Fresh off historic ranking, No. 5 Seminoles host Notre Dame

NCAA Basketball
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To put in perspective how long it’s been since the No. 5 Florida State men’s basketball program has enjoyed a ranking this high, here’s what was happening in the world the last time the Seminoles found themselves in this position.

The year was 1972 when the Seminoles earned a preseason No. 2 ranking, and American swimmer Mark Spitz had just won seven gold medals at the Olympics, digital watches were just hitting the market, the first scientific hand-held calculator was debuted, Atari released its famed game “PONG,” and there was thing called the “Watergate Scandal” happening in Washington D.C.

You may have heard of it.

The Seminoles’ ranking didn’t last long, however, as they fell to No. 7 after a loss to Princeton. And, before this week, it had been 48 years since they’d cracked the Top 5.

But the Seminoles (16-2 overall, 16-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) are back in the Associated Press Top 25 poll elite — and they’re loving every minute of this historic run heading into Saturday’s conference showdown against Notre Dame (11-7, 2-5).

“That’s what we’ve been trying to build — a team that’s worthy of that level of attention and support,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton told the Tallahassee Democrat this week. “We want to keep it that way so in order for it to be consistent night-in and night-out, we just want to continue to keep winning.”

Florida State’s latest win came Sunday against rival Miami as the Seminoles erased a nine-point deficit with just over five minutes to play for their ninth straight victory that put them atop the ACC standings. One day later, the pollsters moved Florida State from No. 9 to No. 5, and they’re now projected to land a No. 2 NCAA Tournament seed, per ESPN’s Andy Katz.

“The Seminoles are not just an ACC title contender but have to be considered for a run to (the Final Four in) Atlanta,” Katz wrote this week.

Florida State has shined behind the play of players like guards Devin Vassell (13.2 points per game), Trent Forrest (11.8 ppg) and MJ Walker (11.6 ppg) — their three leading scorers. Vassell is also tied for the team lead in rebounds on the season with forward Malik Osborne with 92 boards each.

On paper, Notre Dame — which comes in having lost three of its last four games — doesn’t present as big of a challenge as years past, especially considering the Seminoles are nearly unbeatable at home these days. Florida State has gone 58-3 in its last 61 home games since the end of the 2015-16 season — and they are 28-3 in conference contests at home during that same time period.

Hamilton said the support from the fans over the last five years has been a big reason why teams have a hard time winning at the Donald L. Tucker Center.

“There’s no doubt (our fans have) an effect on the game, the atmosphere, the experience of the game. I think they’ll leave feeling exhausted, that they were part of the victory,” Hamilton said of the home crowd after the Virginia win last week.” Over the last three or four years … we haven’t lost that many games at home. I think the fans help us and hopefully, we’re doing something that they like to see.”

Those same fans will try to make it difficult Saturday on the Fighting Irish, who are coming off a gut-wrenching 84-82 loss to Syracuse on Wednesday. Notre Dame forward John Mooney scored a game-high 21 points and had 13 rebounds, but his 12th consecutive double-double — which broke Luke Harangody’s 11-year-old school record — wasn’t enough as the Fighting Irish remained winless in its three ACC home games.

“That’s about as good as we’re gonna be offensively right there,” Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey told after the loss. “We just couldn’t get enough stops. Disappointed for our guys, (but) we’ll keep swinging.”

Mooney is averaging a team-best 15.7 points and 13.9 rebounds a game, and he has plenty of help with three other Fighting Irish players also averaging double figures — guards T.J. Gibbs (13.3 ppg), Prentiss Hubb (12.6 ppg) and Dane Goodwin (11.9 ppg). Notre Dame also enters the game averaging just 9.8 turnovers per game — second-fewest in the nation.

Following Saturday’s game, Florida State will travel to take on Virginia on Jan. 28 — just two weeks removed from the Seminoles’ 54-50 win against the Cavaliers in Tallahassee. Notre Dame, meanwhile, will return home for its next game and host Wake Forest on Jan. 29.

–Field Level Media

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