Seminoles, Jackets making noise in ACC, too
Florida State and Georgia Tech have to feel a little like the Osmond siblings who weren't named Donny and Marie. The Seminoles and Yellow Jackets have both had very good seasons and are angling for NCAA Tournament inclusion. But
Well, you-know-who is No. 1 in the country and 29-0. And what's-their-name is No. 4. And then those other guys are defending a national title and are ranked fifth.
Duke, North Carolina and Maryland, the trio of terror that made up three-fourths of the Final Four last year, finished 1-2-3 in the ACC this season and obviously garnered most of the national attention for the conference.
Then there's a great emotional story at North Carolina State, which is ranked No. 25 and is the No. 4 seed in the upcoming ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., which opens Thursday. The Wolfpack kids are playing their hearts out for coach Kay Yow.
If seeds hold, it's a battle of the titans in the semifinals and final. Oh, and we will hear again this question that really, really annoys me: Would it have been better for Duke to have lost a game?
This doesn't make any sense. It suggests that somehow the Blue Devils "messed up" by being perfect. What were they supposed to do? Intentionally lose a game to take the pressure off? This goes hand in hand with that other essentially illogical question, "Did the team peak too soon?"
Look, this isn't swimming, where you measure yourself against a clock and can taper your workouts in an attempt to achieve maximum performance at a desired time. (Even then, it doesn't always work.)
In basketball, you want to win every game. You want to get better every day. I don't get this "peaked too soon" malarkey. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, just that it's silly to suggest it can be prevented. Again, what can a coach do? Go into practice one day in December or January and say, "You know what? We're playing too good right now. I need you guys to stay in neutral or regress a little and then start improving again in, say, mid-February."
Duke, or any other team in the future in the same situation, needs to see being "perfect" for what it really is -- you've done in every game exactly what everybody sets out to do in every game.
Coach Gail Goestenkors said she told her team after Sunday's victory over North Carolina, "You've had a great regular season and it's done. We come back to practice, and our goal is to go 3-0 now. That's our focus; and it's going to be an incredible task."
And if Duke isn't still perfect after the ACC tournament, so be it. There's a bigger deal coming after that.
OK, enough of that. Now, what about Florida State and Georgia Tech? Well, they've both been overshadowed but are a big part of the ACC's overall success story this season.
The Seminoles have an identical record as NC State -- 21-8, 10-4 in the ACC -- but the Wolfpack got the tiebreaker. This means that Florida State, the No. 5 seed, opens ACC tournament play Thursday against Wake Forest, which at 9-19 and 0-14 just needs to be put out of its misery. The Seminoles beat the Demon Deacons by 17 points on Sunday in Winston-Salem, so it's not likely to be much different in Greensboro.
Florida State coach Sue Semrau's young team -- there's just one senior, guard Alicia Gladden -- has grown up a great deal this season. The Seminoles have won at least 20 games three seasons in row -- and that has never happened before in program history. Gladden made third team All-ACC. And let's face it -- in this conference, cracking the list of the top 15 players is very, very difficult. Gladden was also named to the all-defensive team. Post player Jacinta Monroe was picked to the league's all-rookie team.
"I'm proud of the way we were able to finish in our conference," Semrau said in a coaches' teleconference earlier this week. "We've really been able to pull together and go through some adverse times."
The Seminoles have been to the postseason five of the last six years, including three NCAA Tournament trips. Consider that before Semrau arrived in 1998 -- picking up the pieces following Chris Gobrecht's one-year disaster in Tallahassee -- Florida State had made the NCAA field only three times in 16 years.
As for Georgia Tech, it has been a historical season: the Yellow Jackets' 9-5 league record marks the first time the program has had a winning record in the ACC. The closest it had come before was 8-8 in 2003.
MaChelle Joseph took over at Georgia Tech the next season, which was the first time in 22 years a McGlade sibling hadn't coached the team. Bernie McGlade led Tech from 1982-88, then her sister Agnus Berenato was coach until leaving for Pittsburgh. Berenato got the Yellow Jackets to the NCAA Tournament twice, in 1993 and 2003 both years in which the Final Four was in Atlanta (not saying that swayed the committee, but well, it didn't hurt) .
Georgia Tech had one of the most eye-opening upsets of this season, beating Maryland 77-72 on Feb. 1 in Atlanta. Georgia Tech is the No. 6 seed. If Tech beats No. 11 Miami in the first round (it defeated the Hurricanes twice in the regular season), guess who's next in the quarterfinals? The Terps.
Further, with one more win, the Jackets (19-10) will reach the 20-victory plateau for just the fourth time in program history.
"It's been an exciting year and a fun ride," Joseph said. "We're riding this winning streak at the right time."
The Ramblin' Wreck has won five in a row and eight of the last 10 games. The Jackets have been undersized against almost everybody they've faced this season. So they've relied a lot on their guard play, led by senior Stephanie Higgs. She was a third team All-ACC selection.
"We press and play a lot of different defenses," Joseph said. "When we faced Duke and NC State, it was a tremendous challenge for us because of their size. But I believe our defense has been our mainstay. And even though we're small, we rebound exceptionally well.
"We're healthier now than we've been all year long, and we're starting to come together and peaking at the right time."
Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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