Wednesday, March 7, 2007

FSU, Thornton could sneak into NCAAs

The words written in black marker on Florida State senior Al Thornton’s sneakers demonstrate the importance of Thursday’s ACC tournament opener.

“NCAA ’07.”

“Whatever it takes.”


“Get it done.”

No. 9 seed Florida State (19-11) and No. 8 seed Clemson (21-9) meet in their first-round ACC tourney game in hopes of enhancing their credentials for an at-large NCAA tournament bid.

Both teams are 7-9 in the ACC and haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1998. Thornton, Florida State’s third first-team All-ACC player in 16 seasons in the conference, returned to school instead of entering the NBA draft last year partly because he wanted to play in the NCAA tournament.

“That’s been our goal all year,” Thornton said. “That’s why you play college basketball.”
Clemson and Florida State both have extenuating circumstances to present to the Division I men’s basketball committee when it considers their credentials. Botched clock operation gave Duke two extra seconds to complete Dave McClure’s winning layup at the end of regulation in a 68-66 defeat of Clemson on Jan. 25 in Durham.

“I believe the NCAA tournament should and will look at that game and the way it ended,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said earlier this week.

The selection committee also is supposed to consider the effects of injuries. Florida State went 1-4 in the five games guard Tony Douglas missed with a fractured right hand before returning to score 13 points in the season finale against Maryland.

Coach Leonard Hamilton said Florida State obviously is better with Douglas, its second-leading scorer. But he won’t speculate on whether the selection committee will take that into account.
“That’s not an excuse we can use Selection Sunday,” Hamilton said. “We just have to go out and win as many games as we can.”

The ACC appears to have seven teams – North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Maryland, Georgia Tech and Duke – in excellent shape for NCAA tournament bids. Though both Clemson and Florida State appear to also deserve consideration, it seems unlikely that the ACC could get nine teams into the tournament.

Every time a mid-major conference underdog wins an automatic bid with an upset in its conference tournament (such as Wright State over Butler in the Horizon League), an at-large bid that could have gone to Clemson or Florida State disappears.

And the dreams written in black marker on Thornton’s high tops get more elusive.

– Ken Tysiac