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Florida State men’s basketball: If you build it, they will come

Florida State built the team, and now the fans are coming to watch.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Florida State Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Through every way imaginable, Florida State men’s basketball has built a powerhouse for its 2016-2017 season. The team returned last year’s starters Dwayne Bacon, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Terance Mann, redshirted an injured Michael Ojo for a fifth and final year of eligibility, added freshman phenom Jonathan Isaac, and transferred into the program PJ Savoy from JUCO, who seems to hit threes every time he touches the ball.

As a result, the 17-2 ‘Noles are off to its best start in school history since going 18-2 through the season’s first 20 games in 1969-1970.

Florida State basketball built the team, and the fans have now started to come.

At Wednesday’s victory over Notre Dame, there were 10,535 fans in attendance —- a slight drop off from its season high of 11,675 in a victory over Duke.

Coming into ACC play, the ‘Noles were averaging approximately 5,768 fans through their first nine home games to begin the 2016-2017 season. Since returning from winter break and students returning to campus, FSU has averaged just over 10,041 fans through its first four home ACC games.

In the previous three seasons, the ‘Noles have averaged just over 6,667 total fans per game and have fluctuated between 69th and 82nd nationally among Division I schools during that span.

Through a total of 13 home games so far in the 2016-2017 season, the ‘Noles average around 7,083 spectators. If Florida State averages a very attainable 9,000 fans per game in its final five games, which would include an already sold out Louisville game, the final season attendance would be 7,615. In 2015-2016, that would rank 63rd in the nation, something the ‘Noles haven’t accomplished since 2011-2012. In a time where college basketball attendance is on the decline, FSU could see its attendance rise over 21% since the 2012-2013 season.

In many ways, Florida State’s success has been verified by the fact that the Seminoles are in the midst of a six-game streak against ranked teams. With the behemoth that is the ACC conference, fans are getting a chance to watch a competitive game between two teams when making the trip to the Donald Tucker Civic Center, a fact that has not consistently been the case in a number of years.

“I think that you’re seeing our fan support growing in relations to the way our league is growing,” FSU basketball head coach Leonard Hamilton said following the victory over Notre Dame on Wednesday. “You have outstanding teams come to play every night and you have a lot of basketball fans in the area... Its nice to give our opponents a little taste of the same medicine we get when we go on the road. And I hope they enjoyed it.”

For many students still on campus since the magical 2011-2012 season that included an ACC Tournament Championship, this season feels like a repeat. For graduate student Michael Kaney, the hype surrounding this year’s squad emulates the passion from the fans that hasn’t been seen since that 2011-2012 season with him saying, “The Tuck was packed and exciting. People were lining up to rush the court with 10 minutes remaining in the game. You had to be there early to get a seat and the crowd was great.”

Although there are still a handful of students that first-hand witnessed the magic of the 2011-2012 season, the current crop of senior students at FSU were not on campus during the last NCAA Tournament appearance for Florida State, including current senior student Brian Beattie. Even for them, this year is special.

“People are finally excited to go to games again,” Beattie said. “Fans have anticipated Florida State being a quality team for a long time but now that it has happened, people are responding. It is starting to become a legitimate home court advantage and that is not something you could say a couple of years ago.”

For their first time at Florida State, other students are not looking forward to seeing if FSU will make a postseason tournament or not, but where the ‘Noles will be seeded.

Junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes has been with the program for three seasons now and says the involvement from the fans this season has been the best he has ever seen. “Most definitely, not just at the games, but around campus, walking into food restaurants. I think people are starting to notice who we are walking around Tallahassee now.”

For some, including freshman forward Jonathan Isaac, playing in front of large crowds of over 10,000 on a daily basis is still something to get used to. “I’m still adjusting to that. Walking into the gym and having everyone either for you or against you.”

With the hoards of fans flocking to watch Florida State basketball against some of the best teams in the nations, players feel impacted from the crowd’s involvement.

Sophomore guard PJ Savoy is just one of those players who feel affected from the newfound home-court advantage. “The fans bring a crazy energy to us. You see us all the time on the bench try to get them into it. As soon as we do that, they’re right into us. It makes us play to another level.”

Sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon agrees, saying the team enjoys playing in front of those large home crowds. “They bring a lot of energy. When you have a consistent home crowd that sells out every night then its better for us because we know we have a lot of people on our side. It brings a lot of energy, a lot of motivation to our team, we love it, we love coming out and playing in front of our fans.”

Barring a devastating stretch to end the season, Florida State should see itself playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. It would give all 16 players on the active roster their first taste of March Madness.

Fans and players have been waiting patiently for this moment to arise once again and this year has provided that chance.

FSU looks to continue its storybook season against No. 12 Louisville on Saturday in front of a sold-out Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.