NEW YORK – According to virtually every reputable NCAA tournament guru, the Florida State men’s basketball team won’t need to bite its nails come Selection Sunday, regardless of what happens at this week’s ACC tournament in Brooklyn.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Seminoles projected as a nine-seed in Wichita, while CBS’ Jerry Palm has FSU as a No. 9 in Nashville and The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel puts the Seminoles a little higher, as a No. 7 in Nashville.
The seeding numbers and locations may shift and vary, but Florida State’s spot in the tournament seemingly does not.
Just don’t tell that to the Seminoles, who arrived here in New York late Monday insisting that they don’t pay much attention to “bracketology” and believing that they still have work to do to enhance their Big Dance credentials.
“I don’t know where we’re at (in the projections),” junior forward Terance Mann said.
“I don’t think we’ve done enough,” senior forward Phil Cofer added. “I think we’ve got to keep fighting.”
Cofer and the eighth-seed Seminoles can do a little more on Wednesday when they meet the No. 9-seeded Louisville Cardinals at noon in the Barclays Center.
It will be this season’s the third meeting between FSU and Louisville, and, if its anything like the first two, the Seminoles can expect another fight.
The two teams split the season series, with each winning on the other’s home floor and each home team squandering second-half leads.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said there won’t be much mystery surrounding Round 3.
“They know us and we know them,” he said. “It’s a matter of how close we come to being the best of who we are, versus who they are, and whether not they’re going to be the better of who they are than who we are.”
Complicating matters for FSU is that, while its NCAA spot seems solid, Louisville’s isn’t so sure. The Cardinals appear to be on the wrong side of the dreaded bubble, with Lunardi, Palm and Mandel all projecting them to be among the first four teams to miss the cut.
One thing they all agree on, though, is that a win over FSU would go a long way. Which means Hamilton expects a motivated and desperate opponent on Wednesday.
“This is what it is. This is tournament time,” he said. “The games take on a tremendous amount of importance. And I’m sure they’re excited about the opportunity, and I know we are too.”
And that’s not to say that the Seminoles don’t have a big opportunity in front of them, too.
A win over Louisville would seem to remove any shadow of doubt about FSU’s NCAA tournament case, and, if they win Wednesday, the Seminoles would get a date with top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Virginia on Thursday.
Topping the Cavaliers is a tall order – only two teams have done it all season – but the Seminoles do have some reasons for optimism: They pushed UVA to its limit earlier this season at the Tucker Center and led by as many as 11 points before eventually falling, 59-55.
Upsetting the Cavaliers in Brooklyn might be enough to boost FSU’s seeding in the Big Dance, which in turn might allow the Seminoles to increase their chances at a lengthier NCAA stay.
“The more we win,” Mann said, “the higher seed we get and the more respect we earn.”
And besides, after guiding a revamped FSU roster to 20 wins for the third straight season – despite losing his top three scorers from a year ago – Hamilton doesn’t want to leave anything to chance.
“You want to win as many games as you can,” he said, “and let the chips fall where they may.”
Wednesday’s game also provides a first opportunity for FSU’s newcomers to get a taste of the stage and atmosphere provided by the ACC tournament and the Barclays Center.
While FSU’s veterans are plenty familiar with the arena – the Seminoles played there twice a year ago – freshmen contributors like M.J. Walker and Ike Obiagu will be making their postseason debut.
“I’ve been waiting on this all year,” Walker said. “I grew up watching the ACC tournament and, of course, March Madness. It’s an honor to be here, and I’m ready for it.”