Expectations high heading into NCAAs

A sexy pick to make it to the Final Four, FSU has been preparing for this moment all season long. Last year was last year. This year, the Seminoles could be a legit threat to cut down the nets.

The confetti has stopped falling, and Philips Arena can once again become the home of the Atlanta Hawks. All schools have reached the exits and since returned to their respective campuses.

The ACC-champion Florida State Seminoles have already been greeted by many adoring students, fans and residents of the state capitol.

It's time to get back to work, as the NCAA Tournament is on the horizon.

Certainly, Seminoles near and far will enjoy this one for awhile. After all, a university predominantly known for its helmets and pads just became the first program since the 1995-96 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to defeat ACC powerhouses Duke and North Carolina twice each in the same season.

Not to mention that this is the first time the ACC crown has resided in Tallahassee.

Still, as we look into the future and realize that a hungry champion in its own respect -- Atlantic 10-champ St. Bonaventure -- is awaiting the Seminoles in Nashville on Friday, we also recognize that expectations for this FSU team are at an all-time high.

Florida State is arguably one of the hottest teams in the country.

It just blew through the conference tournament by defeating a desperate Miami team that needed to win to reach the Big Dance, a Duke bunch that has made a habit of bringing the conference title back to Durham and a Tar Heel squad that was hoping to avenge being on the wrong end of a 33-point beatdown at the Tucker Center just a couple of months ago.

It cannot be denied that this year's Florida State team is flying high.

Nonetheless, a hot streak of this caliber doesn't come without national recognition. The ‘Noles are quickly becoming a sexy pick to reach the Final Four, despite being placed in a very tough region. FSU could have to defeat three conference tournament championship game participants just to reach the regional final.

Yes, there are major road blocks standing in the way.

However, this is a program that has found its niche. It's a team that has come a long way from a disappointing 9-6 start. It has a head coach that has remained poised throughout all the commotion. And it possesses an offense that is quickly catching up to its notoriously tough defense.

It's a group that is primed to make another run on an even bigger stage.

The major reason this magical season could extend into early April is that the 'Noles have all bought into coach Leonard Hamilton's system. They possess a near-perfect collection of budding stars and accepting role players, all the while understanding that defense wins championships.

It's a mindset that will have to continue throughout the tournament. Michael Snaer has to continue his shot making, and fellow guards Ian Miller and Deividas Dulkys will have to keep coming up large when their numbers are called.

NCAA Tournament success often comes down to efficient guard play, and scrappy senior Luke Loucks is performing at a very high level after having arguably the best stretch of his collegiate career. His quarterbacking of the offense has been superb, and his willingness to step up in big moments has not gone unnoticed.

And they have all played on this stage before.

The Seminoles are one of the most experienced teams in the tournament and have started four seniors on many occasions. That certainly should serve them well this time around.

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However, the harsh realities of March Madness became all too real last year, when a dream season ended abruptly in the round of 16. A Final Four-bound VCU team ruined Florida State's championship hopes in the waning seconds. It's a game none of these players have forgotten, and one can sense that there remains unfinished business.

The message has boomed throughout the TLCCC all season, straight from the players' mouths: The Sweet 16 was last year. We are not satisfied.

It's a Seminole squad whose talent has finally caught up with its desire. That is a dangerous combination for any team standing in its way.

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

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