Hoops Roundtable: Will the Noles Dance?
In all likelihood, the Florida State men's basketball team will earn a bid to the 2006 NCAA Tournament. But does a team with a RPI rating of 56 and strength of schedule rating of 105 deserve a chance to don a collective pair of dancing of shoes for the first time since 1998?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Picked in the preseason to finish 11th in the conference, the 'Noles find themselves with a No. 5 seeding heading into this week's ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. and the opportunity to make some noise in the field of 65 following the conference tilts an end-of-year positioning that FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton calls a "a tremendous step for our program."
And, despite the low strength of schedule and RPI ratings, FSU has posted nine quality conference wins and was within a few points in three separate ballgames of knocking off top-25 staples Duke, North Carolina and Boston College. Not bad for a team that nabbed only 12 victories last season, including just four in-conference.
Last year's outcome also served as a call-to-question of sorts in regards to the direction that Hamilton and the program was headed. Fast forward nearly 365 days later and rumors of player-coach dissention are gone. FSU even boasts two players in Alexander Johnson and Al Thornton that find themselves with ACC postseason recognition and a host of role players willing to leave it all on the court.
Hamilton was correct in his sentiment about the step being taken and, without a doubt, his squad deserves the chance to attempt a giant leap-forward in the Big Dance (just ask Duke or Miami about the team's current mindset).
Two weeks ago, when running through the names of possible bubble teams, Florida State might not have been an initial choice but now there is no way to avoid them. The Seminoles should and will make the NCAA Tournament though. With recent wins at home against number one Duke and on the road at Miami, Seminole fans can easily put forth a strong argument since they have only lost one game in their past five. This includes wins against ACC rivals Maryland, another bubble team, and Virginia.
Doubters argue that Florida State's strength of schedule is too weak and they played poorly against top 50 teams prior to the final two games but that should not be enough to keep them out of March Madness. Even during Florida State's losses, the team shows the skill needed to upset any top team at any time. Losses this season could have easily gone the other way such as a one point controversial overtime loss to Duke and a one point loss to North Carolina and a three point loss to Boston College.
The Seminoles were able to compile a (9-7) record in the ACC including three road wins and a fifth place finish in perhaps College basketball's toughest conference. Expect the Seminoles to defeat Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament on Thursday and possible a second round victory against North Carolina State. From there the NCAA tournament will follow and do not be surprised if Al Thornton and Alexander Johnson lead the Seminoles in pulling off a first round upset.
National media outlets like Fox Sports, ESPN and Scout.Com are predicting that the Seminoles will be snubbed from the NCAA tournament but after careful thought I can understand why non-locals might not feel that the Noles deserve to be in the big-dance.
Let's face the fact that Florida State is known as a football school and that basketball is considered second or more like third fiddle to Seminole fans. Schools like Kentucky will be given a break because of their rich basketball tradition and Florida State won't be given the benefit of the doubt.
Another factor which I feel is working against the Seminoles is their recent horrible away record which improved this year in the ACC to only 3-5. A late loss to a bad Virginia Tech team doesn't help the cause but the Miami road win probably neutralizes the loss to the Hokies in most people's minds.
In my opinion, beating Wake Forest tomorrow night and playing a very good North Carolina State team closely is what it will take to put Leonard Hamilton and the Noles over the top. However, if the Noles do lose to the Demon Deacons, there will still be a good argument seeing how the Garnet & Gold beat the No.1 team in the country twice in the same year. Yes, I'm calling the first Duke game a win.
Most sports contain teams that are able to control their own destiny when it comes to fighting for a postseason spot. Unfortunately for Florida State, the NCAA tournament system is predicated on finding the most deserving (although not necessarily best) 33 at-large teams to play.
The Seminoles find themselves on the proverbial bubble with a chance to strengthen their resume. Yet FSU's first tournament berth since 1998 may depend more on teams in mid-major conferences fighting for the same position.
Despite winning seven of its last 10 games and coming within a questionable call of earning the season sweep over Duke, Florida State is hurt by its weak non-conference schedule. Posting a 9-7 record in the ACC would assure Leonard Hamilton's squad of the big dance if not for a schedule which included just one victory against the RPI top 50 (Duke) and one victory on the road in non-conference play (Jacksonville).
Beating Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament and making a strong showing versus North Carolina State in the quarterfinals is the only way FSU can gain a virtual lock into the tourney. If the Seminoles lose to Wake or are blown out by the Wolfpack, they must look for the favorites in smaller conferences to take care of business. Mid-major conferences that earn two bids lessen the chance for Florida State to get theirs
A win over Wake Forest is necessary. However, despite the mechanics of the NCAA tournament, FSU should expect to go dancing -- win or lose Thursday.
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