TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — After another long layoff, the Florida State men’s basketball team finds itself ready to the page on 2018 on Tuesday with a New Year’s Day showdown against Winthrop.
Because a few days later, the Atlantic Coast Conference gauntlet begins.
The No. 9 Seminoles (11-1) didn’t move in the latest poll released Monday — and they weren’t expected too either. With no losses by the eight teams in front of them since Florida State’s last game Dec. 22 against St. Louis — an 81-59 Seminoles win — No. 9 is where Florida State will be for at least one more week no matter what happens between Tuesday’s game against the Eagles (8-4) and Saturday’s ACC opener on the road against No. 4 Virginia (11-0).
In that last game against the Billikens, the Seminoles shot 55 percent and were never threatened. And when the dust settled, St. Louis coach Travis Ford heaped high praise on the Florida State team that had just trounced them.
“They’re a Final Four team,” Ford said after the loss — the worst defeat, by point margin, that St. Louis has suffered all season. “They’ve got a chance to go as far as they want.”
And while Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton appreciates that, he’s not ready to go that far just yet when assessing this year’s squad.
“I’m not sure I can feel that good about what we’ve done,” said Hamilton, whose team comes into Tuesday’s matchup winners of six straight. “We have potential. We’re still not a well-oiled machine yet.”
The Seminoles are led by guard Terance Mann at 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, followed by forward Mfiondu Kabengele at 12.0 points per game.
Florida State and Winthrop are playing for both the second time in three seasons and second time ever. In 2016, the Seminoles beat the Eagles 100-86 in the 2016 Preseason NIT Tip-Off Classic.
Winthrop visits the Donald L. Tucker Center on Tuesday having won four games in a row, the latest victory coming just two days ago 76-62 against a 1-11 Prairie View team. The Eagles are led by senior guard Nych Smith at 16.1 points per game.
“Nych is a one-man run. He’s a guy that can heat up really fast,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey told The (S.C.) Herald. “Once he gets in a flow, in a rhythm, he’s as good as I’ve been around.”
But Smith is hardly alone when it comes to Winthrop players who can fill up the stat sheet.
Four other Eagles average double figures besides Smith, including forward Josh Ferguson (12.8 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game), guard Adam Pickett (11.5 ppg and 3.2 assists per game), Kyle Zunic (10.6 ppg) and guard Bjorn Broman (10.3 ppg).
The Seminoles, who have won 31 consecutive non-ACC games at home, have only started a season 11-1 six times, but this is the third straight season they’ve accomplished that feat. If they beat Winthrop on Tuesday, they’ll improve to 12-1 for just the third time in school history.
Florida State’s last time playing on New Year’s Day before Tuesday’s game came during the 1957-58 season. This will only be the third time in school history the Seminoles have played on Jan. 1.