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January 13, 2012Florida State has many reasons to be confident as the Seminoles open the home portion of their conference schedule against No. 3 North Carolina on Saturday at 2 p.m. on ESPN.
The ESPN's College GameDay will be on site. So there certainly should be a festive atmosphere, and the fans and players will likely be revved to their ultimate emotional potential.
The school's game notes even make a rather bold assessment. Read this:
"LOOK FOR FLORIDA STATE TO ...
... Defeat No. 3/3 North Carolina and gain a win over a ranked team for the first time this season. The Seminoles have played four ranked teams so far this season. ... Defeat No. 3/3 North Carolina and gain a win over a ranked team for the 22nd consecutive season. The Seminoles have at least one win over a ranked team in each year since the 1988-89 season."
Junior guard Dexter Strickland and freshman big man Desmond Hubert each sprained an ankle during the Tar Heels' off-day and did not practice on Thursday. Williams was not certain of their status for Saturday.
Meanwhile, there is certainly historical precedence for FSU (10-6, 1-1 in the ACC) giving the Tar Heels (14-2, 2-0) a close game. Since 1986, the Tar Heels have literally squeezed past the Seminoles in Tallahassee. During this same time, FSU has defeated Duke there. So there is no doubt those two games get circled on the calendar.
Defense and rebounding always seem to lead the way when FSU plays well.`
"Their defensive philosophy is to apply as much pressure as possible," said UNC's Harrison Barnes, who hit a clutch shot with just seconds left on the clock to earn Carolina a 72-70 victory.
"They have extremely good rotations," Barnes said. "The help side is always in the right position. They hard hedge; on pick-and-rolls, they really get after you.
"The guards always go over the top of the screens. The just put a lot of pressure on you defensively."
In 2009, the team that would go on to dominate the NCAA Tournament and win the title, needed a running Hail Mary jumper from Ty Lawson to win at the buzzer.
In 2008, the game went to overtime before the Tar Heels edged the Seminoles 84-73. The two did not play there in 2007, but the 2006 team escaped with an 81-80 victory that helped to propel a freshman-oriented UNC club to second place in the final regular-season standings in the ACC.
"I think they give everybody the dickens," UNC coach Roy Williams. They went to the Sweet 16 [of the NCAA tournament] last year. In '09 when we won it, we beat them on a 30-footer. We lost to them in the [ACC] tournament.
"Us and Duke gets more attention. They are a good basketball team. They make it difficult for you to get open shots. They make it difficult for you to get second shots. They play at a pace that is hard to speed them up. They are not a slow pace. They are not a fast pace. They play a pace that they are comfortable and it's hard to get them out of it."
Along with defense, rebounding, some timely shots, the ability of Florida State to control the pace in Tallahassee has been component of the Seminoles success in making these such hard-fought games.
On the road it can be different. UNC's Kendall Marshall made his debut as the starting point guard against FSU in Chapel Hill last season, and he controlled the game from start to finish. He started his career with a school freshman-record 16 assists in an 89-69 victory.
In the last couple of games, Marshall has had to take the ball to the basket more often because the defense is working so hard to take the pass away from him.
Turnovers and defensive rebounding will be big in this game. UNC's best chance to run will be to force some turnovers it can keep in-bounds and race for layups or dunks. Also, a strong effort on the defensive glass will make scoring harder on FSU and give Carolina a better chance to run.
"I've always said we want to win the 80s or 90s," Williams said. "But you have to be able to win in the 50s and 60s. Last year we had to be able to win in the 40s. We try to play the way we can play and try to create some tempo, try to create some turnovers.
"If it works, then we get it into the higher numbers. If it doesn't work, we still have to be able to be successful."
Last year in Tallahassee, Williams put the ball in Barnes' hands and had the rest of the team clear out with the game on the line. Barnes performed what has become his famous step-back jump shot for a 3-pointer to win it. It was a truly remarkable moment for a freshman to take such a shot and make it.
"I didn't have a great game up until that point," Barnes said. "It was an iso at the top of the key. At that point, it was just playing basketball. The shot went up and I made it.
"In hindsight, the magnitude of that shot carried a long way," Barnes said, smiling. "It definitely helped my confidence out a lot."
And it helped a Carolina team still developing to take a huge step forward.
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