Coach Hamilton has repeatedly stated that being the 3rd best program in the ACC isn't anything to be happy about. He wants to be the best, and to do that, you have to beat the best. So far FSU has done that and is 3-1 this season against Duke and North Carolina.
Now comes the challenge that he's been waiting for. FSU. UNC. Winner cuts down the nets.
I've already covered how FSU matches up with UNC on both ends of the floor. In previous columns I've covered their talent.
On their roster they have eight consensus top-25 recruits. That's as many as the rest of the conference combined. Florida State has had three in the 12 years for which consensus rankings are available. UNC starts the game with that many on the bench. This is arguably the most talented team in the nation. Anything short of the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament, a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and Final Four appearance should be considered a disappointment.
So what now? Coach Roy Williams is in an interesting spot. With John Henson hurt (but able to play) they could be reduced to essentially a 7-man rotation. Yes, they have more players on the bench, but they aren't 5*s and so they don't play. The UNC faithful expect an ACC Title, and they expect a run to the Final Four. And the key to both of those things is a front court of Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes. It's the best front court in the country. But how much is Williams willing to risk for the low hanging fruit (an ACC Title) vs his ultimate goal (a National Title)?
Meanwhile, FSU has to prepare for the possibility of Henson playing. This makes preparations more difficult, because Henson (co-Defensive Player of the Year with Bernard James, as voted by the coaches) is the player you build your offensive game plan around. The point of FSU's attack is going to be centered on Kendall Marshall, but the rest of the play is often dependent on whether Henson is in the game.
Either way, it's an intriguing story line.
This is a game that FSU can win, but they have to play 40 minutes of focused basketball. The talent is in favor of UNC. The crowd is in favor of UNC. And FSU players need to forget about all of that. Hamilton will be coaching as if this were just another random game, and hopefully that will rub off on his players. Play loose. Play hard. And don't worry about anything but executing the play.
The game tips at 1pm from Philips Arena in Atlanta and is broadcast on ESPN/ESPN3 and theacc.com. Vegas has UNC -6, and Pomeroy has UNC -7.