TALLAHASSEE — Florida State's midseason turnaround can directly be tied to former Clearwater standout Luke Loucks' emergence at point guard.
The Seminoles went halfway through the season before beating a ranked team. Then they knocked off two in a week — North Carolina and Duke, no less — and on Monday moved back into the rankings at No. 23.
Coach Leonard Hamilton is counting on his veteran team to handle a bit of prosperity better this time around.
"We've been here (poll) before and didn't handle it correctly," Hamilton said Monday. "I'm more concerned about where we are in March."
One of the league's top playmakers, Loucks has filled up the stat sheet with 30 points, 24 assists and six steals during a four-game winning streak that has lifted the Seminoles into a first-place tie in the ACC.
A quarterback at Clearwater, Loucks zipped a pass to Michael Snaer for the buzzer-beating shot Saturday at Duke.
"That's what Coach Ham recruited me here to do, to be a distributor, run the team and make the right decisions," Loucks said. "You don't have to impress anyone, just make the right play."
It wasn't always like that for Loucks, who tried earlier in his career to impress with flashy no-look or behind-the-back passes that often went awry.
"I learned real quick that those plays usually landed me on the bench," he said.
The point guard position had Hamilton worried enough before the season to recruit Arkansas transfer Jeff Peterson for help. Peterson was immediately eligible under NCAA rules since he had already earned his degree.
The 6-4 Loucks, who carries the team's highest grade-point average and like Peterson is in graduate school, kept the starting job and simultaneously emerged as the Seminoles' leader.
"He has accepted the role of running the team and being a little more vocal and understanding what we need," Hamilton said. "He's been using his basketball instincts to adjust (and) we're more in synch as a result."
His maturation has been a huge boost to the Seminoles (13-6, 4-1), who fell to 9-6 after a 20-point loss at Clemson in their ACC opener.
The early struggles were hard to understand for a team that went deep into last year's tournament had nine key players back.
"We needed to start playing better and we have," said Deividas Dulkys, whose career-high 32 points led the 90-57 rout of North Carolina on Jan. 14. "Now we've got to keep it up."
FSU goes after its fifth straight win Wednesday at Wake Forest.
"We've got to keep stacking these wins on top of each other for it to mean anything," Loucks said. "We have to keep doing the small things that got us to this point."