TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Seminoles.com) — PJ Savoy remembers the game like it was yesterday.
Florida State and Michigan were locked in a tight battle for a chance to reach the Final Four in March. His shot to potentially tie the game in the final minutes was just off and the Wolverines would hold on down the stretch to defeat the Seminoles in a thriller.
“There’s no satisfaction from that. We all know we wanted to win and could have beaten Michigan,” Savoy said as men’s basketball opened practice on Thursday.
“We have more to achieve and we’re all on the same page. We know what we want to do and what we have to do.”
For the senior and a bevy of seasoned returners, that taste in the Elite Eight is one they’re anxious to get back to.
With one of the best NCAA Tournament runs in school history, the Seminoles have gained the attention of the college basketball world heading into this season. Ranked in just about every pre-season Top 25, as high as 13 in one, the team is taking no pleasure in off-court hype.
“We’re still not satisfied,” said senior Terance Mann, who averaged 12.6 PPG last year. “It’s a long season, so you could start at one ranking and end completely out. We’ve been on both sides of it before.”
“I’ll be honest with you, we haven’t talked about pre-season rankings once in any team meeting, practice, or gathering,” Seminole head coach Leonard Hamilton said. “That’s part of the hoopla of college basketball, you have to vote somebody somewhere. It’s just predictions, because when the ball goes up none of that matters.”
Florida State returns seven of its top nine scorers from the 2017-18 season, including five seniors with the addition of graduate transfer David Nichols from Albany, an All-AEC First Team member for the Great Danes. Add junior Trent Forrest and sophomores M.J. Walker and Mfiondu Kabengele into the mix, and the makings of a deep and veteran roster is apparent.
“There’s no letup. We know how to play with our team and the ins and outs of each other,” Savoy said of the benefits of having an experienced group. “The chemistry is already there.”
“We’re accustomed to a lot, so we know what to expect and how to win in different situations and how to handle adversity differently,” Forrest added.
Each player was tasked over the summer with individual challenges to improve their overall skillset. Savoy, who is down 15 pounds now to 210, worked on his ball handling, finishing at the rim and defense to complement his ability to shoot the three-ball.
Mann and Forrest both spent time working on their three-point shots, creating the confidence to let it fly at any moment of a crucial contest. Cofer spent most of his off-season working on rebounding and ball-handling after finding out he was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
Overall, becoming a better shooting team was the emphasis of the coaching staff for the team, one they feel should pay dividends when the season begins.
“We think we can be a better shooting team,” Hamilton said. “That’s something we weren’t as sharp in last season, but think it’s a goal we can accomplish.”
“I feel like we’ll be an all-around better shooting team, free-throws and three-point wise,” Forrest agreed. “There’s going to be a lot of points scored this year and as always, we’re going to go fast.”
While putting the ball in the bucket shouldn’t be a problem for the Seminoles, the team has worked hard on locking down the other side of the court.
In the Big Dance, the success was largely attributed to stingy defense by FSU, leading to multiple fast break opportunities. After progressing in that area throughout last season, the team is confident it will carry over into the new campaign.
“Everybody knows that defense is what got us through the tournament and everyone is locked in,” Cofer said.
“We saw how implementing that mindset, locking down and sticking to our principles, how it all could work,” Mann agreed.
“We’re all excited and ready to pick up where we left off.”
The new season tips off with a bang, as Florida State will welcome Florida on Nov. 6 in what is poised to be a Top 25 rivalry contest i=on national television. The Seminoles have won four straight games in the series.
“It’s all we talk about, we can’t wait,” Savoy said smiling.
“We’re all excited and ready for it. If we win this one it’ll be five in a row, so it should be a fun game,” Mann furthered on playing the Gators.
As the shoes begin to squeak against the hardwood and the arena lights are flashed on, Florida State is keeping its eyes on the big picture. Pre-season hype and glamor abound, the Seminoles are only keen on getting back to the NCAA Tournament and pushing for the Final Four.
“That feeling (in March Madness) we had was unlike anything,” Cofer said.
“I’m here to help these older and younger guys back to where we were before.”