With eight days between games, the Florida State players and coaches were able to sit back this past week and watch some Atlantic Coast Conference foes do battle.
"It is a dogfight," sophomore forward Chris Singleton said. "The ACC is the toughest conference in the nation. We have to come out to play every day. We can't slack off."
Florida State (14-4, 2-2 ACC) currently checks in at seventh in the ACC standings. A win on Sunday would push the 'Noles into a tie for third but a loss would knock the them down to ninth.
With the conference so congested from top to bottom, and with no clear pecking order, it is essential that the Seminoles string together a few wins. That streak will have to start with Sunday's noon tip-off against Georgia Tech (14-4, 3-2 ACC).
"We are not trying to be in that mix, we are trying to separate ourselves," junior guard Derwin Kitchen said. "We have to protect our home court and try and steal some on the roads."
The Seminoles did not just sit around and watch other games this week, they also got in a number of highly-competitive practices. The focus of these practices was to correct some of the issues that have plagued the team through the early part of the ACC slate. The two biggest two issues have been turnovers (17.4 per game) and inconsistent rebounding - FSU has been out-rebounded by two of four ACC opponents.
"It is about getting prepared, getting fundamentally prepared, and getting down all the basics we haven't been doing so far because those will help us win close games," senior forward Ryan Reid said. "We have worked on running the offense, not turning it off, rebounding better, and our defensive principles."
But as the week wore on, the Seminoles' focus turned to Georgia Tech. In late December, Florida State defeated the Yellow Jackets 66-59 in Atlanta. While FSU got the best of the Georgia Tech the first time around, the team knows that Sunday's game will likely present a different challenge.
"We are not going to forget about the last game, because we beat them fair and square, but with (Iman) Shumpert back, that is just another element to prepare for," sophomore guard Luke Loucks said. "It is a new game, every game in the ACC is a new game, so we will be prepared."
Shumpert, who missed six games with a knee injury, including the first game with Florida State, is healthy and back in the lineup. He is a big reason for why the Jackets have won three of their last four with the three wins coming over ranked opponents - Duke, North Carolina and Clemson. Shumpert is averaging 10.4 points 4.3 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.1 steals per game.
"They haven't changed their system, they just have a more talented guy on the floor," Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said. "You have to always be aware of where he is on the floor."
And Shumpert has been hot as of late posting 30 points against North Carolina and then grabbed eight rebounds in the next game against Clemson. He has also been consistent in helping his teammates by dishing our six assists in each of the last three games. His all-around impact is something the Jackets lacked against FSU back in December.
"He gives them a threat with the ball in his hands and you have to give him so much attention it opens up opportunities for his teammates," Hamilton said. "He can beat you off the dribble, but he can create for his teammates off the dribble or score for himself. They play off of him an awful lot.
"He is one of those guys that even when you are defending him well, he is capable of getting great shots off," Hamilton added. "He adds a tremendous dimension to their team."
For Loucks, he recognizes the additional challenges that Shumpert's return will mean for the Seminole guards.
"(Mfon) Udofia is a great player and he is really producing this year but he is just a freshman," Loucks said. "I think Shumpert separates himself from the rest of their guards because of his explosiveness off the dribble and creating for his teammates. All of their guards can score but his forte is creating for the big guys they have. He can really score the ball too so you can't only worry about him dishing it off. It is just another element to prepare for."
Ryan Reid is a big reason why Florida State was so successful the first time around against Georgia Tech. In the first meeting the senior forward scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds, but more importantly limited standout forwards Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal to a combined 12 points in the game. Despite Shumpert's return, Reid will have similar responsibilities this Sunday.
"For me, it is still about rebounding and keeping them off the boards," Reid said. "I just have to limit their touches in the post."
Reid and his teammates know that in order to separate themselves from the ACC pack, they must be prepared for an even biggest challenge the second-time around against the Yellow Jackets.
"I know they are going to want revenge and they are real hungry right now because they are on a good streak," Reid said. "We just have to do what we have to do to win. We know it is going to be a dogfight. It is going to be more physical than it was at Georgia Tech. We just have to make the necessary adjustments and be ready to play."
Sunday's game will be televised on RayCom.