The last four Selection Sundays have been subdued affairs in Tallahassee. Florida State, often talented but seldom contented, has missed every NCAA tournament since 2012.
It would appear that streak is about to come to an emphatic and resounding end. The Seminoles are 15-1 overall and 3-0 in the ACC after their convincing 93-78 win over No. 21-ranked Virginia Tech in Tallahassee. Leonard Hamilton’s team could be ranked in the AP top 10 as early as Monday, and, more importantly, FSU is on-track for a very high seed in the NCAA tournament.
The difference in this team since last season is dramatic. Start with sophomore Dwayne Bacon, who has become a complete -- and devastating -- scoring threat in his second season.
As a freshman, the 6-foot-7 small forward was effective inside the arc, but opponents quickly learned to give him open looks on his 3-point shot. Now Bacon is connecting on 37 percent of his treys as the unquestioned focal point of a vastly improved FSU offense. In three ACC games, the Seminoles have scored 1.14 points per possession.
Bacon has had plenty of help, so much so that Hamilton has taken to using the platoon substitution system made famous by Kentucky in 2014-15.
Terance Mann led FSU against the Hokies with 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor. Xavier Rathan-Mayes is recording a career low turnover rate at point guard while hitting more shots than ever before. Highly anticipated 6-foot-10 freshman Jonathan Isaac has opened ACC play with impressive performances on the boards at both ends of the floor. In all, Hamilton entered the weekend with 11 players averaging double-digits for minutes.
Speaking of averages, that’s been part of the problem of late with the Seminoles. Last season Florida State was statistically average across the board in ACC play (with the singular exception of a fast tempo), but this latest group is making its presence felt on both sides of the ball.
Like the best of Hamilton’s past teams, FSU is again forcing misses in the paint. Conference opponents have made just 45 percent of their 2s against the Noles this season.
No mystery there. Opponents are finding life difficult in the paint when the area in question is patrolled not only by Isaac but also by 7-foot-1, 300-pound senior Michael Ojo. Then when Ojo gets into foul trouble (which, granted, has been known to happen), FSU sometimes makes due with 7-foot-4 sophomore Christ Koumadje.
Hamilton has had good size in Tallahassee before, but this team is also skilled. The Seminoles have opened ACC play by connecting on 42 percent of their 3s, and Bacon's 6-for-9 performance from beyond the arc against Virginia helped seal the win in Charlottesville for FSU.
With size, depth and balance on both sides of the ball, Florida State is poised to compete for a regular season title in the highly competitive ACC. Wins over Minnesota, Florida, Virginia and Virginia Tech will likely look better and better as the season progresses. My colleague Joe Lunardi is projecting that the Seminoles will earn a No. 3 seed. Hamilton’s team has now won 11 straight.
In short, the Seminoles are talented, tough and gaining momentum. That upcoming game against Duke on Tuesday evening in Tallahassee promises to be outstanding. The Blue Devils better be ready.