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Looking ahead: Florida State Seminoles

Editor’s note: It’s never too early to start to look ahead to next season. In the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 that could make noise on the national stage.

Well, the Florida State Seminoles played a bunch of bad basketball last year.

But, as Dave Chappelle’s Rick James once said, that was weeks ago. Florida State’s 2015-16 campaign could push the program to the top of the ACC standings. And that would be a miraculous shift.

The Seminoles missed the NCAA tournament and the NIT. They lost to a bad Nebraska team in Tallahassee. They lost at Mississippi State, which finished 6-12 in the SEC and fired former coach Rick Ray after the season. They averaged 66.6 PPG, 197th nationally. Their offensive (163rd) and defensive (75th) finishes in kenpom.com’s adjusted rankings also were subpar.

Save the excuses because they’re not sufficient for fans who buy tickets or athletic directors who tend to get squirmy when they can’t even get an invite to the NIT.

Yes, Aaron Thomas (14.8 ppg in six games) was ruled ineligible for the second semester and ultimately left the team, a move that pushed then-freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes into a starring role. But was that the sole culprit in FSU’s inability to score 60 points in both regular season meetings (1-1) with Clemson?

Florida State hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2012. And last year’s struggles made it easy to forget that Leonard Hamilton led this program to the Sweet 16 in 2011 and an ACC tournament championship the following season.

The bottom line is that things appear to be warming up in Tallahassee right now and that has nothing to do with the Panhandle’s glorious weather. Hamilton signed an extension through the 2016-17 season just two years ago. Now, he’s facing pressure and reality that 2015-16 might be the most important season of his tenure.

At least he’ll possess the most decorated recruiting class in school history to assist him as he attempts to lead Florida State back to the NCAA tournament and ACC relevance. He’ll be a chef with a full spice rack – Chef Hamilton with the pot – and every ingredient he needs to enhance the program, including multiple standouts from last season.

But will Hamilton turn this crew into a respectable product again? That’s the $2.25 million question. The wrong answer could cost him his seven-figure gig.

What the immediate future holds: There’s beauty within the gloom that surrounds college basketball’s one-and-done era. It’s more difficult to build teams and hold onto key players for three or four years, but elite players now prefer to link up with their friends and AAU teammates in a buddy-buddy culture. The result? Deep, just-add-water recruiting classes that can change programs. Instantly.

Dwayne Bacon, a McDonald’s All American, is a 6-foot-6 wing with legitimate NBA dreams. The five-star prospect anchors a Florida State recruiting class that’s as talented as any that ever has committed its services to Florida State. Malik Beasley and Terance Mann are also elite guards in Florida State’s top-15 recruiting class.

With Rathan-Mayes, an all-ACC honorable mention, Montay Brandon and Devon Bookert all back and that special group entering the mix next season, Florida State will possess one of the nation’s best backcourts. The Seminoles couldn’t score consistently last year and now they’re adding multiple guys who will get buckets for Hamilton’s crew. If they’re also solid ballhandlers (FSU finished 323rd in turnover percentage last season), they’ll author immediate improvements.

Things are less defined inside, but FSU still will be led by veterans. Phil Coker (6.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg) is back. Seven-footers Michael Ojo and Boris Bojanovsky return, too. Incoming freshman Jean Marc Christ Koumadje, a 7-2 center and four-star prospect from Montverde, Florida, will help eventually. Maybe as early as next season.

Florida State needs that size to help it lock up the paint. Opponents connected on 47 percent of their attempts inside the arc last year, No. 121 in the country per kenpom.com. That’s not on FSU’s bigs alone. But they’ll play a key role in boosting the program’s defense.

The Seminoles have more scorers and more talent on offense. And the big men they’re bringing back should help the team upgrade its defensive efforts.

This is just a different team. And it should be a better team. Rathan-Mayes will be ready to lead. He won’t have to carry the scoring load alone. Hamilton will have serviceable pieces inside, too.

If this group stays healthy and bonds, Florida State should make an NCAA tournament run and finish in the ACC’s top tier in 2015-16. Anything short of that would be a disappointment for the program and Hamilton.