CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — The seats at Florida State’s home arena are now the same color, no longer the hideous palette that made Sue Semrau cringe for 17 years.
“Man, it looks great,” Semrau said.
The same can be said about her team.
When the NCAA tournament starts later this month, usual suspects like Connecticut, Notre Dame, Baylor and Tennessee will surely be picked to go deep on most brackets.
But those seeking a potential Final Four party-crasher may want to look no further than No. 7 Florida State.
The Seminoles went 27-3 in the regular season, 14-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and are one of 13 Division I teams unbeaten at home this season, something particularly notable since Tallahassee – with those new seats – will be a host for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
“It’s a really quality team,” Miami coach Katie Meier said Sunday after Florida State went on the road and beat the Hurricanes 69-55. “Credit to Sue. It’s a bunch of new players. This was all just put together and you’d think they were put together for years.”
Therein lies the real makeover story of this Seminole season.
New chairs are one thing, the new players are something else. Four of Florida State’s top five scorers this season weren’t on the floor with the Seminoles last year – one was sitting out to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, one was winning her second straight national championship in junior college, one was at Kansas State and another was in high school.
Semrau got all the pieces to click fast. This year’s team is much deeper, to the point where Semrau is still struggling to find players enough minutes. The Seminoles are outscoring opponents by a touch more than 19 points per game, the nation’s seventh-best differential, and have been dominant on the backboards all season.
“I didn’t know how we’d be,” said Semrau, whose team next plays Friday in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. “I didn’t know what the identity would be. I didn’t know any of that. But it does not surprise me because of the maturity of the players who were coming in.”
The maturity is key. When Semrau says that her team can still get better, her players – even after a brilliant regular season – aren’t offended.
Instead, they agree.
“That’s what I feel like makes us such a great team,” guard Maegan Conwright said. “Coach always has something we can do to get better, at boxing out, turnovers, there’s always something you can get better at. That maturity for us as a team to not be satisfied, keep wanting to grow and get better, we are on board with that.”
Conwright’s bad luck a couple years ago may have made this Florida State run possible.
It was Dec. 26, 2012, and Kentucky – Conwright’s former school – was practicing. She landed awkwardly, tearing the ACL in her left knee. Months later, she decided to leave the Wildcats and eventually ended up with the Seminoles.
Semrau was one of the few coaches willing to give her a shot at a career revival. It paid off; Conwright leads Florida State in 3-pointers and assists, is probably the Seminoles’ best on-ball defender and ranks second in scoring behind Adut Bulgak, the former junior-college standout.
“She really pushed through hard, hard things,” Semrau said.
She’s made it look easy, like so many other teams at Florida State these days.
Jameis Winston and the football team won the national title two seasons ago and reached the inaugural college football playoff this past season. After years of knocking on the door, the women’s soccer team broke through and won the 2014 national championship, the volleyball team went 30-3 last fall, the softball team is nationally ranked. The list goes on and on.
And now Semrau’s team wants its taste of success as well.
“They see soccer win a national championship, they see volleyball go into, what, the elite eight, they see football go to the national championship,” Semrau said. “We’re not going to be left out. It’s a culture of excellence.”
The way she sees it, Florida State’s teams are simultaneously competing with and supporting one another. At a recent women’s game, football coach Jimbo Fisher spoke at halftime and urged fans to show up for the NCAA tournament matchups – with hopes of filling those newly installed seats.
“We don’t care what other people think,” Semrau said. “We just want to be as good as we can be.”
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