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FSU enters ACC play with sense of urgency

The Seminoles have had ups and downs the first two months of the season. They open ACC play Saturday.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State has shown glimpses of its potential on the basketball court.

There was the Seminoles’ performance in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y., which saw Florida State rout BYU and then defeat Saint Joseph’s on consecutive nights in November. They also won at Charlotte and beat Tulsa in the Orange Bowl Classic to close out December.

But then there are the losses that show just how far this team needs to go. A season-opening loss to South Alabama. Three straight losses at home to Minnesota, Mercer and Florida.

The frustration continued on Wednesday night when Florida State led by 12 points at the half at Auburn. But the Seminoles had 20 turnovers and shot just 7 of 15 from the free-throw line in a 78-72 loss.

Florida State was expected to struggle. Few teams can lose six seniors from a team that won the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament last season and move on like it was no big deal.

The Seminoles had a chance to defeat Auburn and head into the ACC schedule on a five-game winning streak. It looked like they were building confidence. But Florida State now looks like a team that can lose to any team on any night.

“We’ve kind of dug a hole for ourselves now that is going to create a sense of urgency on every game we play for the remainder of the year,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Even though we had won (four in a row), I feel like we are creeping along with our progress as opposed to making significant jumps in our progress.”

The Seminoles (8-5) were probably going to struggle against veteran teams like Florida and Minnesota, both of which are top-15 teams in the Coaches Poll. But Florida State lost to Florida by 25 and Minnesota by nine (although the Gophers led by 15 at the half). Neither game was very competitive.

What’s concerning are the losses to Mercer, South Alabama and Auburn. Those are teams with a combined record of 22-19.

It’s early January, and far too early to talk about the NCAA Tournament, but nobody on the NCAA Selection Committee is going to be impressed by a team that has three losses like that on its resume. One of those losses can be excused, especially a season opener with a dramatically new lineup. But the combination of all three could relegate the Seminoles to the NIT if they don’t regroup in the next two months.

The ACC schedule begins for Florida State on the road with Clemson (8-4) on Saturday. And then it gets tougher: at Maryland (12-1) and back home for North Carolina (10-3).

To be fair, this is what Florida State does: The Seminoles have made it a habit of losing head-scratchers in November and December only to upset top-5 teams in January and February. Florida State was 9-5 to open 2011-12 before winning 25 games. And the Seminoles were 11-5 to start the 2010-11 season before reaching the Sweet 16.

But those were veteran, experienced teams. This year’s Seminoles feature just one senior, Michael Snaer, and four more players that have played significant minutes of Division I basketball.

There have been injuries, with guard Ian Miller missing five games and forward Terrance Shannon missing a game. Snaer is averaging a career-high 16.1 points per game, shouldering more of the scoring load as Florida State’s newcomers develop.

“I’m going to be aggressive,” Snaer said. “I have to carry us when we’re struggling.”

Other players have seen increased minutes and have often delivered. Junior forward Okaro White is averaging 13.1 points and shooting 51 percent from the floor, both of which are career highs.

But the Seminoles need fewer turnovers — they have committed at least 17 in eight of 13 games. And they must have more production from veterans and newcomers alike.

The landscape in the rear-view mirror looks ugly. And the road ahead doesn’t look good — at the moment. Florida State needs to handle the daunting curves in the road better in January and February. Or else March Madness could become March Sadness.