ATLANTA — As they would any other year on the eve of the ACC tournament, the Florida State Seminoles spent some time Wednesday familiarizing themselves with their surroundings.
"It was great getting used to the rims, the court, the lights," senior guard Toney Douglas said.
The cavernous Georgia Dome is different, to be sure. (He last played in one, this one, in fact, as a freshman at Auburn.) But then this season has been anything but the norm for his team.
The No. 22-ranked Seminoles (23-8, 10-6) received an opening-round bye as the No. 4 seed and meet No. 12 seed Georgia Tech at 2:15 p.m. today. After the league expanded from nine teams to 12 in 2004, FSU had to play on the first day of the tournament every year.
More important is that FSU, a team that seemingly has been on the NCAA Tournament "bubble" almost every year lately and needing a couple of wins in the ACC tournament, is generally considered a lock to earn an at-large bid for the first time since 1998 no matter what it does in this tournament.
"I know we're in," said Douglas, a first-team All-ACC pick and the runnerup for the league's player of the year. "We're playing right now to get a higher seed. And we're playing to get an ACC championship."
The Seminoles have never won two games in this tournament, let alone win three straight or, as has usually been the case, four in four days to cut down the nets.
"This is very important to us," junior forward Ryan Reid said. "Although people are saying that we're already in the (NCAA) Tournament, we're not leaving at that. … We're trying to make history. We're trying to make things happen. We're trying to make this not just a football school but a basketball school."
No one has anointed the Seminoles as a favorite to win the ACC tournament, not after going 0-4 against the top three teams (North Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke) and not after, well, how things usually go. But consider:
• Top-seeded and top-ranked UNC, which draws Virginia Tech at noon, nipped FSU 80-77 on a 3-pointer in the waning seconds by conference player of the year Ty Lawson. No. 3-seeded Duke beat the Seminoles twice, but both were by single figures, 66-58 in Tallahassee and 84-81 in Durham. Only No. 2-seeded Wake Forest easily handled FSU, 86-63 in Winston-Salem.
• The Seminoles are 10-5 away from home, including three neutral-site wins.
• For the first time in years, the Seminoles haven't been hit by injuries or illness (7-1 center Solomon Alabi, who played just 10 games last season before a leg injury ended his freshman year, and guard Isaiah Swann, who missed the last month of last season with a knee injury) or by defections (guard Von Wafer left for the NBA after his sophomore year in 2005 and forward Alexander Johnson left after his junior season in 2006).
Stability in the lineup has meant upward mobility in the standings.
"I think we're capable of winning games against anybody in our league," said ACC coach of the year Leonard Hamilton, whose team practiced and came to the Dome to watch some of the afternoon session. "But the thing about that is you have to go out and prove it, and that's the tough task."
That's why Hamilton has preached approaching each and every game the same way.
"We realize we don't have the luxury of looking past (the next) practice," he said. "It's important for our team to continue to stay focused and take it one game at a time. I've said that all along because we are so young and inexperienced that everything is new to us."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347