CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When the Florida State basketball team checked into its hotel yesterday morning, the Seminoles were greeted with a little Southern inhospitality.
"Somebody told one of the coaches that they only root for ACC teams," freshman forward Bobby Sura said with a laugh a few hours later. "We're definitely still outsiders."
With a quiet swagger, not to mention the second-best regular-season record in the league, behind Duke, Florida State will make its debut in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament tonight at Charlotte Coliseum.
Don't be surprised if the 18th-ranked Seminoles win the whole thing.
Or shocked if they lose in the opening round against seventh seed North Carolina State.
"Most of the teams in the league are scared of us because we can do so many things," said junior forward Douglas Edwards. "It's also because we're so unpredictable."
How else do you explain a team that swept North Carolina, Georgia Tech, N.C. State and Wake Forest, yet lost a game each to Maryland and Clemson? How else do you explain a team that lost more games in the ACC at home than on the road?
What makes this equation even more difficult to figure is Florida State's performance the past two weeks. The Seminoles are a perfect, or imperfect, 0-0, depending on your perspective. They haven't played since a 110-96 win over the Tar Heels on Feb. 27.
"Our timing might be off," said Florida State coach Pat Kennedy, who is a strong candidate, if not the odds-on favorite, for ACC Coach of the Year. "But our kids won't be intimidated. This league brings out the best in you, and it's brought out the best in us."
Consider where the Seminoles were a year ago this week. They were in Blacksburg, Va., winning the Metro Conference tournament, beating Louisville on a 22-foot jump shot by Charlie Ward after making up a 19-point deficit.
And consider where some key members of this year's team were a year ago. Sam Cassell, the junior guard from Dunbar, was playing before a crowd of "about 500" at a junior-college tournament in Waco, Texas. Sura, who might be the ACC's Rookie of the Year, was playing high school ball in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
"I knew we had a pretty good team," said Kennedy, "but I didn't know what kind of impact we would have in the league."
Call it sudden impact. The Seminoles, scheduled for a rare mid-December game at Chapel Hill for their ACC baptism, were without Edwards. Florida State came away with a 12-point victory over the Tar Heels and burgeoning, if begrudgingly earned, respect.
When Ward returned from the football team in early January to full-time point guard duty, the Seminoles continued their impressive rookie season in the ACC. They came from 15 points behind to win at Wake Forest and nearly beat Duke in Tallahassee.
"When we beat Carolina, everyone thought it was a fluke," said Cassell, who has made the transition from junior college. He leads the Seminoles in scoring and was named second-team all-ACC earlier this week. "But when we came back to beat Wake Forest, we just showed what we were made of."
Florida State's most glaring weakness might be its greatest strength. The Seminoles have a tough inside player in Edwards, a leader in Ward and a scorer in Cassell. But they seemingly don't have much of a conscience, especially when it comes to shot selection.
As Edwards said, "We always don't make the right play, but we usually have enough talent to make up for it."
The Seminoles certainly seemed destined for a rematch with Duke in Sunday's final. They are too deep and too strong inside for N.C. State, and too quick for North Carolina, their likely semifinal opponent.
But this is the ACC tournament. It's not Blacksburg, or Waco, or Wilkes-Barre. Florida State is still thought of as something of an outsider, and the prospect of having to beat three North Carolina teams is a bit daunting.
Or is it?
"I think we'd be a little disappointed if we didn't win," said Edwards.
Don't be shocked if they do.
D8 But don't be surprised if they lose tonight, either.
How they match up
Noon: Georgia Tech 2-0 vs. Virginia: The Yellow Jackets won 75-71 at Atlanta and 52-49 at Charlottesville.
2 p.m.: Duke 2-0 vs. Maryland or Clemson: The Blue Devils beat the Terps 83-66 at College Park and 91-89 at Durham; the Blue Devils beat the Tigers 112-73 at Durham and 98-97 at Clemson.
7 p.m.: Florida State 2-0 vs. North Carolina State: The Seminoles won 98-76 at Tallahassee and 87-79 at Raleigh.
9 p.m.: North Carolina 2-0 vs. Wake Forest: The Tar Heels won 90-79 at Winston-Salem and 80-78 at Chapel Hill.