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Florida State Women's Basketball 2014-2015: Newcomers will have to shine to justify cautious optimism

Bob Corwin gives us a preview of ACC women's basketball power Florida State as the 2014-15 season gets under way.

Shakayla Thomas (#20) leads a Florida State fast break.
Shakayla Thomas (#20) leads a Florida State fast break.
(Photo by Perrone Ford)

By Bob Corwin

It's hard to argue with Seminoles Coach Sue Semrau's record through 17 seasons in Tallahassee.

Over the last ten seasons, the Noles received invitations to nine NCAA Tournaments missing out only in 2012. After last season, the team's lead spear carrier Natasha Howard (20.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg) moved on to the Indiana Fever of the WNBA. Also, lead guard Cheetah Delgado (who improved over her two seasons in Tallahassee) completed her college career. Thus, new pieces will have to be fit in to continue Florida State's success of reaching the Big Dance again in 2015.

Looking back to 2013-2014:

Last year the Seminoles went 21-12 but only going 7-9 in ACC conference play. In the NCAA Tournament, the team defeated hosting Iowa State 55-44 before being outclassed 63-44 by Stanford (on its way to the Final Four).

Looking forward to this year:

The team looks deeper, more athletic and has plenty of height. However, with six new additions it may take time to get the best working rotation of players and determine crunch time "go to" players. From watching the team during the pre-season, the defense appears more active. On the downside, point guard play and three-point shooting are likely areas that will need to make the most progress over the course of the season.

Coach Sue Semrau comparing this squad to last:

"Last year we were limited in numbers so as a result we slowed the ball down. We played a lot of zone knowing that we couldn't get into foul trouble. We had to have our legs toward the end of the game. This year with a larger bench and more speed, we're able to play a more up tempo game. We are able to play a lot more man to man [defense]. We are really excited about our depth."

Looking at the team by position...

Center (projected starter):

Adut Bolgak

Adut Bolgak, Florida State's likely starting center - body similar to Natasha Howard but somewhat different game - (Photo by Mike Olivella)

Adut Bulgak (6-4, Jr, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, via junior college transfer from Trinity Valley TX - Bulgak resembles Natasha Howard's long athletic frame but plays more on the perimeter, looking to take the three from time to time. Still, most of her scoring will likely come in the paint.

Coach Semrau on Adut Bulgak: "She is a great rebounder on both ends of the floor. Her length really helps us on the defensive end. She can stretch people out too. She's an excellent three-point shooter."

Center reserves:

Kai James (6-5, So) - If anything Kai's freshman campaign (3.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg) has to be considered disappointing given her arrival with McDonald's High School All-American credentials. She has lost significant weight (part of the issue) but needs to play harder when she gets into the game and shoot better than last season's poor (for a low post) 43.5% from the field.

Ama Degbeon (6-2, Fr, from Germany) - Degbeon displays above average athleticism and poise. Coming from a nation known far more for soccer, she's probably not going to be a big factor out of the gate. However, she could contribute significantly long term.

Coach Semrau tells why: "Ama has been a pleasant surprise. She really understands a lot of the concepts we are trying to teach. She just got Ivey [Slaughter] and Adut playing in front of her so she's got a bit of time to learn."

Power forward (projected starter):

Ivey Slaughter (6-1, So) - Ivey is a strong rebounder able to pull in out-of-area boards (7.7 rpg last season) thanks to above average athleticism and a high motor. In the pre-season, she seemed to be a better passer, looking to drop down the high-low pass to a teammate on the block. Still her shooting range appears to be within 15 feet similar to last year. Can she improve on last season's 8.2 ppg?

Power forward reserves - technically none as projected reserve Gabby Bevillard (6-3, Redshirt Fr) hurt her knee again and is probably finished as a player but will be on the bench this season. Thus players more suited to other positions will get time here.

Small forward (projected starter):

Morgan Jones (6-2, Jr) - Jones averaged 11.9 ppg last season but only 33.4% from the field and 29.7% from behind the arc where she led the team in attempts. Improvement needed!

Small forward reserves:

Shakayla Thomas (5-11, Fr) - Coming in with a McDonald's All-American reputation, Thomas quickly catches your eye with her power attacking the basket and mid-range game. She still could improve her shooting percentage near the arc. Look for her to push for starter's minutes as the season unfolds as well as challenge for All-Freshman honors in the ACC.

Coach Semrau on her enthusiasm for Thomas's future: " When she gets it, she's going to be pretty phenomenal. She's a tremendous athlete. She can score very, very well. She's just learning and growing in understanding. Athletically, there's none better."

Lauren Coleman (6-0, Sr) - Coleman has battled injuries for much of her career. Her primary role has been that of a wing to baseline 3-point shooter, leading the team at 33.8% last season but only accounting for 4.0 ppg.

Shooting guard (projected starter):

Brittany Brown (5-8, So) - Brown is a physical guard not afraid of contact but needs to improve on her woeful 21.3% from deep or spend more time attacking the basket with her strong frame.

Shooting guard reserves:

Emiah Bingley (5-7, Jr) - Last season, Bingley backed up both guard positions and that could happen again this season as to where she gets her minutes. Given that she shot just under 29% both inside or beyond the arc, her 22+ minutes per game could be significantly reduced unless she steps up her production.

Chania Ray (5-8, Fr) - Having seen Chania in high school, without question she loves to shoot the ball and is better off the catch than off the dribble. She can get hot from deep so she could see time as an "instant offense" contributor.

Coach Semrau on Ray: "Chania is a guard that can do a lot of things. She can play multiple positions for us. The best thing she brings is a hard-nosed mentality. She can shoot the three."

Point guard (projected starter):

Maegan Conwright (5-8, Sr; sat out last year after transfer from Kentucky) - Conwright is a good on-ball defender, can do a bit of everything offensively and will probably get some time on the wing as well.

Point Guard Reserves:

Shakena Richardson (5-4, Jr; sat out last year after transfer from Rutgers) - Richardson is a more traditional lead guard and word around Tallahassee last year was that she would replace the graduated Cheetah Delgado.

Coach Semrau was kind enough to compare Conwright and Richardson: "Maegan brings speed to the floor whether it be on the on the offensive or defensive end. She does a great job of taking care of the ball. Shakena's coming off some foot injuries. She has the best vision of anyone on our team. Kena brings an ability to handle the ball. I love her pull-up jump shot game. Megan brings more speed and desire to push the ball in transition and she can shoot the three a little bit better."

Coach Semrau tempers her optimism with these cautions:

"I think our transition defense with all these new players learning how to communicate has been a bit of a challenge for us. Also, understanding what we are looking for in our half court offense. I'm not even sure who our "go to" players are going to be at this point in time."

Items to ponder

The defense should be better but will last season's 28.4% shooting from behind the arc? How long will it take for the point guards to get full command of the offense and who can be counted on to score in double digits each game without taking a high volume of shots (something several players were regularly guilty of last season)?

Outlook:

Assuming things come together and further serious injuries are avoided, the Seminoles have the material to merit yet another NCAA Tournament bid. The non-conference schedule is not overly ambitious but games with the University of Washington (Nov 27 at Cancun), at Purdue (Dec 3) and Florida (at home Dec 7) could go either way. Given the lack of experience as a team, a loss to one of the early season mid-major opponents should not be discounted as a possibility. In the ever-challenging ACC, look for Florida State to finish somewhere between fifth and eighth, showing ups and downs typical of a talented but somewhat young team. With only two seniors on the roster, look for the team to nudge further up the conference ladder in 2015-2016.