With each passing game, it gets more and more difficult to argue the legitimacy of this Florida State basketball team.
The Seminoles are 18-2, tied for their best 20 game start in program history, and are off to a torrid 6-1 start in ACC play, five of which came against ranked opponents.
As unbelievable as this season has been so far for those who follow the program closely, there is one area in which the Seminoles are relatively untested, at least over long stretches: playing on the road.
Five of FSU’s first seven conference games have within the friendly and significantly fuller confines of the Tucker Center. Sure, the Seminoles have thrived against some of the best teams the conference has to offer, even stealing a road win at then-No. 12 Virginia. However, the ‘Noles have not yet had to experience an extended road trip. That all changes this week.
Beginning Wednesday with a matchup at Georgia Tech, Florida State embarks on a three-game road trip, the longest the Seminoles will deal with all season. To put the new ground this is embarking on into perspective, two of FSU’s first 20 games this year were true road games.
Now, it’s worth noting that these teams are a cut below the teams FSU faced over its recent stretch. GT (No. 99 in KenPom rankings), Syracuse (No. 59), and Miami (No. 40) are each lower in the rankings than all but one of the seven teams the Seminoles have faced so far in conference play. However, that hasn’t stopped similar teams from pulling upsets over significantly better teams, particularly on their home court.
Way back on the first full day of ACC play, both of the North Carolina giants fell to inferior teams on the road. The Tar Heels, the only ACC team to beat FSU so far this year, fell in the ACC opener at Georgia Tech 75-63. On the same day, Duke came up flat in a 89-75 loss at Virginia Tech. Just this past Saturday, Boston College, who was winless in ACC play last year, kept it close with No. 9 UNC for the vast majority of the game, losing by 8 in the end. This goes to show that there are no true gimmies in ACC play, especially away from home.
“Every team in the ACC is playing at a very high level,” senior center Michael Ojo said. “You have to bring your ‘A’ game every single day.”
Boston College, pegged to finish dead last in the conference by the ACC media, already has two conference wins this season. Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, picked to finish 13th and 14th, respectively, are both 3-4 in ACC play, even with the preseason favorite to win the conference, Duke.
So far this season in conference games, ACC home teams are 35-17 (67.3%), the fifth best home win percentage of any conference in the nation.
“This is a stretch that has been extremely challenging, but I told them in the locker room you can’t rest now,” FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton said after Saturday’s win over Louisville. “We’ve got to try to be as prepared as we can, go out there and continue to keep doing what we are doing, regardless of where we are.”
A season ago, Florida State went 3-6 in ACC road games, including underwhelming losses at Clemson and Virginia Tech. That being said, a few notable sophomores back on this year’s team after suffering that poor road mark last year feel they have learned a bit more about what it takes to win away from home in conference play.
“It’s too loud to be talking the whole time,” sophomore forward Terance Mann said of the added difficulty of playing on the road. “You all have to be on the same page and you will get through it.”
“We don’t want to change anything up,” sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon added. “We have had a lot of success doing what we have been doing all year, so we just keep the same mindset that we have had all year for all these road games, especially the same mindset that we had for the Virginia game, and just transfer that over to Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Miami.”
A lot was learned from how exceptionally well this Florida State team handled a stretch of six straight games against ranked opponents, earning the No. 6 spot in this week’s AP poll in the process. That being said, some of that progress could be stalled by a poor showing in this upcoming extended road trip. These Seminoles have high aspirations and have proven capable of playing with some of the best. If they want to further establish themselves as a legitimate candidate for the ACC regular season title, they will need to do what many good teams have struggled with so far this season: taking care of business against lesser teams on the road.