Representing The Sunshine

By Jeff Lippman - March 20, 2008

The NCAA Tournament selection committee had 63 teams already ensconced within the bracket. They just needed one more...

They went with experience.

Overlooking teams like Michigan State, who struggled under new coach Suzy Merchant, and Green Bay, who finished with 26 wins on the year, the committee went with a team that has been to the last three NCAA Tournaments and has advanced past the first round in all of them.

Last year, Florida State surprised Stanford in the round of 32 and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. At 18-13, the 'Noles grabbed that last at-large bid as the 11 seed and will face the six seed, Ohio State, in the opening round Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa out of the New Orleans region.

Whether or not Florida State deserved to have their name called on Selection Monday remains to be seen, not even FSU coach Sue Semrau wasn completely sure her team was in.

"Obviously we were ecstatic when our named flashed up on the screen," Semrau said. "We thought we had a 50-50 chance and I could give you a lot of reasons why we should be in and I could give you a lot why we shouldn't."

With Miami being a largely mediocre team in the ACC and the Gators just missing out on the NCAAs, Florida State is the only team from the state of Florida to go dancing. And with the Final Four held in Tampa this year, the 'Noles would love to represent the Sunshine State in the national semis.

While that is highly, highly unlikely, Florida State does have designs on another Sweet 16.

And to get there, they'll have to face not just one, but possibly two teams called OSU. If the 'Noles manage to dispatch of the Buckeyes in the opening round - a task I believe they can manage as Ohio State is no better than a middle-of-the-pack ACC team - they would face the runners-up of the Big 12 Tournament, Oklahoma State. That is, if the Cowgirls get past their opening round opponent East Tennessee State.

The second OSU will be far tougher than the first, but playing the run-and-gun style of the ACC, that should help them against the likes of the Cowgirls' speedy superstar Andrea Riley.

Assuming Florida State manages two big upsets and sneaks into the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row, their magical mystery tour should end there. A third abbreviation should be too much for the 'Noles to handle as they would most likely be facing Sylvia Fowles and LSU.

And although FSU is better than its record, the Tigers should be the end of the road.

But let's not talk about the end of the road for Florida State just yet. For a team that overcame incredible adversity this season, now is a time to talk about the positives of overcoming many hardships.

It really is amazing that they secured 18 wins on the season. They went nine games in the middle of their season without leading scorer and All-ACC team member Tanae Davis-Cain because of a suspension. They were without sophomore near-10-point-per-game scorer Alysha Harvin for the first nine games for the same reason.

And while those losses were only temporary, as both are back and playing with the team, the Seminoles were not as fortunate with starting center Britany Miller, who was declared academically ineligible for the spring semester and won't be with the 'Noles in the Big Dance. Miller was the team's leading returning scorer and rebounder from last year's Sweet 16 team.

"The whole year there have been unexpected things that have come up and this was one of them," Semrau said. "We've had a lot of adversity this season and I'm really proud of our team for sticking with it and getting this opportunity."

Florida State played a very tough schedule as they faced seven ranked opponents this season, despite losing to all of them. They beat the teams they should have, and pretty much lost to everyone else. While that doesn't sound like a team that can make a realistic run in the NCAA Tournament, the time is now for the Seminoles.

The NCAA gods smiled down upon the only team from Florida with any chance of making the Big Dance and awarded Semrau's team with an opportunity to continue playing on the grandest of stages.

With all of the adversity Florida State has had to overcome this year, the 'Noles will be ready for whatever challenges face them beginning Saturday in Iowa.

For the only NCAA Tournament team to start every single player on its roster at least once, the experience of this season should help them along the way. Florida State is young - they only have one senior on the roster - and talented, with a lot of room to grow.

The growth begins Saturday against the Buckeyes.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 10:34 AM on March 20, 2008

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