FSU Hoops' Top Non-Conference Record as Tourney Prep
Winning the Atlantic Coast Conference -- like the Florida State men's basketball team did in the 2019-2020 season -- will never not impress. Success in the blue-blooded ACC, featuring programs like Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville, and Syracuse, will always, and justifiably, draw praise.
With the coronavirus pandemic ending the last season mere moments before the Seminoles were to tipoff their ACC Tournament quarterfinal matchup against Clemson, the 'Noles finished with an exceptional conference record of 16-4. But they also had an overall mark of 26-5, which (quick math) means FSU went a stellar 10-1 in non-conference play.
Unlike conference titles, there are no banners hung for non-conference championships-- that is, until the NCAA Tournament. Non-con games tend to bookend teams' seasons. They typically come along early in the schedule, in November and December, when a lot of casual fans aren't necessarily paying the most attention, due to the long road remaining before March.
But they serve as important tests that rather resemble challenges in the Big Dance. Those cupcakes, the ones that you have to Google to even find out where they're from? They can be a lot like the automatic qualifiers that higher-seeded teams encounter in opening rounds.
After that, the lack of familiarity with squads outside your conference, often on neutral courts, is reminiscent of non-con play as well. Think about it: FSU split with NCAA Tournament teams Florida and Indiana on the road, while bettering likely exclusions but worthy adversaries Tennessee and Purdue on neutral courts.
So maybe this commendable non-conference accomplishment since 2016 explains why the Seminoles have been so effective in the postseason of late, notching Sweet-16 appearances the last two years, with an Elite-8 finish in 2018, and Final Four hopes this year. Every team included has made the Elite 8 since 2017, with Villanova and Virginia winning it all.
Is this a case of correlation over causation? Perhaps. But the winning percentages persist. Anyone, anytime, anywhere. As in non-conference play, that's how you advance in March.