Will nation see swooning or surging 'Noles tonight?
The question posed to FSU coach Leonard Hamilton and his players seemed as inevitable as downtown Orlando gridlock.
How do you explain the differences between your January surge and late-season swoon?
The inquiry came at Hamilton and Co. twice Wednesday, both times with less conciseness and more tact. The 'Noles (25-8) went 5-1 against six consecutive nationally ranked foes from Dec. 31 to Jan. 21, but finished 7-6 down the stretch with four double-digit losses.
So what happened? "I think our mindset was hunting people (in the early stretch)," junior PG Xavier Rathan-Mayes said from the Amway Center, where the third-seeded 'Noles face No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast (26-7) in a West Region first-rounder tonight.
"We were trying to earn our respect as a program and as a group of guys. I think we did a really good job of going out there and performing at a high level each and every night."
But from there, human nature kicked in a little, Hamilton suggested. The likes of North Carolina, Notre Dame and Louisville were followed by Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Miami and Clemson.
FSU lost by 22 to the Yellow Jackets (managing only 15 first-half points) and by 10 against the Orange in the Carrier Dome.
"And we probably did have an emotional pause there for a minute, but a lot of it had to do with the quality of the teams we were playing," Hamilton said.
"We were playing in a league that everybody was prepared for you. So now you're getting everybody's best shot when you're sitting there ranked in the top 10 in the country."
Entering his program's first NCAA Tournament in five years, Hamilton insists that emotional-pause button has been disengaged.
"I think we're in a good place now," he said. "We'll put that in the past and let's see what we can do about the present."