Despite Tough Schedule, Coach Hamilton Has No. 9 Florida State On A Roll

Here's one way to look at the Florida State basketball schedule: Who in their right mind wants to play six games in a row against ranked opponents? If you ask Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton, there are two ways.

"You could say, well, how did this happen? But then when you sit and think about it, this is a unique and special opportunity we are blessed to have," Hamilton told The Courant Wednesday.

The No. 9 Seminoles blew out No. 7 Duke 88-72 Tuesday night in Tallahassee for a third consecutive win over a Top 25 opponent. They beat No. 21 Virginia Tech 93-78 and No. 12 Virginia 60-58 in their previous two games.

Up next: Saturday at No. 11 North Carolina, Wednesday vs. No. 20 Notre Dame, and Jan. 21 vs. No. 14 Louisville.

Hamilton realizes this is not a normal schedule.

"This is kind of out of the box, that we've been put in this situation," Hamilton said. "But the bottom line is this: if you're a real competitor and you love what you do as a player and as a coach, you're so excited about having this opportunity to do something that very few teams in the history of college basketball have ever had an opportunity to do. For our program, even though I think the last 10 years we're one of top three or four winningest programs in the ACC, this gives us an opportunity to create a distinction on our own. It's highly motivating, even though it's challenging ... let's go see what we can do with it."

FSU is 16-1, including 12 straight wins to break a school record that stood since 1970, and 4-0 in the ACC for the first time.

When the Seminoles face North Carolina at the Dean Smith Center, they will be seeking their first win there since 2010. FSU is led by sophomore Dwayne Bacon, who has scored in double figures in 26 straight games.

The most common theme in all of these wins, especially against the Blue Devils, is that Florida State looked and played like the dominant team — and ended those games that way. Duke's bench is light, which is widely known, but its starting five is among the best in the country. Still, it could not handle the Seminoles.

"There is no doubt we're trying to keep things grounded and in perspective," Hamilton said. "I'm trying to keep our kids with clear understanding. That was Duke [Tuesday] night and they bring a lot of hype, but the next game you play if it's not Duke or Carolina, they can hand your hat to you, too.

"Sure, we have to concentrate on Carolina, then we've got Notre Dame, then we've got Louisville. I guarantee you whoever we play after Louisville, if you're not ready, they're going to give you your hat and show you where the door is."

After Louisville comes a game on Jan. 25 at Georgia Tech, which beat the Tar Heels on New Year's Eve.

So far this has been a special year for Florida State. Hamilton last took FSU to the NCAA Tournament in 2011-12. Yet in the past 11 years, Florida State (249 wins) is the third-winningest program in the ACC behind Duke, 330, and North Carolina, 328. Hamilton moved into 10th all-time in the ACC in wins with his 118th Tuesday night. He was Big East coach of the year twice at Miami (1996 and '99).

Hamilton does not worry about recognition, though.

"The most important thing is that over the last 25 years we've only had maybe six or seven kids who didn't graduate," Hamilton said. "If I'm only concerned about credit, awards and trophies and those things, I wouldn't be true to who I am and how I've gotten to this point in life.

"I mean we're taking teenagers to young adulthood and if we only judge the success by how people recognize you for the number of games you've won, then we short-change ourselves and the players who come and play for us, so I really focus on [other things]. I'm happy when they invite me to their weddings. I want to meet their fiancée. I love it when I'm the godfather to their kids. Those things, to me, are far more valuable than recognition you get because you won a number of games."

Yale In Conference Play

Defending Ivy League champion Yale (8-5) hits conference play Friday at Penn (6-6) and then at preseason Ivy League favorite Princeton (8-6) Saturday.

Bulldogs coach James Jones said the nonconference schedule has prepared the team for tough games in tough places.

"I believe so, especially the way we played in venues like Temple [83-77 loss], Pittsburgh [75-70 loss] and Washington [98-90 win]," Jones said. "I think playing in those environments, big games against teams that we're not supposed to win, I think our guys will be ready for that and they'll certainly be ready for this challenge."

The Bulldogs are playing this season without star player Makai Mason, out for the year with a foot injury. So other players have stepped up. Alex Copeland averaged fewer than five minutes in 13 games last season. The sophomore guard from Los Angeles leads the Bulldogs in scoring at 13.3 points. Two freshmen, 6-foot-6 guard Miye Oni, also from California, as well as 6-9 forward Jordan Bruner of South Carolina have been big.

Oni is second in the league in rebounding (7.2), and fourth in three-point field goal percentage (.443). Quite the combination. He's averaging 13 points. Bruner is averaging 11.2 points, 6.9 boards, and has 23 blocks.

"Well, that's what you want, you want great development, and that first 13 games you've put yourself in a position where you've answered some questions, as a coach, as a coaching staff," Jones said. "And you have to figure out who you need to play when the games matter the most. I thought Alex Copeland played better than I thought he would. Minye Oni played better than he practiced, and Jordan has certainly been a big addition to our team."

Quinnipiac Women Rolling

Quinnipiac is ranked No. 2 in the women's mid-major Top 25 poll. The Bobcats (14-3, 7-0 MAAC) were ranked sixth during a 31-win season two years ago. Coach Tricia Fabbri, who runs the unique system of subbing in a fresh five players with five different playing styles every couple of minutes, is at it again in Hamden after leading the Bobcats to their fifth-straight 20-win season last year, fourth-straight appearance in the MAAC title game and fifth-straight trip to a national postseason tournament (WNIT).

The Bobcats, last year's regular-season conference champ, are beating league opponents by an average of 23.9 points. ... UConn (42.1 percent) is the top three-point shooting team in Division I women's basketball. But Hartford first-year coach Kim McNeill's team lets 'em fly, too, and the Hawks check in this week at No. 11, shooting 39 percent from three. They were fifth last week but were an uncharacteristic 4 of 15 in a 68-55 win over Vermont Saturday. They shot 10 of 32 from deep in a 80-73 win at UMBC Wednesday night. Truth is, the Hawks do a lot of things well — run, press, defend and share the basketball. They're also 11-4 and on a four-game winning streak.

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