During the ACC Tournament, Leonard Hamilton spoke of trying to become a program of significance in the ACC, and by extension, nationally. When the Florida State mentor was asked if his program had reached that point, he deferred to those in the media.
“We don’t determine that,” said Hamilton with a smile. “You guys do.”
In that vein, I offer you this: Florida State has become a program of significance both in the ACC and nationally. That was the case even before they won the ACC Tournament on Sunday, but that certainly doesn’t hurt.
The program’s rise has come since Hamilton took over nearly 10 years ago. They made the NIT in 2004, then three straight years from 2006-08 before now becoming a regular in the NCAA Tournament. Since his third season, the Seminoles have won at least 19 games every season. They have the third-best record (113-55) among ACC teams since the 2006-07 season.
The Seminoles broke through and finally made the NCAA Tournament in 2008-09. In this day and age, a lot of coaches would have been shown the door by the time Hamilton got them there, but the school’s patience has been rewarded greatly. Their appearance in this year’s tournament is their fourth straight, a school record, and now they have their first ACC title. So if the ACC really is more than Duke and North Carolina, right now Florida State is the team that’s right there with them. Hamilton knows what those two programs mean to the conference and to where they have come.
“I think what we have to do is worry about those things that we can control,” said Hamilton. “Let’s continue to keep winning and keep getting better. I think competing in the ACC gives us a unique and special opportunity because you have two of the greatest programs in the history of college basketball that set the standard by which all the rest of us are judged by.”
Hamilton has built this program on defense, and the Seminoles have developed a reputation as a tough defensive team. They are known for their defense, perhaps the surest sign that building the program on that end of the floor has been a success. The past two seasons, they led the nation in field goal percentage defense, and this year they are sixth in that category. It’s the fourth straight season they have been in the top ten nationally in that category. This year, they had two players named to the ACC All-Defensive team.
As a result of the success, the Seminoles are getting better talent to Tallahassee. The talent on the last non-NCAA team they had wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as good as the current squad. They’re also drawing players from a bigger geographic area, as the 2007-08 team had just four players from outside Florida and Georgia, while this year’s team has twice that. They went across the country and got Michael Snaer, the ACC Tournament MVP, to leave California, and got Ian Miller to come from North Carolina, among others. They have continued to do well with Florida and Georgia, but the reach they have shows the results from what Hamilton and his staff have done.
As the No. 3 seed in the East region, Florida State begins their attempt to make a run through the NCAA Tournament in Nashville against St. Bonaventure. As they continue to make incremental improvements in terms of bottom-line achievements, a run in the NCAA Tournament would seem to be the next thing, and may not be far behind. The Seminoles have made it to the Elite Eight before, but that seems like a distant memory. This year, they are as good a pick as any to come out of their region.
Florida State has just continued to get better since Hamilton got them back to the NCAA Tournament three years ago. At this point, it’s safe to say that they are now a program of significance.