'Noles a confident bunch this season

Although the sting of last season's loss to VCU in the Sweet Sixteen hasn't gone away, Florida State hopes to use the disappointment as motivation to go even further in the NCAA Tournament.

As those final seconds ticked away, Florida State could only look on in disgust. It was over. The magical run had ended.

Guard Deividas Dulkys only wished his team had defended Virginia Commonwealth forward Bradford Burgess a little better.

"Our defense didn't step up, and that hurt us," said Dulkys. "Losing in the Sweet Sixteen and knowing we could've been in the Elite Eight, that thought in the back of your head, it hurts."

The rest is history. FSU wound up falling to VCU in overtime 72-71. There would be no date with Kansas in the Elite Eight. There would be no Final Four.

However, that game is in the past. It's been seven months, and the ‘Noles are ready to put that loss behind them.

Coach Leonard Hamilton expects his team to learn from the defeat -- but not forget it.

"With the realization that we could've gone a little further, players are working harder," said Hamilton. "I expect them to come back with an even greater understanding of what it takes to win."

There is reason to believe FSU can make another lengthy run at the Final Four. Most of the players that were a part of last year's success return, and talented newcomers may add extra depth to a rotation that features six seniors and five juniors.

One of those newcomers who may be asked to contribute immensely is Arkansas transfer Jeff Peterson. The 6-1 graduate student had been the starting point guard for the Razorbacks and could end up filling that role this season for Florida State.

Peterson believes he can help this team immediately.

"I can keep everyone poised and calm," said the Hyattsville, Maryland, native. "Whenever something isn't going our way, I can instill confidence in our team."

Michael Snaer believes Peterson can contribute even more.

"He's not going to turn the ball over," said the 6-5 junior. "He's a scoring threat, and he shows leadership on the court. He's good for the team."

Helping Peterson and Snaer in the backcourt this year will be a healthy Luke Loucks. The 6-5 guard struggled throughout the 2010-11 season due to foot surgery but enters this season as the most experienced point guard in the ACC.

Loucks has played in 101 games in his career.

"Just to have a full offseason with no surgery and no cast and where you can get in the gym and get worked on every day with no nagging injuries has been incredible," said Loucks. "I'm so grateful for what everyone has done to get me healthy."

Loucks will be competing with Peterson for the starting point guard position but insists on only positive competition between the two.

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"We know we are competing for each other's spots, but you handle it in a mature way to know there is an opportunity," he said. "But in the end, if he's playing, I'm going to be cheering for him. And if I'm playing, he'll be cheering for me."

That mentality is precisely what could guide FSU to another successful season. The common goal of this team is to win -- and win it all.

Individual accomplishments are nice, but not as important as accomplishing something greater as a team. Unselfishness could prove to be important.

Hamilton agrees.

"A strength of ours is that we've played incredibly unselfish," he said. "It speaks to the character of this team."

Matt Ritter is the basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.

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