Florida State Could Challenge for the ACC Basketball Crown

By Jeff Kelly
David Manning – USA TODAY Sports

Before the season began, there seemed to be a pretty clear-cut pecking order within the ACC. You had Duke and Syracuse at the top, North Carolina and Virginia coming in right behind them, and then teams like Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Maryland and Boston College all fighting it out for the fifth through eighth spots. As it turns out, one team no one was talking about but absolutely should have been is Florida State.

This has been a year that’s seen a massive resurgence for the Florida State football program, but people probably never expected the Seminoles basketball team to open the year the way they have. It’s left us believing that, amazingly, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that FSU could actually challenge for the conference crown this season.

After all, this is a team that just dismantled a good VCU team and was narrowly edged in overtime by Michigan for their only loss so far.

Of course, you’re thinking that’s an absurd notion because teams like Duke and Syracuse are going to separate themselves from the middle-of-the-road ACC teams like Florida State, but at the same time, all of the teams at the top of the ACC have shown serious vulnerability. The Blue Devils and Orange both narrowly avoided disastrous upsets, while Carolina and Virginia have had tough losses.

Sure, the Tar Heels just knocked off Louisville, but if they can’t get P.J. Hairston back anytime soon, it’s clear they’ll still struggle to compete with the big boys on most nights.

And then you look at Florida State, and see a roster that doesn’t have a player under 6-foot-3, features three 7-footers, and still somehow manages to shoot nearly 37 percent from three and 51 percent from the field as a team. Led by Okaro White and Devon Bookert, the Seminoles are an athletic, fairly deep team with nine players averaging at least 12.7 minutes. The Noles are pouring in 81.7 PPG, with their leading scorer Ian Miller coming off the bench to notch 15.5 per outing.

Not only that, but they are also out-rebounding opponents by more than four boards per game, which you’d probably expect from a squad with their size and athleticism. White is putting together an outstanding senior season, averaging 14.3 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 58.5 percent from the field, while Bookert has been sizzling with percentages of 51.9 from the field, 47.4 from three, and 78.9 from the free throw line while averaging 13 points.

If those guys can keep that up, there’s no telling what kind of damage Florida State can do as the season wears on.

One thing that is for sure is that we’ll have a better idea of whether the Noles can really compete for the ACC crown as the non-conference schedule starts to come to a close. They’ve go some challenges ahead of them as they face Florida and Minnesota next week, and will then take on better-than-you-think squads in Charlotte and UMass just before Christmas.

Based on how they play in those four games, it could turn out that the Noles will be crashing the ACC title party and stealing at least a little bit of the spotlight away from Jameis Winston.

Jeff is an ACC basketball writer on RantSports.com.  Follow him on Twitter @jekelish and like him on Facebook.

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