Just think how much has happened in the last 11 years of NCAA basketball.
Two championships by the University of Florida Gators. Roy Williams finally winning a championship as a coach, but only after he returned to North Carolina. The Maryland Terrapins finally took home a trophy. The University of Connecticut won the title after being ranked No. 1 in the pre-season, usually a kiss of death.
And then there was Florida State, coming oh so close, but somehow faltering each spring during the death march of the ACC schedule and ending up on the outside looking in. Now after a decade wandering in the wilderness, the Seminoles appear finally on the verge of making it to the Big Dance.
It’s been a long slog, but after seven years in the job, Coach Leonard Hamilton has put together a team that seems ready once and for all to return the Seminoles to glory. After all, it was FSU that battled legendary UCLA for a championship. It was FSU – propelled by by future NBA players Charlie Ward, Sam Cassell and Bob Sura – that was supposed to leap into basketball greatness following its move to the Atlantic Coast Conference back in 1991. Instead since the magical 1993 season where Ward led the team to an Elite 8 appearance, the Seminoles have made it just once to the NCAA tournament.
On Tuesday night, FSU squares off against the Virginia Cavaliers at home following an amazing comeback at Clemson on Saturday. The team enters the game ranked in the AP poll for the first time since 1998. With 18 wins overall and a 5-3 ACC record, the Seminoles are once again tantalizingly close to that dream when the school first decided to battle against Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest on a regular season.
Hamilton knows that he’s got to keep the pressure on his team: “This is not where we want to be at the the end of the season so we realize we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said on Monday.
He’s spot on. It will take at least 20 wins – and a .500 record in the ACC – to make it the tournament. And it’s not like the schedule gets any easier down the stretch in the final three and a half weeks of the regular season: There’s games against Miami, Wake Forest and Duke and a rematch with Clemson. That’s why it’s vitally important for FSU to thrash the 7-11 Cavaliers. With this win, the Seminoles would be 6-3 in the ACC for the first time since – yeah, you got it – the 1992-93 season.
This could be the moment that FSU hoops fans have been waiting for a long time, an end to a lot of pent-up frustration. A season that starts with a win over Florida and ends with a bout of March Madness may just make up for a decade’s worth of disappointment.