Originally Published: October 21, 2010

Don't Be Quick To Count Out Florida State

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE -- Toney Douglas' departure last season meant Florida State was missing its primary scorer and leader, the one person that you could count on in any given possession.

So it was natural to dismiss Florida State as an ACC contender at this time last year.

True to form, the underappreciated Seminoles didn't disappear. They finished tied for third with Virginia Tech at 10-6 and, unlike the Hokies, made the NCAA tournament.

So when shot-blocker and space-eater Solomon Alabi declared for the 2010 NBA draft, the natural reaction was to push FSU down a few spots again.

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Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesDespite having two players drafted by the NBA, Leonard Hamilton has high hopes for his Seminoles.

Well, careful with that. Because that's hardly the way the Seminoles view the upcoming season.

"I think this team will be very good," said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton. "People that know me, know that I seldom say that. Our system is in place, our returning players understand it and with our experience, I'm encouraged by our attitude and our commitment. We've got great chemistry."

The team will be led by Chris Singleton, the junior forward who is well respected by NBA scouts and will have tremendous battles with Duke's Kyle Singler and North Carolina's Harrison Barnes. Singleton has consistently been overlooked in the league. No more.

"He can affect the game in so many different ways, especially the way he moves on the floor," said FSU guard Derwin Kitchen. "He presents so many matchup problems for the other teams, whether we play him at the 4 or the 5. We're going to depend a whole lot on him this year. We can post him up or he can be on the wing."

Singleton said the Seminoles will actually have more freedom to move offensively without Alabi.

"We'll be more up-tempo and more athletic," Singleton said. "We've got some good jucos coming in who are versatile. We don't have anybody clogging up the middle."

Does that mean Alabi was?

"If you looked at it, you had to give him the ball and he produced for us," Singleton said, "but right now we can roll out and hit the jump shot and we're more athletic and we can all move around."

Hamilton also said the length and strength of the Seminoles has improved with the addition of 6-foot-8 Okaro White, 7-foot Jon Kreft and 6-9 Bernard James. The backcourt of Kitchen, Michael Snaer and newcomer Ian Miller makes this team deeper than a year ago and means it's clearly in the mix for a top-five finish in the ACC.

"I admire Duke and respect what they do and how they play and how they play together and they are the standard by which all of us should get to," Hamilton said. "But I feel we're capable of being competitive with everybody in the league. We'll be a team that surprises an awful lot of people."

New Beginnings At BC, Wake Forest

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com
CHARLOTTE -- Cornell had turned the corner in the Ivy League by going from near the bottom to the top to unseat Penn and Princeton.

That happened three years ago when the Big Red won the first of three straight Ivy League titles under Steve Donahue, who could've easily been tempted to bolt right then and there after pulling off a minor Ivy miracle. But he stayed put. The Big Red then won the league again, and once more Donahue remained in Ithaca, convinced he should stay for the core group's senior year.

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AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJeff Bzdelik inherits a Wake team that was picked to finish last in the ACC in the preseason poll.

Good thing he did. Cornell went on a magical run to the Sweet 16 and even pushed mighty Kentucky for a spell during the regional semifinal in Syracuse.

"I feel even more grateful for what I did at Cornell, that we went through it and now I'm starting over again," said Donahue, who begins his career anew at Boston College. "I can't imagine what it would feel like if I build it up and knew that something special was going to happen at Cornell [this season]. I could never do that. I got to watch this group through. It's like leaving a movie before the finale and asking 'what happened?' I got to go [see it come to fruition]."

That's not the case for another of the ACC's three new coaches, Jeff Bzdelik. The first-year Wake Forest coach is agonizing a bit, not for taking the Demon Deacons' job but rather leaving behind a solid foundation at Colorado. He essentially had no choice. CU has never had much of a commitment to men's basketball and the long-term security offered by working for his good friend, Wake athletic director Ron Wellman, made it a cinch after Wellman abruptly fired Dino Gaudio.

But Bzdelik knows he will never get to reap the benefits of sweating out difficult times in Boulder. The Buffaloes have two NBA prospects in Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, and new coach Tad Boyle has a real shot to walk into a possible NCAA team in the Buffs' last season in the Big 12.

