March 17, 2019 - by
Third Straight Trip to Tourney Brings New Focus

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Selection Sunday had a familiar vibe for the Florida State men’s basketball team.

Just like last year, the Seminoles had a long wait before seeing their name pop up on the T.V. screen. And, just like last year, the Seminoles were placed in the NCAA tournament’s West region and will spend the second weekend of the tournament in southern California, should they advance that far.

There are even a couple teams – Gonzaga and Michigan – that FSU faced in its run to the Elite Eight a year ago.

But the most familiar aspect of Selection Sunday, and the one that matters most, is the Seminoles are once again among the field of 68.

Comfortably.

Which is why all the talk of seeding and matchups and potential upset specials could wait, at least for a little while.

The Seminoles are in the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season, and the seventh time in 11 years. It’s familiar territory.

“We are pleased and we’re happy, but we’re not quite as emotional,” said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, whose fourth-seeded Seminoles will meet No. 13 Vermont on Thursday at 2 p.m. in Hartford, Conn.

“We understand that it’s going to be hard, and we understand what it takes to go in and compete in the NCAA tournament.”

Indeed, there was plenty of buzz in the local restaurant where the Seminoles gathered to watch the show. And there was a healthy cheer when “Florida State” finally appeared in CBS’ bracket broadcast.

But it was a far cry from the over-the-top celebrations that have become a hallmark of Selection Sunday.

No one fell out of their seat. No one cried. Perhaps the biggest show of emotion came from center Christ Koumadje, who threw his arms in the air.

“Definitely more of a business feeling than it was,” senior Terance Mann said. “(Not) just happiness and happy to be here like it was two years ago. This year, we’re going to be more focused and more prepared for what’s going on.”

Vermont, the Seminoles’ first opponent, is also making its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, and secured its bid by winning the America East tournament championship.

The Catamounts are virtual unknowns to the Seminoles, but not quite.

While the two programs haven’t met on the hardwood since 1976, FSU’s David Nichols played against Vermont five times while playing at Albany from 2015-18. He transferred to Florida State prior to the 2018-19 season and is now the Seminoles’ seventh-leading scorer.

Whether Nichols’ experience against the Catamounts proves useful remains to be seen.

For now, though, Hamilton’s priorities are for his players to rest up as much as they can – they just finished a grueling stretch of three games in three days against three ranked opponents and will leave for Hartford on Tuesday – and then get in the right frame of mind in time for Thursday’s game.

“Right now, it’s about us being who we are,” he said. “It’s kind of challenging, right now, to assess teams you know very little about. That’s why we’ve got to concern ourselves with who we are and us trying to get back and make sure we’re playing to our strengths.”

The rest of the West region looks challenging, but not prohibitively so. Beat Vermont, and the Seminoles will meet either fifth-seeded Marquette or No. 12-seed Murray State in the round of 32.

A win there could set up a date with top-seeded Gonzaga at the Sweet 16 in Anaheim, Calif. FSU last season upset the Bulldogs in that same round just a few miles up Interstate-5 in Los Angeles.

“A lot of talent on the west side (of the bracket),” FSU’s Mfiondu Kabengele. “It’s good to be a part of it. …

“It’s a new level, an expectation that we’re Florida State. We’re a great program, we’re going to the tournament every single year.”

That’s a familiar feeling the Seminoles are happy to have.

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