The Daily Nole

FSU Hoops: These Aren’t the Same Ol’ Noles

Perrone Ford/FSU athletics

You’d be hard-pressed to find a team on the NCAA Tournament bubble more often over the last 15 years than Florida State.

It seems as though under head coach Leonard Hamilton, narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament has become an art form. In four of the previous 14 seasons under Hamilton, the Seminoles managed to make the field of 64, 65 or 68 four times. Eight times, they’ve won at least 20 games.

Often times, Florida State would head into ACC play with a lot of confidence following great non-conference performances. During the 2003-04 and 2006-07 seasons, FSU was 12-2 in non-conference play. It was 10-1 during the 2005-06 season. Even last season, Florida State was 10-2 in the non-conference.

Aside from solid non-conferences, all these seasons have another thing in common: FSU missed the NCAA Tournament. Often times, the Seminoles were just a win or two away from punching that ticket.

That history made some hesitant to fully buy into Florida State this season. The Seminoles finished the non-conference 12-1 and ascended into the top 20 for the first time in nearly five years.

As nice as the record and national ranking was however, the non-conference schedule ranked just 72nd and there was really no marquee victory. Florida is currently ranked 25th while Minnesota and Illinois were also respectable victories, but there were no big names or national powers on the slate. FSU’s loss came to a Temple team that currently sits at 9-6 and in a game where the Seminoles held an 18-point second half lead.

The good news for Florida State fans is that after Saturday, you CAN buy into this team. Dwayne Bacon’s step-back 3-point with two seconds left served as the game-winner as FSU became just the second ACC team in 36 tries to beat Virginia in Charlottesville, 60-58.

As impressive as going into a hostile environment like John Paul Jones Arena and coming out with a win is, perhaps more impressive is how Florida State won. Keep in mind that Virginia came into the game off an impressive 61-53 road victory over No. 6 Louisville.

Bacon obviously stole the show, finishing with 29 points, including 26 and the game-winner in the second half, but in a match-up of contrasting styles, the Seminoles played the entire game at Virginia’s half-court pace and were still better at the end of 40 minutes.

The transition game has been a big strength for Florida State this season, but on Saturday in Charlottesville, FSU didn’t record a single fast-break point. The Seminoles also rallied from a 9-point deficit late in the first half to get the victory. Against a team like Virginia that slows things down and limits opposing possessions, a 9-point deficit to the Cavaliers may be akin to a 15-point hole against virtually anyone else.

While Bacon was obviously stellar, Virginia did a good job of holding FSU’s other weapons in check. Freshman phenom Jonathan Isaac was held to just five points on 1-for-6 shooting while third-leading scorer and top assist man Xavier Rathan-Mayes went without a point in the second half.

Virginia entered Saturday’s game without a single player averaging in double-figures scoring. On Saturday, the Cavaliers had four players score at least 10 points and got 31 points from its bench. That still wasn’t enough to get the win at home over the Seminoles.

Saturday’s victory in Charlottesville for an FSU team that wasn’t at its best is certainly impressive, but it might be a little too early for fans to start booking tickets to Phoenix for the Final Four. What the victory does do however, is give Florida State a marquee for the season, affirms the team’s top 20 ranking and shows that Hamilton’s group is a dangerous one even when it’s not clicking on all cylinders.

With the win, the Seminoles are now 14-1 and will likely move up in the polls, probably into the top 15, when they’re released Monday. Thanks to a couple of other upsets on Saturday, FSU is one of just two teams in the ACC with one loss or fewer.

The other is Virginia Tech, who at 12-1 is fresh off a home upset of Duke. The Hokies will serve as the next challenge for the Seminoles on Saturday in Tallahassee in what will likely be a match-up of top 25 times. At stake for FSU in that contest its first-ever 3-0 start in ACC play and it would come against an ACC that may be deeper than it has ever been.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson

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