Florida State, Miami meet in final regular-season game
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Two weeks ago, following Florida State’s win against Boston College at home, Seminoles head coach Leonard Hamilton was asked what it would mean to finish the regular season unbeaten at the Donald L. Tucker Center by beating Miami on March 4.
Hamilton paused for a moment, furrowed his brow and locked eyes with the reporter.
The question did not please him one bit — and he made sure everyone in the room knew it.
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“I have no interest (in talking about Miami),” Hamilton said as the mood became tense and members of the media shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. “We have not earned the right to look two games past other teams like Clemson and Duke. We can talk about Clemson and (then Duke) and I hope we have some conversations (about Miami). But right now, I could care less about what happens with (when Miami comes to Tallahassee). We need to worry about how we prepare for Clemson.”
The No. 15-ranked Seminoles (23-7, 11-6 ACC) ultimately prepared for Clemson well, beating the Tigers 76-74 on February 25 for just their third ACC road win this season. And although the Seminoles fell to Duke only three nights later at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the victory against the Tigers was a gut-check win away from home that Florida State needed to prepare for the upcoming ACC tournament, which begins Tuesday in Brooklyn, N.Y.
But before the Seminoles find out who and when they play, Florida State must see which seed it will earn — something a win Saturday against Miami (20-9, 10-7) would improve.
No. 5 North Carolina (13-4 ACC) and No. 19 Notre Dame (12-5) head to the final day of the regular season as the No. 1 and 2 seeds, with the Tar Heels having already locked up the regular-season title no matter what happens in their Saturday evening showdown with No. 17 Duke.
But after that? Well, there are tiebreakers galore — including margin of victory over common opponents — to factor in, and it gets highly hypothetical and complicated.
Florida State is tied with Duke and No. 8 Louisville at 11-6 in conference — and then three other teams, including Miami, are hot on their heels at 10-7 in ACC play — meaning any seed beyond North Carolina’s No. 1 slot can’t be determined until this weekend’s final regular-season games shake out.
At best, Florida State can garner a No. 4 seed with a win Saturday against Miami — a team it crushed 75-57 in Coral Gables back on Feb. 1 — provided the Seminoles get some help. If that happens, Florida State would have a first- and second-round bye until the quarterfinals and not open play in the ACC tourney until Thursday.
If the Seminoles lose, they could fall as far as the eighth seed, depending on what else happens Saturday in the rest of the conference’s regular-season finales.
But like his coach, Florida State center Michael Ojo — one of two seniors who will be honored on Senior Day on Saturday, the other being forward Jarquez Smith — doesn’t want to look that far ahead.
“It’s the last game, but it’s not the last game of the season,” said the 7-foot-1 fifth-year senior from Nigeria. “It’ll be emotional.”
Also at stake for the Seminoles on Saturday is finishing the year unbeaten at home for the first time since the 1975-76 season. They have gone 17-0 in the Donald L. Tucker Center this season and have won 20 straight games dating back to last year.
And Miami is well aware of how hard this year’s Seminoles, who boast the best home record in the ACC, have been to beat in Tallahassee this year.
“They’re a very talented team, a very deep team,” senior guard Davon Reed told the Palm Beach Post this week. “They’re like a completely different team at home. But aside from all that, it’s a rivalry game. All that stuff goes out the window between both teams. I’m looking forward to going to Tallahassee and handling business.”
The Hurricanes are coming off a 66-61 setback against Virginia Tech on Monday night, but they have had the entire week to prepare for the rematch. And outside of that loss to the Hokies earlier this week, the Hurricanes have been one of the better teams in the ACC since that 18-point defeat to the Seminoles a month ago.
Before Monday, Miami had won six of seven games, including wins at No. 23 Virginia and Duke, and the only loss was at Louisville. The Hurricanes, like Florida State, could be seeded anywhere from No. 4 to No. 8 depending on what happens Saturday.
“Despite our loss the other night, we’ve been rolling,” Reed told the Post. “We’ve caught our stride. We’ve been playing at a very high level, I feel like. I feel we’ll continue to grow and take some good steps forward.”
A win over the Hurricanes would give the Seminoles 12 ACC wins and would tie the school record for ACC victories in a single season. The Seminoles have won two of their last three games, and they are 5-3 since the win over Miami.
The Seminoles will also play their 10th ranked opponent of the season, with nine of those games coming against a ranked ACC opponent. Only Louisville, who will play its 11th ranked opponent of the season in Notre Dame on Saturday, will have played more ranked teams among the 15 conference teams during the 2016-17 regular season.
Seminoles guard Dwayne Bacon, a finalist for the Julius Erving Award, leads the team with 16.2 points a game, while Miami is paced by Reed’s 15 points a game.
Florida State is ahead in the all-time series against Miami 43-35 and will be looking to sweep the rivalry in the regular season for the fifth time since the Hurricanes joined the ACC in 2005.