So far, one of the biggest surprises in the ACC this season has been the success of the Florida State Seminoles. They are currently 7-1 and fifth in the ACC standings, far above their preseason predicted ninth-place finish.
They started the season 5-0, and recently went 2-1 in the Cancun Challenge in Mexico. FSU has managed to do all of this in spite of the loss of four players to the transfer portal in Morgan Jones, Sammie Puisis, Bianca Jackson and River Baldwin, and longtime associate head coach Brooke Wyckoff taking over the program after the retirement of Sue Semrau.
The biggest shepherd for the Seminoles this season has been freshman guard Ta’niya Latson, who is averaging 24.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. Most importantly, she is doing this all while shooting efficiently from the field at 49.7 percent, and from 3-point range at 48.1 percent. I would definitely say that so far, she is definitely the front-runner for ACC Rookie of the Year. I predicted in the preseason that she would make the all-freshman team based on her recruiting ranking, and she has lived up to the hype.
I have especially been impressed with FSU’s defense, which I believe has been the key to their success. They are allowing just 69 points per game, while scoring 85. They lead the ACC in blocked shots with almost seven per game.
The defense is anchored by players such as Makayla Timpson (13.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game) and Erin Howard (seven rebounds and 1.8 steals per game). The duo has helped enable their team to hold opponents to 36.1 percent shooting from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range.
The team has seen some returners step up this year. Forward Mariana Valenzuela is giving more crucial minutes off of the bench, increasing her scoring average from 2.1 to 7.3 points per game and her rebounding average from 2.3 to 5.6 rebounds per game.
Guard Sara Bejedi has increased her scoring average from 6.4 to 10.3 points per game, and her assists average from 2.1 to 2.9. Bucknell transfer Taylor O’Brien in three games has averaged 16.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, two assists and 3.3 steals. Kentucky transfer Jazmine Massengill is also an important role contributor with 6.7 points, five rebounds and four assists per game.
I was completely wrong about this team coming into this season. I had them ranked 11th in my preseason ACC rankings, stating that the player losses might be too much to overcome, and I wasn’t completely sure if the other players could really step up and help this team. But with the contributions of both newcomers and returners – to be completely honest – the Seminoles really are a dark horse contender in the ACC.
We won’t be able to get a sense of just how good this team is until conference play begins in December, but given their ability to defend at a high level and their stable of reliable role players, this will be a team that everybody should keep their eye on.
If FSU continues as the pace they’ve been on, and if they continue to play a team game, they could go far not only in conference play, but also in the NCAA Tournament.