Monday March 21st, 2011

CHICAGO -- Chris Singleton had a hunch what his team might be able to do against second-seeded Notre Dame from watching the tape. It's not that he didn't respect star shooters Ben Hansbrough or Tim Abromaitis. It was more a case of the teams they'd played.

"I have something against the Big East," the Florida State forward said in the Seminoles' celebratory locker room after his 10th-seeded team routed the second-seeded Irish 71-57. "I don't understand if they do scouting reports or not, I don't know if they do opposing tendencies or not. I don't respect any of their teams' defenses."

Singleton's team has no such problem. It came into Sunday's third-round game boasting the nation's most efficient defense, and it looked every bit the part in holding the Irish to their lowest scoring output since January; holding them to just 23.3 percent (7-of-30) from behind the arc and building as much as a 23-point second-half lead in the most anticlimactic upset imaginable of a No. 2 seed.

With the clock down to 3:19 and the blowout well in hand, the small contingent of Seminoles fans in otherwise green-coated United Center broke out in a chant more often reserved for football.

"Over-rated [clap, clap, clap clap clap]. Over-rated ..."

The chant was directed primarily at a Notre Dame team that ascended into the Top 10 of polls and even garnered discussion as a possible No. 1 seed days before Selection Sunday, but there was an obvious overtone to it -- the same one expressed by Singleton, Charles Barkley and a whole lot of other critics recently. If it wasn't obvious, the FSU faithful made it so only moments later when they changed their tune to "A-C-C, A-C-C."

In earning their first Sweet 16 berth since 1993 -- yes, the famed Sam Cassell- Bobby Sura era -- the Seminoles did their long-revered-but-recently-dismissed conference proud. The ACC, which the RPI ratings deemed so down that only four of its teams made the Dance (and only two of those, Duke and North Carolina, were seeded better than 10th), became the lone remaining league with three teams still standing. That's a 75 percent conversion rate if you're keeping track.

Meanwhile, the Irish's defeat meant that the much-lauded Big East is down to just two of the tourney-record 11 teams it began the field with four days earlier. That's 18 percent.

"We found it very disrespectful," FSU guard Michael Snaer said of the tourney bid discrepancy. "The ACC has been so good for so long, yet they disrespect us year after year. We just come out and use it as fire."

No, it's not entirely fair to judge conferences based on their performance in a one-and-done tournament, just as assessing football conferences on their bowl records is an entirely deceiving practice. But let's be honest: People do it anyway. Football fans have spent years deriding the Big Ten, mainly for a pair of Ohio State BCS championship-game losses three and four years ago.

You don't think people are going to forget any time soon that the Big East sent 11 teams to the 2011 NCAA tournament, and only two (Connecticut and Marquette) made it to the Sweet 16? (Perhaps not coincidentally, Marquette's is the one Big East defense "that gets after it," according to Singleton.)

"The tournament is used as a measuring stick by everybody, right? ... I don't think you can battle against that line of thinking," said Big East associate commissioner Dan Gavitt, on hand in Chicago. "But clearly, four months of performance should be a better indicator than four days. Are we disappointed? Sure. The kids and coaches are more disappointed than anybody."

It should be noted that the Big East might have had a couple more survivors if not for the fact the committee pitted two pairs of them -- Connecticut-Cincinnati and Marquette-Syracuse -- against each other in the Round of 32. Then again, maybe the Huskies and Eagles caught a break.

It's not like there weren't warning signs. For one, the fact that Notre Dame's Hansbrough -- not likely a first-round NBA pick -- was the Big East Player of the Year was a sign of its lack of truly elite talent this year. That doesn't mean the Irish, 14-4 in conference play, weren't deserving of their high seed, but it did leave them vulnerable to a more athletic foe like the Seminoles.

FSU makes no effort to hide the fact that offense is not its forte. ("We just have to score 60, because you're not going to score 60 against us," said Snaer. Coach Leonard Hamilton's philosophy rides almost entirely on recruiting long, athletic defenders and drilling them in the fundamentals.

Before this year -- perhaps even before this week -- many 'Noles fans questioned whether the coach's ugly style of basketball was truly the right direction. It took him six years in Tallahassee just to reach the NCAA tournament and then until this year, his third try, for FSU to win a tourney game.

But now the 'Noles are headed to San Antonio, where they'll try to shut down another explosive offensive team, upstart 11th-seed VCU.

"I felt all along that we could get to this point, but I also feel that we can be a lot farther along than we are," said Hamilton. "Our goals are to be a program of significance in the ACC and on a national basis. As much as we're enjoying where we are at this particular point, I'm still anxious to continue the climb."

FSU and the ACC will enjoy plenty of national significance over the coming week, and perhaps even further. In fact, for the first time all season, you'll be hearing more about them than you will a certain league in the Northeast.

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