The Florida State Seminoles, the recently crowned ACC champions, are officially a 3-seed. I never thought I'd see the day. Not because I don't believe in this Florida State team, just that I never expected it. Florida State is a football school. Then a baseball school. Then an Arts school. Then a track and field school. Then that school with the giant Magnet lab. Then a Business school. Eventually, you get the basketball. Tallahassee has believed in the Seminoles since they reached the NCAA tournament in 2009, and coming off last year's successful run to the Sweet 16 the Noles have experience on their side as well.
Now the ACC coach of the year Leonard Hamilton proved his worth: the Unconquered won the first ACC Championship in school history - and Dick Vitale just predicted FSU to reach the Final Four. When has there been this much hype for the Seminoles? Since Dave Cowens led FSU to the NCAA Championship Game in 1972? More realistically, 1993's team led by Sam Cassel that saw the Noles reach the Elite Eight? (Your guess is as good as mine, I was born in 1989)
The likely answer is none of the above. In the same way Linsanity has surpassed Fernandomania, the beauty of social networking and the internet allows this Florida State team to gain more notoriety and fame than any other basketball team in school history. How far they will go is another story.
Biggest Win: FSU 85 - UNC 82
Florida State could not be a third seed without its win over the North Carolina Tarheels yesterday afternoon. Essentially a home game for tobacco road, FSU's win was almost as shocking as coach Roy WIlliams's face and body language showed. With UNC's leading defender on the bench to protect a rather sore wrist, the Tarheels watched the Seminoles make minced meat out of their late surges by silencing the crowd and draining the clock. A close second was FSU's other victory over the powder blues, a 90-57 baptism by Lithuanian Deividas Dulkys that had coach Williams pull his team from the floor with 12 seconds remaining to protect them from the student section.
Florida State is now the second team ever to defeat Duke and UNC twice in the same season. Trivia fans: the other was Georgia Tech in 1996. Other fun wins this season include a 29 point trouncing of Auburn (5-11 SEC) and three 3-point buzzer beater thrillers against Duke, Virginia Tech and Virginia (two of which are NCAA tournament teams).
Ugliest Loss: FSU 59 - CLEM 79
This section was almost about an 18 point loss to Florida on Dec. 22, but that game was purely Patric Young showing off his post moves (dunks, layups, hook shots) for the home crowd. Fast forward, both teams are still ranked in the top 25 and FSU won the ACC. Despite hitting over 40% from the field, the Seminoles were merely outshot. It was a rivalry loss, but FSU was still proving itself and learning while the Gators were ranked 12th and headed for a free fall. That loss is meh.
What's ugly is the 20 point loss to Clemson two weeks later on Jan 7th. Clemson used some home field advantage to pull ahead while the Seminoles had a dry spell early in the game. Keeping pace the rest of the night, the Tigers never let Florida State come close, limiting the Seminoles to 35.5% shooting and 5-19 from beyond the arc. Clemson finished the season averaging 64 points per game (253rd) with 8 ACC losses. Most ugly, though, was the impact on the team. There was no excuse for this loss, and the Noles rebounded well to a 24-9 record, but it took a few games before the Seminole swagger returned.
Who Are the Seminoles?
What's most significant about this year's team is the lack of a shining star. No Cowens, no Cassel, no Kitchen, no Singleton. Florida State is stacked with defensive players - and as this sport is truly where defense wins championships, the Seminoles are ready for a championship pursuit - but have no star to lead the way. There is no pure shooter on the court, instead the hot hand is passed between starting shooting guard and former All-American Michael Snaer, bench SG Ian Miller, and the lanky distance shooter Deividas Dulkys.
The quarterback on the key is Luke Loucks, a grad student who calls most of the plays for the Seminoles. He had 13 assists and 10 points against UNC on Sunday. Loucks is backed up by grad student Jeff Peterson, the driving force in many games this season that kept the energy when all could have been lost. (see Virginia Tech, 11:00 - 8:00 remaining). He too has great vision.
The big men under the basket are forward Xavier Gibson (great defense) and center Bernard James (the shot blocker, who learned the sport playing pickup games in Afghanistan while serving in the Air Force). Their backups, Okaro White and Jon Kreft respectively, each put 9 points on the board and combined for over 30 minutes in Sunday's championship game. Like a pro team, having these nine meets all of FSU's needs. To win it all, the players simply need to keep up their defense and continue stroking shots at 46% from the field.
Why They'll Go Far in the NCAA Tournament
Of the five ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament, FSU has a 7-1 record against those other four. There are seniors and grad students on this team that know the game and the other players inside and out, adding to a deep chemistry on the field. This team has grown up together through tough games and close losses. If offense were removed from the equation, FSU would be guaranteed to the Final Four. All the Seminoles need is some consistency.
Why They Might Not Go Far
Florida State's depth on the bench earned an ACC Championship over Duke and UNC, but depth does not give the Seminoles a berth in the Elite Eight over Ohio State. In a tournament where games are spread out to every few days, it's like the regular season has continued. Teams get opportunities to rest and do research. The Seminoles are at a disadvantage when the pressure is on the front five to make field goals.
Essentionally, the Seminoles are a streaky team. If the hot hand is not being played by any of the shooters, Florida State can be easily blown out of the Tournament.
Who Are The St. Bonaventure Bonnies?
Good question. The 14th seed in the East division of the NCAA Tournament belongs to St. Bonaventure. As it turns out, winning the Atlantic 10 Conference gives you a decent seed in the Tourny. A defeat of Xavier by 11 points put the Bonnies in position to make a tournament run (for what, the third round at best?), though the buck likely stops in the first round with the Seminoles. I'm not expecting another VCU story, but let's talk it up.
The Bonnies are 118th in rebounds at 35.5 per game, and their field goal percentage is .460, good for 67th and consistent enough to pose a threat. Then again, they never really played a strong defense. Their 62-47 midseason win over Richmond is impressive, but St. Bonaventure has not defeated a major conference team this season. One battle against ranked Illinois came within five points, so they are capable of putting up a fight - but likely do not stand a chance. Sorry. There is no real way to make the Bonnies sound menacing.