ORLANDO – As far as they’re concerned, the Florida State Seminoles have been proving doubters wrong since Day 1.
So forgive them if they’re unfazed by predictions and prognostications that have them on “upset alert” heading into their game against Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
FSU, the No. 3 seed in the West region, will meet the 14th-seeded Eagles at around 9:20 p.m., Thursday here at the Amway Center.
“People are going to think what they want,” FSU guard Dwayne Bacon said. “Everybody’s not going to pick us to win every game, and that’s obvious.”
Maybe it’s the proximity of FGCU’s Fort Myers campus to Orlando. Maybe it’s some leftover mystique from the Eagles’ run to the Sweet 16 in 2013. Or maybe it’s just human nature to pull for madness in March. But, for one reason or another, FGCU has been a trendy upset pick among college basketball analysts this week.
CBS’ broadcast team hinted that FSU might be ripe for an upset just moments after the bracket was announced Sunday.
The Washington Post listed Florida State among its “most vulnerable” top seeds, and ESPN’s Jay Bilas flat out picked the Eagles to win on Thursday.
Inside Florida State’s locker room, reaction to the Seminoles’ national perception ranged from indifference and defiance.
“Sure, I’ve heard one or two guys make statements on the television predicting upsets for all over the country,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “That’s kind of what they do. You’re on TV, you got to make yourself interesting”
While Florida State still doesn’t qualify as an underdog – No. 3 seeds are 57-7 in first-round games since 2000, and ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives FSU an 87 percent chance to win – the Seminoles on Thursday said they don’t mind having some doubters around the country.
After all, several Seminoles still point to the ACC preseason poll, which predicted that FSU would finish eighth in the conference standings, as a catalyst to their success this season.
Motivated by their preseason slights, the Seminoles got off to one of the best starts in school history and rose to as high as No. 6 in the national polls.
“It’s the same thing,” Bacon said. “Some people actually get paid for picking us to be the (team that gets upset). If that’s what they think, that’s what they think.”
In fact, senior Jarquez Smith said that these latest barbs might have come at just the right time.
With Florida State’s newfound success came altered expectations, and, midway through the season, the Seminoles found that maintaining their place near the top of the mountain might have been more difficult than climbing there in the first place.
After starting the season 17-2, and 6-1 in ACC play, FSU went 8-6 the rest of the way.
It was still enough to earn a 3-seed in the tournament, although apparently not enough for some pundits to predict a deep run.
“I’m kind of happy they said that,” Smith said. “Because, at the beginning of the year, when everybody didn’t believe in us as much, it lit a fire in us. And that’s part of the main reason that we had the season that we had.
“So now, hearing that and seeing that on national TV, after we worked our butts off all season to get a 3-seed, I think it just reignited the fire in us.”
Bacon echoed that sentiment.
“I feel like we got the same juice back that we had earlier in the season,” he said. “We’re the hunters. It’s different when you’re being hunted. But we’re out there, taking everything in front of us.”
That’s not to say that the Seminoles don’t still have a healthy respect for their opponents, and for good reason.
The Eagles have won 19 of their last 21 games and earlier this season gave scares to nationally-ranked foes Baylor and Florida.
They score an average of 41.5 points in the paint and have the third-most dunks in the country with 157. FSU, incidentally, has the most (171).
“They’re super-athletic,” FSU guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes said. “They do a really good job of getting downhill. That’s something we’re going to have to try and negate.”