5:38 PM EST, February 12, 2012
TALLAHASSEE – One of the great rivalries in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
A frenzied, fired-up arena filled with 12,000 loud, loony, clamoring crazies who were on their feet, screaming, yelling, chiding, chanting, inspiring and conspiring their team to victory.
Two teams in the same state going nose to nose, playing their hearts out, trying diligently and wanting desperately to win an ACC Championship.
No, not Duke-North Carolina.
We're talking Florida State-Miami, baby.
Playing a game that matters.
"I heard one of the commentators say the other day that he couldn't remember when there was a big game in the ACC that didn't involve Duke and Carolina," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said proudly after his league-leading Seminoles held off Miami 64-59 Saturday.
"It feels great that Florida State and Miami are both relevant in the ACC," Florida State guard Luke Loucks said. "This league isn't just about Duke and North Carolina anymore."
Who would have ever thought that an FSU-Miami basketball game would be more meaningful and nationally relevant than a football game between the two in-state rivals? The weather outside was colder than Bill Belichick's smile, but inside FSU's Tucker Center the atmosphere was as heated and passionate as it has been in years.
Florida State came into the game atop the ACC standings after winning seven of its last eight ACC games; Miami came in on a five-game ACC winning streak. It's no secret that when the nation thinks of ACC basketball, they think of the storied Duke-North Carolina rivalry, but guess what?
Miami went up to Cameron Indoor and beat Duke just last week, and this came on the heels of FSU going to Duke and ending the Blue Devils' 45-game home winning streak. The Seminoles have not only beaten Duke, they annihilated North Carolina by 33 points earlier in the season. Incredibly, when Duke comes to Tallahassee in two weeks, that game might well be for the ACC championship.
Just goes to show that patience — a rarity in college athletics these days — sometimes pays off. Hamilton failed to get to the NCAA Tournament in his first six years and there were many fans, boosters and media members who wanted him fired by former athletic director Dave Hart.
Hart stood by his man, knowing that Hamilton would get the program righted. Since then, the Seminoles have made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, advanced to the Sweet 16 last year and are the third-winningest program in the ACC over the last four years.
"In my mind, it was clearly a matter of when and not if Leonard would get Florida State to a point where we would be competing at the top of the ACC pyramid," said Hart, now the AD at Tennessee. "I heard the chatter [about Hamilton's job security] … and, believe me, it was frustrating and aggravating. … But I knew how close we were and I knew we had the right guy. It was just a matter of time before we kicked that door down and started getting into the NCAA Tournament."
Hart compares Hamilton to the calm, confident man in the Rudyard Kipling poem — the guy who can "keep your head when all about you are losing theirs." Hamilton never wavered when fans were calling for his job. He knew his philosophy of teaching smothering defense would eventually pay off even if the Seminoles can't recruit the same McDonald's All-Americans as Duke and Carolina can.
When you take over the types of programs Hamilton has in his career — the fixer-uppers at Oklahoma State, Miami and FSU — sometimes it takes a little bit longer to get the house in order.
"I think my skills as a coach are more well-suited to going somewhere and building a program than going somewhere and maintaining a program," Hamilton said. "When you take over a program that needs fixing up, you have to have a different mindset. You have to have a system that will work even if you don't have the best players. And you have to stay positive and persevere and have the confidence to know that you're going to turn the corner."
The corner has now officially been turned and the Seminoles are speeding down the highway with their GPS set on "ACC Championship."
Hallelujah, Florida State-Miami finally has meaning again.
At least in basketball.
email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.
Copyright © 2013, Orlando Sentinel