With their last appearance in the NCAA Tournament occurring in 2012, the Florida State men’s basketball team has not participated in “March Madness” for nearly four years. The 2015-2016 season was supposed to end this streak, thanks in part to a talented freshman class. However, after undergoing a five game losing streak, only a deep run into the ACC Tournament can save the Seminoles on Selection Sunday.
Despite becoming the winningest coach in Florida State basketball history this season and achieving four NCAA tournament berths, head coach Leonard Hamilton has faced a lot of scrutiny recently due the popular opinion that his current team has underachieved.
During non-conference play, power forward Phil Cofer suffered an injury and center Michael Ojo was ruled out for the year, however Florida State still came out strong to begin the season. A 10-2 start, with victories over Mississippi State, VCU, and Florida made many Seminole fans optimistic. The excellent play of First Team All-ACC Freshmen Malik Beasley (15.7 ppg) and Dwayne Bacon (15.8 ppg), raised expectations about reaching the tournament even higher. Unfortunately, the start of ACC play brought forth inconsistencies that would plague the Noles for the rest of the season.
Florida State began ACC play with three loses in a row to Clemson, North Carolina, and Miami, the latter two being conference title contenders. The two losses against UNC and Miami were not close encounters and the Noles were outrebounded 130 to 103 during this three game stretch, so it was evident that coach Hamilton’s young squad was not yet ready to challenge the best of the ACC. The ensuing games against North Carolina State and Virginia brought forth better results as FSU won back-to-back games. The UVA win in particular was impressive as the Cavaliers wound up finishing the regular season ranked fourth in the nation.
As aforementioned, the Seminoles struggled with being consistent and after winning two in a row, the Noles lost the next two games at Louisville and at home against Pittsburgh in a heartbreaker. The Pittsburgh loss would later comeback to burn FSU as they led the entire game until the closing minutes, but could not hold on for the victory. However, after the next four games, that close loss was forgotten as FSU rolled off four against Boston College, Clemson, NC State, and Wake Forest. These teams were not powerhouses, but they kept FSU afloat in the tournament race as it placed the Noles at a 16-7 overall record and a 6-5 record in ACC play. With only seven games left in ACC play, it seemed as if FSU just needed to win three to four more games to feel safe going into Selection Sunday. If you look at the 2015-2016 basketball team’s season, one realizes that with every good result, bad ones soon follow. Florida State managed to match their four wins in a row, with five ensuing losses.
A blowout loss at Syracuse in Jim Boeheim’s return was disappointing but not unexpected. The next loss against Miami was heartbreaking as FSU had a chance to win the game, after securing a rebound off a missed free throw. Down one point with less than 20 seconds on the clock, Dwayne Bacon brought the ball up the court and sized up the defense. After hitting a game winning shot versus Florida, it appeared as if Bacon would hit another shot to defeat FSU’s other rival, the Hurricanes. In what later seemed like an inexplicable move, Bacon passed the ball to sophomore guard and former Freshman All-American Xavier Rathan-Mayes who wound up dribbling the ball off his leg which essentially ended the game for the Noles. This marked a turning point in the season as a win against Miami may have been enough to secure FSU a spot in the “Big Dance.” The next two games were viewed as very winnable but the Noles feel behind by close to 20 points at home to Georgia Tech in a loss, and then blew a 10 point second half lead at Virginia Tech. Another blowout loss, this time coming at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils gave FSU a 16-12 record on the season.
Coming into the final two regular season games FSU needed to win both to even remain in contention for an NIT bid, let alone a trip into the NCAA Tournament. The games were both at home, but against seemingly superior teams in Notre Dame and Syracuse. Suprisingly, FSU obliterated Notre Dame at home and held on to defeat Syracuse the following week to finish 18-12 overall and 8-10 in ACC play.
Now both the basketball team and its fans are left with one question: What happens next? This team that has been so inconsistent reeled off two impressive wins against Notre Dame and Syracuse heading into the ACC Tournament. Boston College, who has not won a game this season in the ACC in either football or basketball, will be FSU’s first opponent in the conference tournament. FSU should defeat the Eagles which would then set the Noles up for a rematch with Virginia Tech on Wednesday. If FSU can recapture the focus and energy that gained them a 10-point lead at the Hokies gymnasium, then a victory is something that can be accomplished. After the second round all bets are off. If FSU makes it to Thursday, they would face a fresh Miami team that blew them out once, and held on to win in the second game. This third matchup is a toss up though a betting individual would most likely side with Miami.
To be clear, Florida State must make it to at least the semi-finals of the ACC Tournament to have a chance to even be considered on Selection Sunday. Other pundits believe that have to make the championship game, and this could occur as most likely Virginia would be FSU’s opponent in the semis and the Noles already defeated them once. However, this trek to the tournament is unlikely and FSU’s lack of front court depth, experience, and focus at times could do them in at any moment. But if FSU can energize themselves, come together as a team, and play with a drive that has only occasionally been seen this season, then there is a chance that you may see the Seminoles dancing their way into the NCAA Tournament. As unlikely as this scenario seems, just remember: They call this month “March Madness” for a reason.