The Seminoles ended a disappointing era last season by reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. But their return to March Madness ended in disappointing fashion, an overtime loss to Wisconsin in the first round. "We reached a lot of goals last year," said sophomore G Luke Loucks, a former Clearwater High star, referring not only to the NCAA berth but a spot in the ACC tournament final for the first time. "But we didn't finish off like we would have wanted to. That Wisconsin game still stings. We've got nine guys coming back this year who all felt that. It's just making us push that much harder to go further this year."
A closer look …
Notable: Yes, most of the roster from last year's breakthrough bunch returns, but who's missing is notable. Do-everything G Toney Douglas (21.5 points, 2.9 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.8 steals), the lone double-figure scorer on the team, was the undisputed floor leader. He was the ACC's defensive player of the year, runnerup for player of the year and a first-round draft pick.
And FSU lost starting PF Uche Echefu (8.1 points, 5.2 rebounds).
"This team is a savvy team," coach Leonard Hamilton said. "And even though we had some seniors who gave us big minutes last year, we wouldn't have been in that position had it not been for the younger players on the team."
Big season for the big guy?: C Solomon Alabi made the All-ACC freshman team after leading the league in blocks (73), just the seventh freshman to do that. The 7-foot-1 native of Nigeria, who redshirted his first season after breaking his right leg, is still a relative neophyte to the game and could blossom.
"I feel a lot healthier, and I'm in better condition," he said, comparing how he feels now with this time a year ago. "And I'm going to try to do a lot better than I did last season."
Folks believe him. He's on the cover of preseason magazines, is on the watch list for the Naismith Award and is even being projected as a lottery pick in 2010.
"It's a great honor. Don't get me wrong, and I appreciate it," Alabi said. "But I don't really pay attention to (the hype)."
Heralded newcomer: Freshman Michael Snaer, a high-scoring guard from Rancho Verde (Calif.) High, was a McDonald's All-American last year, the 10th in FSU history. He joins 2008 McDonald's All-American Chris Singleton.
"I think he's a little farther along than I was, in state of mind, with scoring," said Singleton, who struggled on the offensive end until late in the season but was a consistently strong defender. "If he thinks he can beat his man, he will, but he's not a selfish player. He's a team player."