It might sound odd to think that a November game against a mid-major opponent could play a significant role in Florida State's NCAA Tournament chances.
But after watching his team storm past UAB on Friday in the second round of the Glenn Wilkes Classic at Daytona Beach, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton couldn't help but think that victories like this could have helped the Seminoles' cause in each of the past two seasons.
After all, the Blazers were picked in the preseason to finish second in Conference USA. And if UAB lives up to those expectations, Florida State's 78-70 victory -- on a neutral court -- could look impressive when the NCAA selection committee begins its work in March.
On his postgame radio show, Hamilton said it could go down as an "important victory."
It will be months before we know if that prediction will hold true, but for now, the Seminoles (3-0) are just happy to be improving while also picking up wins.
FSU struggled through the first half Friday with turnovers and poor shooting from the perimeter, but they played well enough defensively to be trailing by just two points, 35-33, at intermission.
"It was like we were standing in mud in the first half," Hamilton said, noting that the Seminoles responded poorly to UAB's high-pressure pace. "This was a very good test for us."
One of the keys in the first half was senior swingman Jason Rich's defense on UAB star Robert Vaden, an Indiana transfer who averaged 22.5 points in the Blazers' first two games. Rich limited Vaden to just one basket before halftime, and the junior finished with 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting.
The Seminoles also delivered their best rebounding performance of the young season. They out-rebounded the Blazers 31-22, and they allowed just six offensive boards. Rich and junior forward Uche Echefu each recorded seven rebounds.
"That has been a real concern for us," Hamilton said. "We rebounded as a team. I see the guys responding and in many ways growing up."
As has been the case in each game this season, senior shooting guard Isaiah Swann carried much of the scoring load. He led all scorers with 28 points on 9-of-15 shooting -- he made 6-of-11 from 3-point range. Through three games, Swann is averaging 22.7 points per game.
Three other Seminoles scored in double-figures -- junior point guard Toney Douglas (11), Rich (10) and Echefu (10).
The Seminoles again finished with more turnovers (19) than assists (14) -- a trend Hamilton said he was concerned about earlier this week -- but he was pleased to his team value the basketball more in the second half Friday than they did in the first.
"We didn't give up nearly as many easy baskets in transition as we did in the first half," Hamilton said.
Freshman forward Julian Vaughn, who recorded his second start in three games, was relatively quiet on the scoreboard, but Hamilton continues to be impressed with the youngster's development. Though he only scored four points, Vaughn grabbed three rebounds, blocked a shot and was credited with two assists.
If the Seminoles can continue to get him Vaughn involved offensively -- as well as fellow freshman Solomon Alabi, who did not play Friday -- that will help the Seminoles become more multi-dimensional.
Against UAB, 54 of FSU's 78 points (69 percent) were scored by the Seminoles' top four guards.
"We've got to get the ball to [Vaughn] more on the block," Hamilton said. "That's all part of growing and maturing as a team."
FSU will continue play in the Glenn Wilkes Classic and try to improve to 4-0 on Saturday against Cleveland State at 6 p.m.