'Nole cagers hot at the right time

A season that started with very high expectations saw some bumpy spots in the early part of the schedule, but Florida State closed like a freight train. That close earned the 'Noles a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

High Point: Wins over North Carolina and Duke in a week's time signaled that this team could be for real. But the high point has to be last Sunday, when Florida State cut down the nets after an ACC Tournament championship. Beating those same two teams -- and they are made to be at their best this time of year -- on back-to-back days is simply stunning.

Low Point: January 7, 2012. Florida State went on the road and lost to a non-tourney team in Clemson by 20 points. The Seminoles' record was 9-6 after this game. Losses to Princeton, Florida (by 18) and Harvard were not real encouraging signs, either.

Critical Win: There are more than a few that qualify, but we will pick March 1, 2012. FSU had just lost back-to-back games to Duke and Miami. It faced a tough road test in tourney team Virginia. The 'Noles pulled out a three-point win and have not lost since -- five Ws in a row).

Player of the Year: Bernard James. We will reward consistency here at one of the toughest positions on the court. You can pencil James in for 10-plus points, 8-plus rebounds and 2 blocks while shooting a high percentage from the field every game. Most importantly, he knows what he excels at and does not try to do too much. This is a defensive team that puts a premium on possessions. James is the key piece to that puzzle.

Mr. Mojo: Michael Snaer. The 6-5 junior is finally displaying the type of difference-making talent that teams need to go far in the tournament. He was consistent in his first two years, averaging 8.8 points and almost 3 boards, but he upped his game this year averaging by 14.5 points and shooting the ball much better from three-point range: 42 percent with increased attempts. He was sensational in his last four games, averaging just over 20 points per game -- including a red-hot 14 of 19 on 3s. Florida State needs this young man to keep it up.

The Wildcard: Ian Miller. A highly-touted recruit that made little impact as a freshman, he has been much better as a sophomore. He doubled his scoring average in his second year and has had real solid games in three of his last five. If Miller can join Snaer in the "hot" category, watch out.

NCAA Tourney Draw: FSU did not get any favors, with a streaking St. Bonaventure team in Round 1. Vegas lists the 'Noles as only a 6-point favorite in this game. Still, Florida State is the more talented and deeper team. Cincinnati and Texas make up the other game for the first weekend. The Bearcats seem to have been energized after their brawl with Xavier, and they are clearly a dangerous team after making a run to the Big East tourney final. We would expect FSU to be a 2- to 3-point favorite in that matchup. Texas is awful -- probably a worse team than the Bonnies.

Ohio State and Syracuse lurk out there in a potential second weekend. FSU matches up favorably with both. We will cross that bridge next week.

Tourney Prediction: Elite Eight. FSU takes care of business in the first two rounds and pulls a mild upset over Ohio State, as the Buckeyes can't match Florida State's defensive intensity.

However, that Syracuse zone is just too much for the Seminoles in the Elite Eight.


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