Florida State rallied in its first game at this year’s ACC tournament, upending Virginia Tech 74-68.
In truth, the Seminoles did Thursday what they’ve done to most of the teams they’ve encountered all year.
“This team has great depth and that’s exactly what we do, we wear teams down,” freshman forward Jonathan Isaac said. “We already know it’s going to happen.”
Playing a dozen guys has its advantages, and it’s even more valuable when many of them are ultra-athletic, rangy and tall. It’s the way coach Leonard Hamilton prefers to play, and that’s obvious enough since his most successful Florida State teams have had one thing in common.
The 2009 bunch that reached the ACC final often played 10 men a game. The 2012 team that won the league used 10 guys in its title game defeat of Clemson.
This Florida State team takes things a step further, using a dozen players to achieve its aims. Those can come at the offensive end, where the Seminoles send waves of players at the basket. Or they can come on defense, such as Thursday night when third-string sophomore center Christ Koumadje played a major role in the Seminoles’ rarely-deployed zone.
“All year long, the quality of our depth has raised its head during most of our games and given us an opportunity to win games,” Hamilton said.
Going 12 deep won’t be as valuable in the NCAA tournament, where teams play on two-day turnarounds. But for the next two days, the Seminoles (25-7) could find themselves with a major advantage as they seek their second ACC title.
At the very least, they should be fresher Friday night against Notre Dame, which aside from a couple cameos leaned mainly on seven players while dispatching Virginia on Thursday.
Three other things of note as the tournament heads to the semifinals …
▪ The run of different champions in six consecutive years has come to an end. It’s been an atypical era in the history of the ACC. Over much of its six-plus decades, the league title has rotated between Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State, sometimes staying in one locale for several years at a time.
Yet from 2011 to 2016, six different schools won the tournament. Four of them -- Duke, Florida State, North Carolina and Notre Dame -- are the remaining semifinalists. Miami and Virginia also snipped the nets in that span.
The last two hopes to push the streak to a seventh year went down in the quarterfinals. Virginia Tech’s exit wasn’t a huge surprise against second-seeded Florida State, and the Hokies’ lack of depth made it a poor bet to win four games in four days. But Louisville’s ouster was mildly unexpected, and it leaves the Cardinals 0-2 all-time in the ACC tournament.
It should be noted it is still technically possible for the league to have six different champions over a six-year span if Duke (the 2011 winner) ends its title drought. But there won’t be a new winner this year.
▪ The old Big East is almost gone from this event --- except for Notre Dame. Remember back in 2005 when the ACC tournament came to Washington and it was supposed to be a great platform for Maryland, which had wanted the event back in its neighborhood for a decade and a half? The Terrapins lost in the 8/9 game to Clemson and weren’t thought about the rest of the week.
Among the many things the move to Brooklyn was supposed to provide was a connection for the league’s many Big East imports to its past. Seven of the current 15 members participated in the Big East at some point this season, with some fan bases more attached to the annual pilgrimage to the Big Apple than others.
So how did things go? Boston College, Louisville and Syracuse were all one-and-done at Barclays Center. Miami, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech all managed splits. Only Notre Dame, which handled Virginia 71-58 in the late quarterfinal on Thursday, is still standing.
The Irish (24-8) will have a boisterous crowd behind them Friday night against Florida State. Coach Mike Brey has long mined New York and New Jersey for talent, and starters junior guard Matt Farrell and senior guard Steve Vasturia both hail from the Garden State. Yet besides Notre Dame, the old Big East won’t enjoy the big stage at the end of the week.
▪ It’s a rare Duke/North Carolina meeting before the title game. In the ACC’s early years, Duke and North Carolina frequently met in the semifinals of the ACC tournament. It happened in 1959, 1960, 1964, 1966, 1972, 1980 and 1984.
But since then? They’ve met 10 times in the league tournament. Eight came in championship games, with one semifinal (2003) and one quarterfinal (2002) showdown during the Matt Doherty years in Chapel Hill.
There isn’t a championship at stake for the longtime rivals on Friday night, but that takes away nothing from the competitiveness expected from both teams. Considering how few their ACC tournament encounters have become --- this joins the 2011 title game as the only tournament meetings since 2003 -- it’s worth savoring it even if the winner won’t cut down a pair of nets at night’s end.