March 17, 2014
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State men's basketball players aren't dwelling on what might have been. Missing the NCAA Tournament stings, yes, but they aren't about to let the disappointment of missing the Big Dance stop them from making the most of an NIT No. 1 seed.
Hosting Florida Gulf Coast (22-12) Tuesday at 7 p.m., FSU (19-13) has the benefit of potentially playing three games at the Donald L. Tucker Center before a a trip to New York City should they advance.
"Winning the first three games and getting to the Final Four in New York, that would be an experience for everybody," senior forward Okaro White said. "Nobody on our team has played at Madison Square Garden so that would be a great experience."
Before the `Noles can even think about a trip to the Big Apple, though, they have to get past an Eagles squad that a year later is still remembered for its 2013 NCAA Tournament Cinderella story.
And while "Dunk City" isn't as potent as it was a season ago when FGCU was running up and down the court throwing alley-oops in upset bids, the Eagles enter the NIT with an athletic roster that can cause the Seminoles problems -- even if their identity has changed a bit with former SFU assistant Andy Enfield no longer coaching the team.
"They do a motion system that's a lot of ball screens that you see most people do," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "I do think they mix up a little bit. ... They will be a solid, fundamental team. They run when they have to and they love to attack in transition."
"Florida Gulf Coast is a good team," sophomore guard Aaron Thomas added. "We now they are going to come in [Tuesday] and play hard and try to prove why they should have been in the [NCAA] Tournament."
Thomas told reporters Monday that not only are he and his teammates taking the NIT seriously, but they are focused on sending off the seniors on a high note. With the tenures of White, Ian Miller and Robert Gilchrist all coming to a close, FSU's young players have the chance to help close out the 2013-2014 with a bang -- despite missing the field of 68.
But White also sees this NIT opportunity as a chance for the returning players to set the tone for next season.
"That's very important for ten so they can start establishing who they are going to be next year," White said.
They'll likely have to work towards that goal Tuesday night without Miller, who injured his toe in the ACC Tournament loss to Virginia last week. FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said Monday it was probably less than 50 percent that Miller would play.
Tickets to the NIT games are general admission and can be purchased by clicking here or by calling 1-888-FSU-NOLE. The first 1,000 students to show a valid FSU ID will be admitted free and student tickets after that cost just $4.