Florida St.-North Carolina Preview


All the talk heading into the ACC tournament swirled around a potential third meeting between Tobacco Road arch-rivals North Carolina and Duke.

Florida State, though, has every reason to believe it can re-route the conference title to Tallahassee.

The 17th-ranked Seminoles try to win their first ACC tournament championship Sunday at Atlanta, where they'll face a fourth-ranked Tar Heels squad trying to nail down a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.

Coach Leonard Hamilton's team improved to a combined 3-1 against North Carolina and Duke following its 62-59 victory over the second-seeded Blue Devils in Saturday's semifinals. Florida State (23-9) used an active, physical defense to force 14 first-half turnovers and limit Duke to 37.3 percent shooting overall, while junior guard Michael Snaer had 16 points and six assists.

"We knew that if we didn't guard them extensively for 40 minutes, they would be more than capable of hurting us on the offensive end," Hamilton said. "We grew up a little bit when the game was in doubt, and the communication between the team made me think they were learning."

This is the second trip to the ACC title game in four years for the Seminoles, who lost to Duke in 2009, but a different outcome is definitely within their reach versus the Tar Heels (29-4). On Jan. 14, Florida State dealt coach Roy Williams his worst loss at North Carolina, a 90-57 drubbing as Deividas Dulkys made eight 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 32 points.

"We've come a long way since then," Snaer said. "We can't think about that game and try to use that game to go out and win. It's North Carolina, it's not going to be that easy."

Since the lopsided win, Dulkys has averaged 5.7 points and made 16 3-pointers in 14 games.

Snaer, who contributed 17 points in the rout of the Tar Heels, has averaged 19.7 points while shooting 57.1 percent in his last three games, including 71.4 percent (10 for 14) from 3-point range.

Top seed North Carolina advanced to the championship game with a hard-fought 69-67 victory over its other Tobacco Road rival - North Carolina State - in the first semifinal. Kendall Marshall avoided a charging call after shouldering Alex Johnson and banked a 10-footer with 10.2 seconds to play as the Tar Heels retained their chances for a top seed in the field of 68.

"In that situation,'' Marshall said, "they're not going to call a ticky-tacky foul. We just wanted to get something going toward the rim. And thankfully enough, I was able to get it up on the backboard and it went in.''

ACC player of the year Tyler Zeller had 23 points and nine rebounds as the Tar Heels showed the grit they'd lacked in the January humbling versus the Seminoles. John Henson, the two-time ACC defensive player of the year, sat out with an injured left wrist while Marshall sat a good portion of the first half after picking up two fouls.

"Right now, we feel very fortunate to say the least,'' Williams said. "If you want to put lucky in there, you can say that as well.''

Henson, who averages 13.8 points and a team-leading 10.1 rebounds and 2.9 blocks, is questionable for this game.

Marshall finished with 12 points and 10 assists for his fourth double-double in six games, and he's averaged 11.8 points and 9.8 assists in that span. The Seminoles, though, completely neutralized him in January, limiting him to six points, a season-low four assists and a season-worst seven turnovers.

The Tar Heels, who are seeking their 18th ACC tournament title but first since 2008, lost to Duke in last year's final. They also have lost three of five to the Seminoles after a 10-game winning streak in the series.

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