NCAA spot settled, FSU plays for seed

Palm Beach Post (Florida)

Special to The Palm Beach Post

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State’s NCAA Tournament future shouldn’t be a matter of “if” but just a matter of “where.”

That fact allows FSU, the No. 3 seed in this week’s ACC Tournament, to focus on winning a conference title without worrying about whether it’s a member of the field of 65.

After finishing 10-6 in the ACC, bracket experts consider the Seminoles (22-8) a Big Dance lock, the first time they’d make back-to-back tournaments since playing in three straight from 1991-93. FSU has won five of its last six games, including three on the road, and coach Leonard Hamilton said his players can head to the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., with clear minds.

“I’m excited to go and just concern ourselves with the tournament and not have that added pressure of having to win games to get to the NCAA Tournament,” Hamilton said. “The ultimate goal is to play for the national championship. We have that opportunity.

“Now let’s see if we can contend for an ACC title.”

Florida State did just that last season. The Seminoles entered the 2009 ACC Tournament knowing they were a lock for the NCAA tourney, and they ended up reaching their first conference title game, upsetting top-seeded North Carolina in the semifinals.

FSU ultimately lost to Duke in the ACC championship, but sophomore Chris Singleton said the players could breathe easier knowing one loss wouldn’t send them tumbling into the NIT.

“It felt good, because it felt like we had nothing to lose,” he said. “All we’re fighting for right now is seeding, basically.”

Florida State receives a first-round bye, but its quarterfinal opponent likely won’t be easy. The Seminoles will play either Clemson or North Carolina State at 9 p.m. Friday. Clemson swept FSU in two games this season and N.C. State got 31 points from freshman Scott Wood to win in Tallahassee.

And if FSU gets past the Tigers or the Wolfpack, it could face Maryland, which swept the Seminoles this season.

Singleton said that’s OK with Florida State. If the Seminoles want to make a conference tournament run, they might as well make it a revenge tour, too.

“We want them,” Singleton said. “Whichever one we get, we want to try and avenge our loss. The (ACC) bracket is such that, if we keep winning, we’ll face all the teams that beat us this year.”

Singleton named ACC’s top defensive player: ACC media members voted Singleton the conference’s defensive player of the year.

The sophomore led the ACC with 2.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He was the leading vote-getter on the ACC All-Defensive team, joining teammate Solomon Alabi.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” the 6-foot-9 forward said. “It’s that way for anyone who is a defensive-minded person. That’s the way our system is. It’s all about defense.”

It is FSU’s second straight defensive player of the year award. Toney Douglas won last season.

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