BUFFALO, N.Y. — When Leonard Hamilton looks across the court at Gonzaga tonight in the opening round of the tournament, he will see the logical next step for his resurgent Florida State program:
Perennial NCAA team with the ability to play deep into the tournament, nationally ranked power with a national profile.
The ninth-seeded Seminoles (22-9) will try to take that step past the eighth-seeded Bulldogs (26-6) at the HSBC Arena in the West Region.
If FSU can make the leap, it would likely play No. 1 seed Syracuse in the Orange's back yard. Undaunted, Hamilton's glass is clearly half filled.
"Anytime you're competitive, you like to play a team that is nationally ranked, gotten a lot of recognition, and they've earned that status," he said of Gonzaga, making its 12th straight NCAA appearance.
"I told our players, I can't think of a better bracket to be in, to play what I guess you would call a perennial power. I think the stars are lined up for us. Now all we have to do is go out there and do the job."
During Hamilton's eight-year run, the Seminoles have made the leap from Atlantic Coast Conference doormat to contender, finishing fourth and third the past two regular seasons.
Last season, they earned a fifth seed in the tournament and played the role for much of their game against 12th-seeded Wisconsin. But FSU lost its focus long enough to let Wisconsin get to overtime, where the Seminoles fell.
"I think last year we had control of the game throughout," said sophomore Chris Singleton, the ACC's defensive player of the year. "It was just the last 10 minutes (that) we buckled under pressure.
"It was a big stage for us. We had never been there. This year we all know what to do. I think we're going to play all 40 minutes of the game."
Hamilton, who is 3-4 in four NCAA appearances, seconded the thought.
"If anything, we have a better understanding you have to play 40 minutes," he said. "If you have a lull at any point, anything is capable of happening."