With the NBA draft only a month away, James Collins should have plenty to keep his mind occupied. But right now, he's not ready to hang up his Seminole uniform. Not just yet, anyway.
Collins, a senior guard from Jacksonville who hadn't played in a post-season game until this year, is busy helping Florida State make a run at the NIT title.
"Right now, I'm just concerned about beating Michigan State and moving on in the tournament," he said. "I think we have a good shot at winning it all."
The Seminoles (17-11), who posted their first winning record in three years this season, bullied past Syracuse 82-67 Wednesday to reach the second round. They face Michigan State (17-11), which defeated George Washington (65-50), at 7:30 tonight at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center.
FSU may have saved its best basketball for the end of the season, winning four of its past six, including a victory over Wake Forest in its final regular-season game. Against Syracuse, the Seminoles never trailed and led by as many as 24. FSU was one of only two teams to win on the road in the opening round.
"Our guys are just really relaxed right now," FSU coach Pat Kennedy said. "There's an incredible amount of pressure in the ACC that causes a certain amount of wear and tear, (but) we had about a week to rest up and now our guys are just going out and having fun."
He added: "I'm glad we're playing these type of programs in the tournament. I think it'll pay off for us next year as well."
Forward Randell Jackson, who tied a career high with 20 points against the Orangemen, has been hot the past three games, averaging 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. Corey Louis scored 14 points against the Orangemen and seems to have regained the form he showed before December knee surgery.
Collins, who is 22 points shy of becoming FSU's third all-time leading scorer, is a second-team all-ACC selection and soon may join former teammates Charlie Ward and Bob Sura in the NBA. He was invited to a predraft camp in Portsmouth, Va., in May and is projected as a late first- or early second-rounder. He leads the team with 16.1 ppg and averages 5.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.9 steals.
"I'm looking forward to moving on," Collins said. "Personally, I think my game is suited for the next level. I'm more that one-on-one, transition-type player. My best ball is ahead of me."
Said Kennedy: "I don't know how we're going to replace James Collins. His two best attributes are his work ethic and his defense. He's always been an extremely hard worker, and he's just been a really solid performer for us."
But Collins is most immediately concerned with beating Michigan State, a team that has won five of its past six, including wins over NCAA Tournament teams Wisconsin and Indiana.
"The disappointment over not getting into the NCAA Tournament is behind us," Collins said. "Now, we're just focused on winning the NIT."
Senior guard Ray Weathers leads Michigan State with 13.6 ppg, and sophomore Antonio Smith averages 10.6 rebounds. The Spartans, 9-9 in the Big Ten, start three freshmen, including Mateen Cleaves (10.1 ppg, 5.1 apg), whom Kennedy heavily recruited.
"Michigan State has a good, solid team," Kennedy said. "They play a controlled offense, (but) can also get out on the break and push the ball up the court."
This is the teams' first meeting. The Seminoles are 0-4 against Big Ten teams during Kennedy's 11 seasons.
An FSU win would mean a possible matchup with ACC rival North Carolina State in the third round. The Wolfpack, which beat Southwest Missouri State in the opening round, hosts West Virginia. N.C. State split with FSU during the regular season.
_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.