March 7, 2006
TALLAHASSEE -- Depending on the time of day and which bracketologist or TV/radio talking head is doing the yapping, Florida State's NCAA Tournament hopes are either sealed or hinge on a first-round victory in the ACC Tournament.
Most contend that the Seminoles neared a spot in the field for the first time since 1998 with their 79-74 win over Duke, then sealed it with a regular season-ending 67-64 victory at Miami. Others point to their non-conference schedule -- ranked 325th (out of 334 nationally) according to the RPI Report, heading into the final week of the regular season -- and wonder if that left them with unfinished business heading to Greensboro.
"If the committee is going to pick the 64 best teams, I think they are going to be hard-pressed to find 64 better teams that are more qualified," Hamilton said after the Duke win. "I do think we are more than qualified to participate in the NCAA Tournament."
Of course, the committee is selecting only 34 at-large berths, not the best 65 teams. And that's where Florida State's shaky non-conference schedule, and history of early ACC Tournament exits, could leave some uneasy feelings among its supporters.
First, for the Seminoles' ACC Tournament history. Oops, they have none. In 14 previous appearances, FSU has never won two games in a single tournament. That includes 1992 and 1993, when it entered the field as the No. 2 seed. The Seminoles were bounced in the semifinals by UNC in 1992, then upset by Clemson in their 1993 quarterfinal.
In fact, FSU's all-time tournament record is 5-14. And on those five occasions when the team did win first-round games (1992, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003), its average margin of defeat in the second round was nearly 21 points.
As for the Seminoles' NCAA status going to Greensboro, Hamilton refused to speculate.
"What we like to do as a staff and a team is just allow this thing to play itself out before we start trying to get into the, what if?'" Hamilton said. "Anything that I would say as it relates to our chances and whether I think we are in or not in and whether I think we should be in is speculation, and I might be a little prejudiced."
That prejudice showed recently, when Hamilton addressed a non-conference schedule and 10-1 record that included seven victories over teams with an RPI of 248 or worse.
"I am not real sure the strength of schedule would be an issue if we had been successful against Florida, or if we hadn't lost to BC by three at BC, or to UNC by one, or to Duke in overtime, or against Miami had we been successful," Hamilton said. "Does that mean that because we came real, real close against teams that have been very successful that we are not a good basketball team? I am not real sure it does.
"I think it just means we got beat by some teams that are pretty good basketball teams. ... I am not real sure, if you take the number of quality games we played, how can our strength of schedule be in question?"
Certainly, Hamilton could have been more aggressive in his non-conference scheduling. After all, the NCAA Tournament selection committee weighs the quality of scheduling as it tries to narrow its field of at-large candidates. At the same time, he makes a good argument in defense of a schedule that included the likes of Jacksonville, Alcorn State, Louisiana-Monroe, Texas Southern, Stetson and Campbell.
"We are the same team that most of the media picked to finish 11th (in the ACC) in the preseason, and we did not have any double-figure scorers returning," he said. "How foolish would it have been for me to go out and build a killer schedule when nobody thought we were any good?
"What we have done is we have improved and we have gotten better and we have developed into a pretty good basketball team. I am not real sure the comments that you hear from people on the air will mean a whole lot. The committee will have a clear understanding of how this whole thing plays itself out."
Whether that helps or hurts the Seminoles in an effort to end its seven-year NCAA Tournament drought will play out in Greensboro, which holds their last chance to leave a positive impression on the committee.
O-LINE COMMITTED TO BULKING UP
Offensive line coach Mark McHale's late arrival to Florida State last spring limited the amount of preparation time he had to work with his new pupils. McHale, however, has been making up for lost time in the offseason, as the Seminoles prepare to open spring practice on March 13.
For the first time, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden has excused his offensive linemen from a portion of the offseason conditioning program, formerly known as mat drills, though it hardly means more time off.
That's because McHale, who lamented the lack of strength across the board up front last season, has been ushering his charges into the weight room nearly every morning, shortly after they report with the rest of the team at 5:30 a.m. The goal? To beef up the ACC's worst rushing offense by being able to physically compete up front.
That group included at least one surprise, junior center/guard John Frady. Three months after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, Frady has been able to bench press 300 pounds. He still may be held out of spring practice as a precautionary measure, but his presence will be a key for the Seminoles in the fall.
In rattling off a handful of players who have excelled, McHale raved about the continued improvement of rising senior left tackle Mario Henderson, who was exceptional in starting the final two games of the 2005 season.
Perhaps more importantly, junior college transfer and January enrollee Shannon Boatman also has emerged as one of the leaders in the weight room. Boatman, whose upper-body strength was considered his primary weakness, could push incumbent starter David Overmyer aside at right tackle.