TALLAHASSEE Senior centers Michael Ojo and Jarquez Smith almost thought this day would never come.
Guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Bacon longed for this moment, especially after an offseason where their on-court relationship blossomed with motivation to reach this point.
For the first time in five years, coach Leonard Hamilton and the Florida State men’s basketball team are headed to the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m excited for our players, I really am,” Hamilton said. “This is something we want for them. We want them to enjoy the experience.”
Florida State (25-8) earned a No. 3 seed in the West Region during Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show and will open the first round against No. 14 seed Florida Gulf Coast (26-7) on Thursday at the Amway Center in Orlando.
FSU could play the winner of No. 6 Maryland versus No. 11 Xavier on Saturday. If the Seminoles advance, they would head to the West Region semifinals in San Jose, California.
“Anytime you’re one of the top four seeds, it’s a significant position for your team and for your program. We’re moving in the right direction,” Hamilton said.
“It gives us something to be proud of, feeling like they accomplished something over the course of the year. But they have to realize now it’s a new season.”
The Seminoles gathered to watch the selection show two days after their semifinal exit in the ACC tournament.
FSU fell to Notre Dame 77-73 on Friday night in Brooklyn after the Irish used 13 three-pointers to build an 18-point lead in the first half. The Seminoles’ comeback, and hopes to reach the ACC title game for the first time since winning the tournament in 2012, fell short.
Despite the loss, FSU finished as the No. 10 overall seed in the tournament field.
FSU could see top-seeded Gonzaga, No. 2-seed Arizona, No. 4 West Virginia or No. 5 Notre Dame in the West Regional, or face No. 1 seed Villanova, No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Baylor or No. 4 Florida from the East Regional in the Final Four.
The Seminoles — led by Bacon, Rathan-Mayes, potential NBA lottery pick Jonathan Isaac and a loaded bench — are primed to put the finishing touches on one of the best seasons in school history.
But a team that delivered a 25-win regular season does bring some concerns heading into the tournament. The Seminoles started the season winning 16 of their first 18 games, including five wins during a stretch of six games against Top 25 opponents.
FSU was a top-10 team for three weeks in January before two blowout road losses to unranked opponents bounced the Noles outside the top 10.
The Seminoles went just 4-4 in their last eight games.