ORLANDO, Fla. -- Funny how things turn out. Florida State withdrew from the Metro Conference a couple of years ago, and now the 11th-ranked Seminoles have to get past former rival Tulane to move into the Sweet 16 in the NCAA basketball tournament.
Seminoles coach Pat Kennedy can't help but marvel at the historical significance. He revamped his offense soon after a lopsided loss to a young and unproven Tulane team during the 1990-91 season. The three-guard alignment that will take the floor today in the Southeast Regional at the Orlando Arena dates to just days after that defeat.
"We were struggling," Kennedy said. "We lost to Tulane badly and then we played Southern Miss and we played a little better. Then we moved Charlie Ward to the point guard position. That was a turning point for our program."
Tulane coach Perry Clark remembers that as a watershed day for his team, too. The Green Wave was back for only its second season after the school reinstituted a basketball program that had been canceled in the wake of a 1985 point-shaving scandal. The victory over Florida State was a giant step in Tulane's surprisingly rapid rise to prominence.
"Pat [Kennedy] had a good ballclub, and they had done a number on us the first year," Clark said. "That was a big game for us. I really felt that turned our program around."
So, here they are together again, two teams that have made great leaps since the 1990-91 season. Florida State opted out of the Metro Conference to step up to the Atlantic Coast Conference, a move that couldn't help but improve the national standing of the basketball program. Tulane has risen from nothing in 1989 into a second straight NCAA tournament berth.
The Seminoles are coming off a solid first-round performance against Evansville on Thursday, but Tulane presents a far more formidable challenge. The Green Wave is bigger, faster and more talented than the team that was overwhelmed by an 18-0 Florida State run in the first half of Thursday's opening game.
"Tulane is the same team I remember from the Metro Conference," Kennedy said. "They do a great job. They are a trapping team and they can give you a number of different looks. They are a dangerous defensive club, so we're going to have to keep the ball in the middle of the floor."
The Seminoles also will find the Green Wave with more offensive dimensions than Evansville, which tried to depend too heavily on the inside dominance of 7-1 center Sascha Hupmann. Tulane has three big men -- Anthony Reed, Carlin Hartman and Matt Greene -- who scored in double figures this year.
"They can go awfully big -- 6-8, 6-9 and 6-10 -- inside," Kennedy said. "That could present some matchup problems for us. We're going to have to make some adjustments, so we don't get caught up in some bad matchup situations."
In a sense, Tulane cannot lose. The 1992-93 season already is a major success, considering the Green Wave lost starting guard Kim Lewis with a broken leg early in the season and got only five minutes from starting guard G. J. Hunter on Thursday because of an ankle sprain.
"This was, in my mind, a survival year," Clark said. "When we lost Kim Lewis, I was in a state of depression. I would have been happy with 15 or 16 wins and a berth in the NIT, but these guys really stepped it up. They did some things I wasn't sure they could do."
The Green Wave will have to step it up another notch if Tulane is to move into the round of 16 against the winner of the Seton Hall/Western Kentucky game.
Seton Hall was unchallenged in a first-round game against Tennessee State, and the Pirates appear to be too big inside and too well-rounded for the seventh-seeded Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky. But Pirates coach P. J. Carlesimo was careful not to appear overconfident during yesterday's news conference.
"I think Western Kentucky obviously is a very good basketball team," he said. "I've looked at parts of two tapes, and I think they are a very diverse team. I think that makes them a very good team. They create an average of 22 turnovers and they had an average margin of victory of 17 points. That makes you a good team.
"I always cry about not having enough time to prepare, Carlesimo said, "but this is a time when you need more time because this is not a conventional team. It'll come down to which team does what they do best."