TALLAHASSEE — Defending ACC champions. It has a ring to it that Florida State basketball coach Leonard Hamilton hopes to hear often.
Although the Seminoles lost a half-dozen players from the team that won the school's first ACC tournament title, Hamilton believes this season's club is potentially better than the one that finished 25-10 before losing to Cincinnati in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Only a few folks voted the Seminoles to repeat this season, with North Carolina State the preseason favorite to prevail. The Seminoles were picked fourth by the media and fifth by ACC coaches in preseason surveys.
"We're going to surprise a lot of people," Hamilton said. "We like this team."
Lofty goals indeed for a club that defeated Duke and North Carolina twice last season, including a 33-point blowout of the Tar Heels in January.
Depth again is always the key to any Hamilton-coached team, and he believes he has it, albeit much of it youthful.
"The strength of our teams has always been the quality of our depth, and I think that's going to be something that's going to be consistent," he said. "We lost four starters, but we return our four leading scorers."
The Seminoles play an 18-game ACC schedule that features visits from North Carolina, Duke and preseason-favorite North Carolina State, along with a nonconference slate highlighted by archrival Florida and Minnesota in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Hamilton wants to get off to a better start than last season, when the Seminoles stood 9-6 in early January before a 16-4 finish.
"We did get off to kind of a rocky start last year, but now our goal is to try to be a lot more ready earlier to go and play up to our ability," Hamilton said. "It is going to be somewhat of a challenge when you're trying to integrate as many first-year players into our system."
But the veteran coach doesn't seem too worried as he eyes a fifth straight 20-win season and even possibly a repeat as ACC champion. The Seminoles are 95-41 the past four seasons and 43-21 in the ACC.
Hamilton doesn't expect any dropoff.
"I'm not sure we like being the underdog," he said. "We have kids we like very much."
LESSON LEARNED: EJ Manuel has grown weary of answering questions about his football team's lone defeat, but there the quarterback was Saturday night, reluctantly admitting that FSU's early October loss to North Carolina State has had some benefit.
Since the Seminoles fell on the road Oct. 6, they have grown, he said.
"I don't really like commenting on it very much because I can't say whether we are better or worse (since the loss)," Manuel said. "But I do believe we've learned from it."
Information from the Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.