Experience helps, but not decisively
It's not quite as simple as "been there, done that."
That was the message from Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton and his players Tuesday afternoon as the Seminoles prepared for their second-round game with St. Bonaventure. Past NCAA Tournament experience may help in some areas for the Seminoles, but it's hardly the only factor contributing to Friday's game.
"It's easier to be an underdog," said guard Deividas Dulkys. "Now we are a three seed and we're the guys picked to win. It's more pressure to us than it is to them."
Such was the attitude inside the basketball training facility as the Seminoles returned from an off-day: all business. For a team that has a newly-earned ACC Championship Trophy resting just outside the coaches' offices, smiles and jokes were few and far between.
"I think when you look back at the history of the NCAA Tournament, there are always a lot of first-round 'upsets' that are characterized as upsets but I'm not really sure they are," cautioned head coach Leonard Hamilton. "I think that the process we use is of such a nature that it's difficult to slot people when [the committees] don't really know as much about them."
Florida State's coaches, on the other hand, have gotten to know St. Bonaventure very well. Coach Hamilton knows that beating Xavier, a 10-seed in its own right, in the Atlantic-10 Conference Championship was no easy task. He knows that with a talent like potential first-round draft pick Andrew Nicholson, experience can take a back seat to talent and raw hunger.
"They've got our attention." Hamilton said. "No question about that."
As for things that previous tournament experience does help out with, point guard Luke Loucks said time management is something that a player only learns by being in the middle of a high-profile conference tournament or the sport's main event in March.
"You kind of get your rhythm down of how to deal with the media, how to deal with the tickets, all the family, all the fans wanting autographs," Loucks said. "You kind of just zone everything out and know that in the end all that stuff doesn't matter. We're here for one thing and that's to win the basketball game. I think if you haven't had that, some of those things may be pulling and tugging and may distract you."
Quickly after pointing out those advantages for his team, Loucks honed in his expression and message to match that of his coach.
"But I'm sure the team we're playing is going to be very well-prepared," he said. "Obviously they're in the NCAA Tournament for a reason."
Finality fuels Dulkys
As Deividas Dulkys described past NCAA Tournament memories and the closure ahead for this veteran team, urgency was present in every word he spoke. Dulkys' Seminole career, the most successful in program history along with that of Luke Loucks and Xavier Gibson, inevitably will come to an end these next few weeks.
But it's a career that Dulkys and his teammates want to continue as long as possible.
"Everybody sees it," he said of a final opportunity. "We talk about it every time out, 'This is our chance. This is us.' It hurts when you lose when we know we can win. So hopefully we can keep going with this journey."
Dulkys knows that no matter how good a team is, he's learned it can be sent packing in an instant. Case in point: losing in the first round to 12-seed Wisconsin in his freshman year.
"It was [former Seminole center] Solomon [Alabi's] and my birthday that night," Dulkys said. "It probably was the worst birthday ever."
As harsh as that lesson was for Dulkys to swallow then, he said he feels good about where his team's mindset is now, just days before opening in Nashville.
"I guess we've found what it takes," he said.. "During the season we had our [bad] moments, but hopefully this can continue long."
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