TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — For all the squandered chances, Florida State has one more chance to make an impression this week at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
There’s nothing that can be done about the home losses to Clemson and Miami. Or North Carolina’s comeback win over Florida State at home. Or T.J. Warren’s 30 points that led to a four-point North Carolina State win in Raleigh, N.C.
Florida State is 18-12 and desperate for wins at the ACC Tournament. The Seminoles open against Maryland on Thursday at noon, and if they win would then face top seed Virginia on Friday.
Win two games, and it’s quite a statement. Hitting 20 wins is no guarantee of an NCAA Tournament spot. Last season, three teams received at-large bids with 20 wins (Villanova, Oklahoma and Minnesota). In 2012, two teams made the tournament with 20 wins (Colorado State and Connecticut).
So falling short of 20 means that Florida State is looking at a spot in the National Invitation Tournament for the second straight season.
”I think we need to at least go up there and win two games,” Miller said.
So now the questions are these: will the pressure of being backed into a corner hurt Florida State? Or will the Seminoles use the opportunity and pull out a few wins?
Florida State had built some success by winning at Pittsburgh, against Georgia Tech and then at Boston College the past few weeks. The Seminoles ran out of steam and fell to No. 7 Syracuse 74-58 on Sunday, but players felt like they hung with a top-10 program and could carry that momentum into the ACC Tournament.
”If we get our bodies right and our minds right, we’re going to really do something that people aren’t expecting us to do,” Miller said. ”We probably got a one out of 10 chance in most people’s mind to make it past the first and second round but we’re going to do something crazy here.”
For Miller and Co. to do something crazy, it would have to start with a win over Maryland. The teams split their regular-season series, and the games couldn’t have been more different.
Florida State routed Maryland 85-61 at home on Jan. 12, with the Seminoles knocking down 16 3-pointers. Miller had six 3s but then he was injured for the Feb. 8 rematch in College Park, Md. The Terrapins won 83-71, shooting a scorching 51.9 percent for the game, with Seth Allen pouring in 32 points and draining seven 3-pointers.
”They were 16 for 24 from 3 at their place,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. ”They could have beaten anybody that night. And here, Ian Miller didn’t play. That would have made it a different game. It was a game where we were really dialed in and played well.”
While Maryland finished 2-2, the Terrapins have been playing their best basketball the past few weeks. After a two-point home loss to Syracuse, Maryland suffered a double-overtime defeat at Clemson. But the Terrapins then crushed Virginia Tech and beat ACC regular-season champion Virginia 75-69 on Sunday.
The Terrapins may be a No. 8 seed but they don’t look like one. Maryland lacks a true center but has a balanced lineup that features four players that average in double figures: Dez Wells, Seth Allen, Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz.
”They’re an excellent ballclub,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. ”They’re playing as well as anybody in the league.”
Even if Florida State gets past Maryland, the Seminoles would then have about 22 hours to prepare for the ACC’s top team, Virginia. It’s a tight turnaround in tournament play and it doesn’t help a Florida State team that leans on Miller, Okaro White and Aaron Thomas.
White and Thomas both played 38 minutes in the loss to Syracuse, while Miller played 33 minutes. Florida State would need quality minutes — and scoring — from players like guards Devon Bookert and Montay Brandon and center Boris Bojanovsky to not only win Thursday but also to have a chance to upset Virginia.
The Cavaliers beat Florida State twice in the regular season — 62-50 in Tallahassee and 78-66 in Charlottesville, Va. But both games were in January. And now the opportunity is there for Florida State.
While Syracuse and Virginia have at times been dominant this season, they’ve also shown their shortcomings, too.
”This has the makings of an outstanding tournament,” Hamilton said. ”I think it’s up for grabs. It’s going to be interesting to see how it goes.”