So.)
2022-23 stats: 3.6 PPG, 1.3 APG, 1.3 RPG, 12.0 MPG
10: Jaylan Gainey (6-10, 230, Gr.)
2021-22 stats: 9.3 PPG, 6.9 APG, 0.4 RPG (Brown)
11: Taylor Bowen (6-10, 195, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 107 rated player
Florida State Seminoles MVP: Cam’Ron Fletcher
Cam’Ron Fletcher returns to Tallahassee after averaging double digits this past season. The 6-7 G/F led the team with 7.5 RPG last year, and he’ll likely place around the team lead in the stat again. Not the best shooter, Fletcher shot 33.3% from behind the arc and just 61.1% from the line last year. Of course, this is with the caveat of Fletcher only playing 10 games. A knee injury prematurely ended his season, but he might be 100% entering this year. Worst case scenario, Fletcher misses the first few games as Hamilton eases him back into his full role.
The one-time Kentucky forward had been poised for a breakout season before the injury, as his MPG had jumped almost double from 2021-22 to 2022-23. He’s very good on the defensive end, and had 1.9 combined steals+blocks per game in last season’s small sample size. That’s key to getting minutes on a Leonard Hamilton team, and Fletcher (assuming he is healthy) will be a boost to a Seminole defense that ranked 346th out of 363 teams in defensive rating. Even an 80% Fletcher will help the ‘Noles, but getting him back to 100% will greatly improve this team that went through a true lost season this year.
Florida State Seminoles make-or-break player: Primo Spears
Spears, who exodused from Georgetown following the firing of Patrick Ewing, will likely start as the team’s point guard. He spent his freshman year at Duquesne and this past year of course at Georgetown, so he’s still awaiting a waiver. If it’s approved, Spears will likely play over 30 MPG from the 1 spot. A good scorer, he put up over 16 PPG for the Hoyas this past season while also dishing out 5.3 APG. While he’s not the best shooter from behind the arc, (his career mark is just 30.0%) he can score in the lane and get to the basket. Listed at 6-3, he’s not the tallest or shortest guard on the court, but his game is more reminiscent of a smaller guard than what Leonard Hamilton usually puts out at the point guard position.
Statistically, he did lead the Big East in turnovers last year, but that can partially be blamed on playing over 37 MPG. Still, though, he’ll need to clean that up this season if the Seminoles want an upgrade at the point guard position. His passing is very streaky, as his 30.0% assist rate was high but so was his 16.6% turnover percentage. While he won’t be shooting the ball from three often, he led the conference in 2PA last year. He’s not shy about shooting midrange or at the basket, and that’ll open up lanes for the Florida State big men down low. It’s important to remember, however, that the availability of Spears depends on the NCAA waiver.
Key analytic: Rebounds per game
Due to Leonard Hamilton’s preference for tall, athletic players, Florida State often collects rebounds by the bunches. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen last year. The Seminoles struggled on the boards, finishing 318th out of 363 teams in rebounds per game. That sandwiched them between Eastern Michigan and Florida A&M on the stat sheet, not an enviable place to be. Matthew Cleveland and Cam’Ron Fletcher were the only players to average over 4 RPG, and Cleveland’s gone even further south to Miami.
On a per game basis, the median RPG in the NCAA was 34.3. In 32 games this past season, Florida State only hit that mark in 4 games. Against UCF in their second game of the season, they actually got outrebounded by a margin of 44-18. The Knights more than doubled the Seminoles on the glass, and the second game of the season was a tough sign of things to come. Florida State actually managed the most rebounds of their season in their last game of the year, yet still lost to Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament.
If Florida State wants to get back into the role they’ve played the past decade, consistently being the 2nd-3rd best team in the ACC, they’ll need to clean the glass better. That starts with getting Cam’Ron Fletcher help on the boards. Cam Corhen and Baba Miller, returning from last year’s squad, should help fill the void that Cleveland has left, while the health of Jaylan Gainey, the transfer from Brown that missed last season, is crucial towards improving the Seminoles’ rebounding stats. This is where 7’4” Naheem McLeod, who transferred to Syracuse in the offseason, is missed.
Ultimately, rebounding is just one of many stat categories the Seminoles need to improve before they start thinking of NCAA tournament dreams. But it may be the most important and telling of all the stats. Rebounding has always been a strength in Tallahassee. Scottie Barnes, Mifiondu Kabengele, Devin Vassel, Terance Mann, Patrick Williams, all former ‘Noles that were adept at grabbing boards. The quicker Hamilton can instill that “see ball, get ball” mentality and physicality that has been lacking the past two years, the quicker the Seminoles will get back to relevancy.
Florida State Seminoles 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 10th in ACC
Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Round of 32