The St. Bonaventure Bonnies insist they feel no pressure with nothing to lose and everything to gain in the NCAA Tournament.
Memories of a painful loss a year ago still haunt the 10th-ranked Florida State Seminoles, who have no intention of overlooking anyone.
The two will square off Friday in the East region.
"Personally, I've thought about it every day since the VCU game," Florida State senior Bernard James said Thursday of last year's 71-70 overtime loss to VCU in the regional semifinals.
A motivated Florida State (24-9) won its first ever Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title and is a 3 seed in the tournament.
The Seminoles use that VCU loss to check any ego in a season where they beat North Carolina and Duke twice.
Florida State's 76-73 win on Jan. 21 over Duke snapped the Blue Devils' 45-game home winning streak, and the Seminoles captured the ACC crown with their second win over the Tar Heels.
James said they've already talked about this tournament being their chance to right the wrong of their loss a year ago.
"We use it as a constant reminder every day to stay focused and to perform at the top of our ability," James said.
The 14th-seeded Bonnies' biggest win may have been in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, as they beat first Massachusetts, then Xavier for their first-ever title, too. That gave them their first NCAA berth since 2000, just a few days after coach Mark Schmidt thought his team was headed toward the College Basketball Invitational.
Now Schmidt says they're playing with house money after the miracle in Atlantic City.
"As a kid, you grow up dreaming about playing in the NCAA Tournament, and a week ago that dream wasn't going to become reality. And, somehow, some way it became and our guys can't wait to play," Schmidt said. "They're excited, looking forward to the challenge."
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton warns not to buy into St. Bonaventure as a Cinderella cliche. He has seen enough video on the Bonnies to know better. Hamilton said they're a team that could compete in the ACC with 6-9 senior forward Andrew Nicholson, the A-10 player of the year.
Hamilton said he's probably like the NBA scouts that have taken so many notes on the possible first-round draft pick. Nicholson not only averages 18.4 points per game, but he hits 65 percent of his shots, which is better than Bonnies' legend and former NBA player Bob Lanier. Nicholson also shoots 39.6 percent beyond the arc, helping the Bonnies average 70.7 points per game.
"He's a moving target, and you really can't key on him as well," Hamilton said. "He's not always on the post. He's not always on the perimeter, plus he can take you off the dribble."
This is just the sixth NCAA trip all time for the Bonnies, a program that has been building back since 2003, when a player who transferred in with only a welding certificate from a Georgia community college was ruled ineligible and the team was barred from the A-10 Tournament. The players boycotted their final two regular-season games, the coach was fired and the president resigned.
Nicholson said he's glad to be on a team that brought respectability back to the program. Sophomore point guard Charlon Kloof said they're not satisfied with just being here.
"For us, it wasn't that much of a surprise to win the A-10," Kloof said. "We wanted to surprise the world. For us, it's OK. We reached one of our goals. Let's try to see what we can do in the NCAA Tournament. So you just try to take it one day at a time, one game at a time."
The Seminoles are pretty used to finishing the season in the NCAA Tournament, with this a school-record fourth straight trip. This is their highest seeding since 1993, when they reached a regional final for a program that lost the 1972 national championship game to UCLA.
This group plays stingy defense, leading the ACC in holding opponents to 38.1 percent shooting. And they're very experienced with four seniors who've started the last half of the season. They're led by James and top scorer Michael Snaer, a junior. The Seminoles are 15-3 since a 79-59 loss at Clemson that prompted some soul searching.
James said they've taken their communication to a new level over the past four or five games.
"We're talking all the time on the court. It's basically what our coach has been trying to get us to do since Day 1," James said. "And it's a little easier said than done, but once you get that mindset, the mindset we're in now of talking constantly, just letting your teammates know every single thing you're doing when you're on the court."
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