TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State surprised many by making consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.
When next season begins, the Seminoles will not be considered an underdog after their first Elite Eight appearance in 25 years.
Leonard Hamilton will have most of his squad back after the season ended with a 58-54 loss to Michigan on Saturday in the West Region final. That is the opposite from a year ago when he lost four starters and his top three scorers.
That is why many back in October thought this would be a transition season for the Seminoles before they could make another run for a high seed and contend in the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.
“I don’t know if we arrived a year early or not,” Hamilton said about his team’s 23-12 season. “We very well could have won the game and be on our way to San Antonio but we didn’t.”
The Seminoles’ biggest question going into the offseason is if the NCAA will grant an extra year of eligibility to leading scorer Phil Cofer? The 6-foot-8 forward, who averaged 12.8 points, missed most of the 2015-16 season due to a foot injury. Cofer and school officials have been optimistic that the NCAA will grant the request.
If Cofer does return, this could be Hamilton’s most experienced squad during his 16-year tenure at Florida State. Hamilton would have nine players back who average 10 minutes or more per game. Terance Mann, a 6-6 junior guard, led the team in rebounding (5.4 per game) and was its leading scorer for most of the season at 12.6 points.
“There are going to be a lot of veterans. This was a learning year but we are going to be great next year,” Cofer said.
The Seminoles will lose Braian Angola to graduation. The senior guard averaged 12.5 points and led the team in 3-pointers with 64.
Hamilton was pleased with how much the Seminoles developed throughout the season. The two players that exemplified that the most were sophomore Trent Forrest and freshman Ike Obiagu.
Forrest, a 6-5 guard, was Florida State’s best player down the stretch, averaging 12.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists over the final 10 games. Obiagu, a seven-foot center from Nigeria, had 25 of his team-high 71 blocks in the final eight games.
“At the end we showed that we had grown and learned and made progress mentally and emotionally,” Hamilton said. “We have a lot to be proud of. We can learn, improve and grow from the challenges and be even better.”
Florida State will also have a more challenging non-conference schedule next season. Besides their yearly matchup with Florida, the Seminoles will participate in the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando as part of a field that includes Villanova, Memphis, Oklahoma State and LSU.
“We are going to come back with a bigger edge and know what we have to do. Hopefully we can pick up right where we left off,” Obiagu said.
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