Florida State basketball team grateful to be dancing again in NCAA Tournament
The year without an NCAA Tournament was hard on all sports fans.
The buzzer beaters, underdog Cinderella runs and days loaded with the best college basketball teams in the country battling it out were sorely missed when last year's tournament was canceled during the beginning stage of the coronavirus pandemic.
The case can be made that, among basketball teams, the Florida State men had one of the larger gripes. After all, the Seminoles finished the regular season fifth in the Coaches Poll and were a trendy pick to make the Final Four, if not win the whole tournament last season.
FSU won't ever get the chance to play out what would have happened with last year's team in the NCAA Tournament, but it may be adding a bit of fuel to this team's fire.
Following the coach:Leonard Hamilton's coaching tree on display in this week's NCAA Tournament
The Seminoles (16-6, 11-4 in ACC) open this year's tournament as a No. 4 seed against No. 13 UNC Greensboro (21-8, 13-5 in SoCon) Saturday at 12:45 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
"Last year, I think we were a couple minutes away from playing Clemson in the ACC Tournament and then they shut everything down," FSU point guard RayQuan Evans told the Democrat.
"Being able to play for those guys that didn't get the opportunity to play last year, but also playing for this team this year, solving that unfinished business has been motivating us a lot."
The Seminoles were expected to be this highly-regarded entering this season. They were projected as a likely NCAA Tournament team before the season began, but not in the realm of a No. 4 seed again.
NBA's Patrick Williams, Devin Vassell and Trent Forrest big Seminoles losses
The losses of NBA Lottery picks Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell as well as Trent Forrest, the winningest player in program history, were expected to make a significant impact.
Instead, FSU nearly won its second consecutive ACC regular-season championship and did earn a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in the last five years counting last year.FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton was adamant earlier this week that the team hasn't discussed this year meaning anymore because of last year's inconclusive ending.
"We haven't talked one second about us not playing in the tournament last year. I told our players today that you can't look in the past, you can't look too far ahead. What we've got to do is take advantage of what we can control and that's preparation and practice," Hamilton said this week.
"Making sure that we try to have great practices with high level of focus and concentration. That gives you confidence to prepare yourself to play in the games. We're worrying about what we missed last year. We're not worrying about the championship.
"We feel like if we're worried about the past, obviously, that won't be good that we spent all our time worrying about the championship, that we can't do anything about today. So what we're trying to do is focus in on the moment, stay in the moment. We think that's the best way for us to be as prepared as we can for Saturday's game."
Scottie Barnes leads NCAA Tournament first-timers
True freshman point guard Scottie Barnes is one of seven Seminoles who will be playing in their first NCAA Tournament this week.
This year's tournament is an abnormal one, all being played in Indiana with the teams entirely in a bubble due to the lingering effects of the pandemic. But he's still grateful to be fulfilling a lifelong dream.
"It means so much to me because it's everything you could dream of as a kid," Barnes told the Democrat.
"As a player, you put in a lot of work to be in this position so I'm just blessed to be in this position."
As Barnes mentioned, the position FSU and the rest of the teams competing in this year's tournament is not lost on them. The Seminoles have dealt with the effects of the pandemic, going through two COVID-19 pauses and having five games postponed this season.
This makes them quite grateful for all the planning and sacrifices that has gone into ensuring they'll have a chance to avenge last year's feeling of what could have been.
"It's a blessing, just because we have the opportunity to play in March Madness. The way it ended last year, it's just a blessing to be able to play in the ACC Tournament and still have the opportunity after the tournament to play in March Madness," FSU senior guard M.J. Walker told the Democrat.
"We're completely focused on getting the job done this year. While we have the time left in the season to get that done, we're going to cherish the opportunity and lay it all on the line for this last stretch."
No. 4 seed Florida State vs. No. 13 UNC Greensboro
When: Saturday, 12:45 p.m.
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
TV/Radio: truTV/101.5 FM
Reach Curt Weiler at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.
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