A first: Hamilton, Florida State ACC tourney’s top seed
Florida State has accomplished several milestones in Leonard Hamilton’s nearly two decades with the Seminoles, from winning an Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament to getting within a game of the Final Four two seasons ago.
Yet his fourth-ranked Seminoles have never been in the position they are this week: entering the league tournament as the No. 1 seed after winning their first ACC regular-season championship.
The five-day tournament opens Tuesday in Greensboro, North Carolina, with two first-round games. The Seminoles, No. 10 Duke, No. 15 Louisville and No. 17 Virginia have byes into Thursday’s quarterfinals, with FSU trying to add a second title to its lone championship in 2012.
Owning their highest ranking since December 1972, the Seminoles (26-5, 16-4 ACC) have won with a deep rotation and tough defense. Only senior point guard Trent Forrest averages 30 minutes, while the Seminoles have seven players averaging between Devin Vassell’s team-high 12.7 points and Anthony Polite’s 5.8.
The combination has FSU ranked as the ACC’s No. 2 scoring offense (75.4) while also ranking in the top four in shooting, free-throw and 3-point percentage. The Seminoles also rank 14th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency (91.5 points allowed per 100 possessions).
“You believe in his vision, you believe in his words,” Forrest said of Hamilton. “He got through to us at a young age. Just to see where we are now, we definitely feel like we’re program builders or changers.”
Since Florida State joined the ACC for the 1991-92 season, Duke has won 13 ACC Tournament titles and North Carolina has won six. FSU can join Wake Forest (1995 and 1996) and Virginia (2014 and 2018) as the only other ACC programs to win more than one during that stretch.
The Cavaliers (23-7, 15-5) surged through February to earn the 2-seed after finishing in a three-way tie for second with Louisville and Duke — two of the record-tying seven different teams to reach No. 1 in the AP Top 25 this season.
Virginia, who lost to the Seminoles in last year’s semifinals before winning the program’s first NCAA championship, has won eight straight and 11 of 12 since late January.
“I think we really like playing with each other and I think we’re just having a lot of fun out there, just competing with each other,” point guard Kihei Clark said after Saturday’s win against the Cardinals. “We know what we can do and what we can accomplish.”
Some other things to know about this week’s ACC Tournament:
CARDS’ QUICK EXITS
Third-seeded Louisville (24-7, 15-5) has yet to reach the semifinals since joining the league for the 2014-15 season. The Cardinals have won two second-round games and are are 0-4 in the quarterfinals.
ON THE BUBBLE
There are bubble questions beyond the top four seeds.
Fifth-seeded N.C. State (19-12, 10-10) enters the tournament for a second straight year with uncertainty about its NCAA Tournament chances, though Kevin Keatts’ squad has four resume-topping “Quadrant 1” wins that includes No. 18 Wisconsin.
Sixth-seeded Syracuse (17-14, 10-10) and seventh-seeded Notre Dame (19-12, 10-10) are longer shots.
For the third time since expanding to 15 teams, the ACC will have only 14 teams in the tournament.
Georgia Tech (17-14, 11-9) won’t play in Greensboro after withdrawing its appeal of an NCAA postseason ban for rules violations. That means the first round will feature only two games instead of three.
Syracuse (2015) and Louisville (2016) also sat out due to self-imposed postseason bans amid NCAA infractions cases.
LAST-PLACE TAR HEELS
North Carolina’s wave of injuries and close losses had the Tar Heels tie for last place in their first bottom-of-the-league finish since 2002. The 14th-seeded Tar Heels (13-18, 6-14) face 11th-seeded Virginia Tech in Tuesday’s second game while facing the all-but-certain first losing season of Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams’ 32-year career.
“We’re hungry to get some wins,” star freshman point guard Cole Anthony said after Saturday’s loss at rival Duke assured them the lowest seed. “We want to do what we can.”
DO LOSSES MATTER?
The ACC has had three teams win the national championship in the previous five seasons in Duke in 2015, UNC in 2017 and Virginia last year. All three lost in the ACC semifinals before going 6-0 in the NCAA Tournament.
The ACC Tournament champion hasn’t gone on to win the national title since Duke did it in 2010 and has reached the Final Four only once since.
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz in Charlottesville, Virginia; and AP freelancer Bob Ferrante in Tallahassee, Florida; contributed to this report.
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