"They are two of the best wing players in the country," Bzdelik said of Higgins and Burks. "I really believe that they'll win 20-plus games and go to the NCAAs. That was the vision I had for the program. We inherited a program that won seven games and averaged 3,500 fans and a team GPA of 2.0. We had the average attendance up to 8 or 9,000 and a higher GPA. They've got veterans that have played in the Big 12 for two years. They're stronger and more mature. We averaged 75 points a game. Everyone loves to talk about the Princeton offense, but we scored over 100 points against Texas Tech and won four of our last six games."

Bzdelik, whose Demon Deacons were picked to finish last by the ACC media Wednesday, said he did something similar when he was starting his career at Maryland-Baltimore County and set up the program for success before leaving for the NBA's Washington Bullets.

"That's the sad part. I went to Colorado and [critics will just] look at the record," Bzdelik said. "The timing was bad, but what can I say? I wasn't looking, but when they called me, I had to take the job."

Miami Has A Chance To Make Early Impression

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE -- The orange shirts Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott wore Wednesday couldn't be ignored. They could re-route traffic with those duds.

And that is sort of the hope with these Hurricanes. To be more noticeable this season, Miami needs to be bold, loud and make the rest of the league blinded, not by the tint of the orange, but by the talent on the floor.

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Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesMany feel Durand Scott will have a breakout sophomore season.

If the Canes are going to be taken seriously as a contender to finish in the upper half of the league, after a last-place finish last season, it will be in large part because of the backcourt of Grant and Scott.

Those two and their teammates will certainly have an immediate chance to turn around the program's fortunes. During the first couple of hours of Nov. 16, Miami will open ESPN's 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon with a game at nationally ranked Memphis.

"It's definitely big for us," Scott said. "If we can come out and get a win, everyone will start to realize that we're a team to be reckoned with."

Maybe it's not fair to put so much pressure on a nonconference opener that will tip off at midnight ET (11 p.m. in Memphis). But Miami is trying to move its team forward and having a strong showing in this game, even in a close loss, will do wonders for changing the image of this team.

Scott and Grant, who started his career at Villanova, both had more than 100 assists last season and will lead a backcourt that lost James Dews from the guard rotation. Going up against Will Barton and Joe Jackson of Memphis next month will speak volumes about where this tandem stands. In the frontcourt, Reggie Johnson should be a force inside, and if DeQuan Jones lives up to his hype, the Canes should be a tough out.

They did finish strong last season, upsetting Wake Forest and Virginia Tech in the ACC tourney before losing in a late-possession game to Duke in the semis. And Miami coach Frank Haith doesn't lack for confidence, saying his team should be considered one of the best in the conference this season.

Well, we shall know early enough.

"There's no question it will be great exposure early," Haith said of the Memphis game. "I'm excited about that. We didn't play well on the road last year. We struggled with that youth. This team now has experience. Starting out on the road, in a hostile environment against a top-20 team will no question give us a good barometer. We're not on anybody's radar and if you win that game then suddenly you are."

Virginia Fans Will Need Patience

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com
CHARLOTTE -- Virginia's fan base needs to have the patience of Washington State backers. If the long-suffering Cougars could wait for a Tony Bennett-led recruiting class to blossom into an NCAA regular, then the Cavaliers need to have the same faith.

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Jeff Lack/Icon SMITony Bennett helped build a winner at Wazzu. He's in the midst of another tough challenge at UVa.

Isn't that why UVa hired him in the first place? Someone who they truly believed would build the Cavs for the long haul?

Well, with the news that junior guard Sammy Zeglinski is out for at least the next two months (essentially the nonconference portion of the season) after surgery on his left knee, Virginia will start the season even younger than Bennett projected.

"He was our leading perimeter player returning, so if we were young, we're ultra-young now," Bennett said. "There's more opportunity for our first-year players coming in. They'll have to play pretty strong. It's a great opportunity."

Bennett is drawing the parallel to his initial Washington State recruiting class, which was led by Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill. That class was undervalued but led the Cougars to a renaissance on the Palouse. So the Cavs' six-player newcomer class of K.T. Harrell, James Johnson, Joe Harris, Akil Mitchell, Billy Baron and Will Regan has quite a shadow to creep out from under.

"It's about adding the right pieces," Bennett said. "The character is there. They're similar. They're all sold on the vision of coming and establishing and turning it around. They've bought into the vision and they've got the hunger to do it together. It's a hard-working group that wants to leave its mark when they're done."

But the Cavs, who were picked to finish 11th in the 12-team ACC, will likely take their lumps this season. So Bennett is preaching patience.

He has no other choice.

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