TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Forget the standings and don’t bother studying the tiebreaker rules.
For the Florida State men’s basketball team, the math is simple: If the Seminoles win their next three games – at Clemson, at Notre Dame and home against Boston College, they’ll finish atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings for the first time in school history.
Yes, scoreboard watching and tiebreaker scenarios could come into play should the Seminoles stub their toe in any of those three contests.
But they’d prefer just to make things easy. And that process starts Saturday at Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum, where No. 6 FSU will look to sweep the Tigers for the second consecutive season (2 p.m., RSN).
FSU beat Clemson, 72-53, at home in December.
“Being in the No. 1 position in the ACC is a spot we have not been to,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “So now what we haven’t dealt with is the mindset you receive (from opponents) when you go on the road and you’re in that position.
“So much of the progress we need to make from here on out is how we handle it mentally and emotionally.”
The Seminoles ascended to first place in the league standings earlier this week thanks to their win over No. 11 Louisville on Monday and then by Duke’s loss at Wake Forest a day later.
They’ll get a quick first test of their newfound status.
The Tigers are a pedestrian 14-13, 8-9 in ACC play, but they’ve been a tougher out in their home arena.
Clemson is 10-5 at home, with victories over both Duke and Louisville.
“They have sort of a knack for beating big teams on their home court,” FSU forward Malik Osborne said. “So we have to take them very seriously.”
Going 3-for-3 against the league’s top tier would give a boost to the Tigers’ postseason hopes and their fans have responded in kind, as the game is sold out.
“We’re focusing on what we have to do prepare ourselves to go play a Clemson game where the atmosphere is going to be unlike anything we’ve ever experienced when we’ve gone to Clemson,” Hamilton said.
“That’s what you work toward. You want to get that level of respect. But when you get it, now you have to deal with it. And that’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
If they can pull it off, it will set up for one of the most compelling finishes to a season in the program’s recent history.
The Seminoles have one-game leads over both Duke and Louisville in the standings, although the Blue Devils must play at Virginia and home against an NC State team that is on the NCAA tournament bubble.
And Louisville closes the season against Virginia Tech and at Virginia.
Those are each ostensibly tougher roads than the one the Seminoles are due to travel – FSU lost at UVA last month – although they could be in for some hurdles as well.
Get through Clemson, and the Seminoles must then turn around and visit Notre Dame, where they have yet to win in three tries. FSU beat Notre Dame, 85-84, last month.
No surprise, though, Hamilton isn’t even thinking about the Fighting Irish just yet.
The math says the Seminoles control their own destiny for the rest of the regular season. But Hamilton is quick to remind that losing focus is an easy way to lose that designation.
“You can’t win three in a row unless you take care of the first one,” he said. “So the most important thing is to stay focused on what got us to this point and not get too far ahead of ourselves.”