Florida State enjoyed a banner season in 2010-11, amassing 23 victories and a run to the Sweet 16. What makes that body of work more impressive is the fact that the Seminoles did it while saddled with one crucial, glaring deficiency: Taking care of the basketball.
Nine key contributors return for FSU this season, but it might be its most notable addition - senior point guard Jeff Peterson - who helps the Seminoles solve the turnover dilemma.
"I'm really excited about the team and what they did last year," the 6-foot Peterson said during the team's Media Day on Tuesday. The Seminoles will kickstart the season with "Seminole Madness" at the Leon County Civic Center at 6 p.m. Friday night.
"It's been really good," he said. "Everybody has accepted me like I've been in the program for a while so it's definitely one of the easiest transitions I've made."
Peterson, who transferred in from Arkansas in the offseason, is enrolled in graduate coursework at FSU and is immediately eligible with one year of eligibility remaining. Playing his first two college seasons at Iowa (2007-09) before transferring to Arkansas, Peterson will become the first player in history to play in the ACC, Big 10 and SEC.
Finding himself on a team that will likely earn a preseason top 25 ranking and is primed for another NCAA Tournament run, Peterson will be asked to step in and compete for playing time at the point alongside senior Luke Loucks and sophomore Ian Miller. Derwin Kitchen, the team's leading assist man (121) in 2010-11, graduated.
"I really don't know (what Peterson will bring to the team), we'll give him a chance to show it," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "I know he's a great person to be around, he's an outstanding student and he's a great teammate, he's very likable and I think he brings some experience to our team. But we like to allow them an opportunity to show us what they're capable of doing. I'm happy that he's with us."
Peterson has averaged 7.3 points and 3.2 assists in 83 college games (59 starts) to date, but his most important contribution to FSU's veteran bunch may come in a less tangible form - on-court leadership and decision making. It's those things that can help cut down on turnovers, the ugliest number FSU flaunted all season long.
Florida State ranked a dismal 313th among 336 teams in turnovers per game (15.9). No team in one of the six major conferences ranked worse.
The Seminoles also ranked 282nd in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.78-to-1). Only Baylor, Oklahoma State and Wake Forest - which finished an ACC-worst 8-24 - ranked lower among programs in the six major leagues.
So not only will FSU combat those figures with another year of experience for nine key players - namely distributors Loucks and Miller - now enter Peterson, a guy who has already impressed his teammates in their short offseason together.
"(Peterson) is real solid with the ball. He's not a fancy guy, but you can't steal the ball from him," sophomore Okaro White said. "He's one of those guys that the ball is glued to him. He fits in great and we have a great team chemistry."
"I like to get everybody involved first," Peterson said of his own playing style. "I try to be an extension of coach on both ends of the court and I try to make sure everyone is in the right spot. Obviously, you've got to take what the defense gives you but if that calls for scoring, I believe I can score, if it calls for making the right play, the assist, I can do that as well."
While the defense and experience are already in place, if Peterson can help FSU make more of those right plays, the ceiling will continue to rise.
"I'm really excited," Peterson said. "We've got a lot of leadership, a lot of experience coming back, and not only at one position, either. There's a lot of depth on this team. I think the fundamentals of this team and the hard work and tenacity, I think that will really help us in the future."