TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Fresh off a weekend tournament in which they beat one ranked team and another team on the verge of the national polls, the Florida State Seminoles are upping the ante.
FSU, itself freshly minted with a No. 17 national ranking on Monday after beating then-No. 17 Tennessee and Purdue in a two-day span at the Emerald Coast Classic, is set to visit Indiana on Tuesday as part of the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Meetings between the Seminoles and the five-time national champion Hoosiers have been rare, and FSU visits to IU’s Assembly Hall even more so. They’ve played just four times – at Bloomington, Ind., in 1975, then at neutral sites in 1991 and 1992 (twice).
But while Florida State (7-1) might not have much experience with Indiana, coach Leonard Hamilton most certainly does.
His career has crossed paths with the Hoosiers several times over the last 40-plus years, particularly during his time as an assistant at rival Kentucky (1974-86).
Hamilton, known for his stingy defenses, credits longtime IU coach Bob Knight with helping to inform his defensive philosophies.
“Coach Knight, in my opinion was, gosh, he was the man in college basketball,” Hamilton said. “I had two books that I read a lot of. One was the Bible. The other was his defensive book.
“I can remember, as a grad student, just looking at that book and reading it and hanging all my defensive thoughts on everything that I read.”
This year’s Hoosiers are off to a 7-0 start, although the Seminoles will be the first major conference opponent they’ve faced this year.
IU has four players averaging double-digit scoring, and they’ve got two big men – 6-9 forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and 6-11 forward Joey Brunk – who combine to average nearly 15 rebounds per game.
A freshman and former McDonald’s All-American, Jackson-Davis is the Hoosiers’ leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker, and he’s already logged four double-doubles.
“They’re a big team. They’re kind of a traditional team,” FSU forward RaiQuan Gray said. “They run two ‘bigs,’ so a lot of post touches and stuff like that. We’re definitely going to have to be aware of that.”
Particularly so given Hamilton’s points of emphasis following FSU’s win over Purdue.
Despite emerging with a 63-60, overtime victory, the Seminoles shot just 1-of-17 from 3-point range and were outrebounded, 48-33.
Hamilton said that those figures gave him “heartburn,” and that the Seminoles will need to improve on each if they expect to beat Indiana.
“This is a typical, ACC-type game,” Hamilton said, “with the exception that they’re going to have probably one of the best home courts in the history of college basketball. So we have a clear understanding of what we’re up against. …
“Early on, we played some teams where we could make some mistakes and they weren’t capable of making us pay for them. But that won’t be the case here.”
The Seminoles do have plenty of reasons to feel confident, though. For one, they’re riding a seven-game winning streak after dropping their season opener, and they’ve banked victories of all kinds and against all manner of opponents.
They’ve also won three consecutive games in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, with victories over Minnesota, Rutgers and Purdue.
Of course, none of those teams have the tradition or history that Indiana does. And few teams play in an atmosphere like the one at Assembly Hall, a 17,222-seat arena that regularly appears on lists of the country’s toughest road environments.
Rather than shy away from it, Hamilton is embracing the challenge.
“This is a unique and special opportunity for us to play against a real good team on the road early in the season,” he said. “And I think the fact that they have such a storied history and tradition, it puts an added flavor onto the game that I’m not even real sure our players will understand, be able to relate to the history of college basketball as it relates to the University of Indiana.”