Months of preparation and practice will be put to the test for the first time on Monday evening. Florida State's men's basketball season will officially tip-off at 7 p.m. against Jacksonville University.
Many will look at the match-up with the Dolphins as a tune-up game, but head coach Leonard Hamilton insists that Cliff Warren's club is indicative of the strength of the Noles' out-of-conference schedule.
"We realize our early season schedule is very, very difficult and Jacksonville represents the quality of teams that we are playing on our schedule," Hamilton said. We always tell people as a joke that we blew them out by two last year. I feel that they feel confident that they can come in and play. We just have to play better and make sure we find a way to win the game."
The Dolphins are the preseason favorites to win the Atlantic Sun Conference and placed three players on the preseason All-Conference team. One of those players is preseason conference Player of the Year Ben Smith. Jacksonville's point guard averaged 16.9 points, 4.0 assists, and 2.2 steals per game a season ago. The other two players on the preseason squad are starting forwards Lehmon Colbert and Ayron Hardy.
"I think people underestimate them," sophomore guard Deividas Dulkys said of the Dolphins. "It is a really good club. We had problems with them last year and I think they are better this year."
Beyond facing a quality opponent in the season opener, the Seminoles are still young with eight players on the roster who are either freshmen or sophomores. More importantly, FSU will be looking for a new leader on the floor with the departure of all-ACC guard Toney Douglas. As a result, there could be some jitters early on.
"I think there always should be butterflies before any game you play but there are some extra butterflies because it is our first game," Dulkys said. "We just have to come up with the effort and the energy to play well."
The Seminoles defeated Delta State and Georgetown (Ky.) in their two exhibitions. While Leonard Hamilton's club racked up big numbers against Delta State, they were inconsistent and struggled offensively in the final exhibition game. What should help is the expected return of sophomore forward Chris Singleton, who missed the Georgetown game with a minor shoulder injury.
"I am just excited to get the season started," Singleton said. "Hopefully we put forth a good effort."
In the two exhibitions, the Seminoles shot a combined 10-for-43 from three-point ranged and turned it over an average of 16.5 times. Those are two areas where FSU must improve if they hope to avoid an early season loss.
"It is important for us to step it up," Dulkys said. "We know now that we have to make those good stretches longer. We have to learn from those mistakes and just keep improving. We have to improve our offensive execution, run our system, and perform like we know we can."
Beyond the numbers, Florida State is still looking to figure out its starting lineup and rotation.
"We still have some unanswered questions," Hamilton said. "We have to get a rotation that we are not real sure of right now. … We have to get a starting lineup, and maybe the lineup will be in flux throughout the year, for a while, until we find out exactly how these youngsters fit together."
"There are a lot of areas that I feel positive about but I do realize that there are a lot of areas that we need to improve in," Hamilton added.
The game will be televised by SUN Sports.