By Jeff Falconio
A few weekends ago when we were at the Sports Show somebody asked me who the sleepers of the NCAA Tournament will be. After thinking about it the first team that popped into my head was Florida State. There was so much talk about the number one worthy teams of the ACC. Everybody knows North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest. Then there was Clemson, the team that always starts like 16-0 but flops in conference play. This year the Tigers didn't flop. Then you had bubble teams Virginia Tech and Maryland.
In between was two teams no one was talking about, that being Boston College and Florida State. But the Eagles couldn't break into the upper echelon and nearly played their way out of the tournament. Meanwhile the Seminoles quietly piled up wins in the ACC. Florida State lost by only three points to Duke and North Carolina. Prior to conference play Florida State beat tourney teams Western Kentucky and California as well as bubble teams Cincinnati and Florida. Then in the ACC Tournament the Seminoles finally scored a big win, a three point victory over the Tar Heels in the semifinals. In short, the Seminoles played a strong schedule and flew under the radar most of the year. The perfect recipe for a sleeper team.
That's bad news for the Badgers. First, a thought on the seeding. Were the Badgers really the second-to-last team to make the tournament? Maryland played their way in during the final three weeks yet received a higher seed than Wisconsin. For that matter, how did Dayton and Temple both end up with the same seed? The Flyers were considered a near-lock before the Atlantic 10 Tournament began and had beaten the Owls during the regular season. Furthermore, Temple needed to run the table to make it to the big dance. Yet they're both 11 seeds.
Nevertheless, the 5-12 matchup is always a tricky one. There's a history to double-digit power conference teams validating the selection committee's last few at-large picks. Oklahoma scored a victory in 1999 as a 13 seed. Texas A&M did the same as a 12 in 2006. Heck, Villanova was a 12 last year and validated the pick with a win over Clemson. Can the Badgers add to that list?
The Florida State player everyone talks about is guard Toney Douglas. The senior leads the Seminoles in scoring and can create offense for his teammates. But he can play defense too. Indeed, Douglas was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year. The Seminoles in general know how to play defense and can be physical with anybody. Florida State also has tremendous size in the frontcourt and every rebound will be contested.
A big problem for Wisconsin this year has been finishing games and with Douglas Florida State has a player that can put the team on his shoulders for the final four minutes. Sounds daunting but the Badgers have two factors going for them. Wisconsin knows how to play defense too and priority one will be taking away Douglas. If the Badgers can do that the game will be up for grabs. Also the Badgers are experienced. That experience can come into play when you consider Florida State hasn't made the tournament since 1998. Look at last year. Four seed Vanderbilt and five seed Drake both had tremendous runs through the regular season. But both were unfamiliar with the postseason spotlight. Sure enough, neither team made it out of the first round. Can the Seminoles handle the pressure cooker that is March Madness?
Up and down Florida State has a solid team. Leonard Hamilton is a good coach and unlike his players he is familiar with the NCAA Tournament. I have to stick with my guns here and pick Florida State. It just never came together for the Badgers this year and getting the unlucky draw of Florida State should mean an early exit for the Badgers.