Florida State is in a stretch that has happened only twice during Atlantic Coast Conference regular season play.
The 12th-ranked Seminoles have six straight games against ranked teams. The last team to face that kind of stretch was Maryland in 1992-93 and the Terrapins lost all six games. North Carolina State also had that kind of run was in 1979-80 and the Wolfpack went 2-4. Duke also faced the gantlet that same season, but the final three games were in the conference tournament.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton was somewhat understated when he described it as a unique experience for his Seminoles.
With last Saturday’s 60-58 win at then-No. 12 Virginia, the Seminoles have won their first two conference games for only the third time since joining the ACC in 1991. Their 14-1 mark also ties the 1988-89 team for the best start in school history.
Saturday’s game against No. 21 Virginia Tech starts a stretch of three games in eight days. FSU hosts No. 8 Duke on Tuesday and then travels to 14th-ranked North Carolina on Jan. 14.
In a check of schedules on College Basketball Reference, only 25 times in ACC play since 1965 teams have faced ranked opponents in four straight games or more. FSU once had a stretch where it played five straight Top 25 foes in 2000-01 and won only one game.
Hamilton’s teams the past couple seasons might have wilted under such a challenging schedule, but this unit may be the best Seminoles squad since their last NCAA Tournament appearance five years ago.
Even though the Seminoles’ average college playing experience is 1.25 years, which makes them the second-youngest team in the conference and 46th nationally, FSU returned four starters from last year’s team.
A switch to a more up-tempo offense is a major reason why the Seminoles have their highest ranking since March, 1993. According to KenPom’s offensive efficiency rankings, FSU is averaging only 14.8 seconds per possession, which is second in the conference and 16th nationally.
The past four seasons, their possessions averaged anywhere from 16.1-17.4 seconds. Florida State is also second in the ACC and 15th nationally in scoring at 86.2 points per game.
The Seminoles, however, have shown they also can play a half-court game if needed. Last Saturday’s game against Virginia was at a slower pace but Florida State rallied in the second half and won on a Dwayne Bacon 3-pointer with 4 seconds remaining.
Bacon, sixth in the conference in scoring at 18.1 points per game, believes Saturday’s game against the Hokies will be more to their style.
Virginia Tech is “more like us,” he said. “They like to spread the game out, get out in transition and make the extra pass. They also shoot 3-pointers very well.”
With home games against No. 23 Notre Dame and No. 9 Louisville rounding out the ranked gantlet, Hamilton is trying not to get too far ahead. He pointed out before the regular season this could be the deepest the conference has ever been. With seven ACC teams ranked, which is the most it has ever had in January, he is being proven right.
“It’s the best league in the history of college basketball and it’s getting better. I think a lot of the traditional fans aren’t used to it because it is a new ACC,” he said. “You have to be cautious, optimistic and focused about the situation you are in. You have to be on point because it is a dogfight every game.”