WATCH: Seminoles preview ACC tournament
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Dozens of college basketball coaches across the country will have knots in their stomachs this week, as conference tournaments provide one last chance to get on the right side of the bubble and secure a spot in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
But that’s not the case at Florida State.
The Seminoles have a spot in the Big Dance assured, having won 11 of their last 12 games and finishing fourth in the nation’s toughest basketball conference.
That doesn’t mean, however, that they plan to kick up their feet this week at the ACC tournament.
Florida State, the tournament’s No. 4 seed, will play Thursday against fifth-seeded Virginia Tech – which they beat in Tallahassee last week – at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.
Although the Seminoles aren’t fighting for their postseason lives, they do have an opportunity to improve their seeding. A win over the Hokies would give FSU a fifth victory over a ranked opponent and would set up a likely date with No. 2 and top-seeded Virginia in the ACC semifinal.
Another victory would probably pit the Seminoles against either No. 3 North Carolina or No. 5 Duke in the championship game on Saturday night.
That many high-profile contests in such a short amount of time could give the NCAA selection committee plenty to think about when deciding where to send the Seminoles next week.
“We want to make it as far as we can and then just use that as momentum going into the (NCAA) tournament,” junior guard Trent Forrest said. “So I would say we just want to stay locked in and continue to win games.”
Besides, it’s not as if coach Leonard Hamilton plans to just completely switch gears now that the postseason is here.
His team enjoyed one of the most successful stretches in program history thanks to a fast, aggressive offense and a defense that steadily improved over the course of the season.
One reporter asked if the ACC tournament is something of a “dress rehearsal” leading into the NCAAs, but Hamilton said his group plans to treat its week in Charlotte with the same type of significance attached to all the games that came before.
“Philosophically, I can’t allow myself to get in that frame of mind,” Hamilton said. “We are still getting better. We still have some areas where I think we can improve. …
“We’re locked in on the things we can control. We can’t worry about next week.”
And, based on their first meeting with Virginia Tech, the Seminoles will be plenty motivated for the rematch, regardless of any big-picture implications.
In a game that was among the toughest, most physical and most contentious that FSU played this season, the Hokies built a 14-point lead in the first half and looked on the verge of running the Seminoles out of their home arena. But FSU rallied in the second half and then surged past Virginia Tech in overtime for a memorable victory on Senior Night.
Even in the wake of that game, the Seminoles were intrigued by the possibility of a rematch.
“I love it,” sophomore guard MJ Walker said. “I love close games, but I love the way we competed like that against that team. Those guys have got some good players and I’m down for the fight every time.”
And after beating Miami on Wednesday afternoon, it didn’t take long for the Hokies to be asked about Florida State.
“It’s going to be a 40-minute dogfight,” Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear Jr. said.
“They’re a very hard-playing team and they won’t back down,” Ty Outlaw added. “It’s never over when you’re playing against them, until the last second goes off the clock.”
Florida State typically enjoys a heavy depth advantage over its opponents, and that could potentially play an even bigger factor on Thursday.
The Hokies’ rotation only goes about seven deep – their starters all played at least 28 minutes against Miami – and they’ll be playing their second game in as many days.
“We’re very poised, we’re very happy right now. We’re excited,” said FSU redshirt sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele, who on Tuesday was named the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year.
“We worked really hard to get the double-bye, so it’s our job to capitalize on it.”