FSU vs. Duke: For all the marbles

Leonard Hamilton knows how close FSU is to an ACC title

On Wednesday, Las Vegas opened the betting line for tonight’s FSU-Duke game, and the line was even. Neither team was favored over the other.

What a sign of the times that is.

Florida State has the chance to get a leg up on winning the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title tonight if they can beat a hungry, angry Duke team. It has been 33 days since the Seminoles last beat Duke, waltzing into their arena and hitting a buzzer-beater to win 76-73.

It was their second win in a row against a Duke program that has had all kinds of trouble keeping Florida State at bay in recent years.

Tonight is a different animal. The Devils will be in the middle of Seminole Heaven, the Tucker Center, that has seen two court stormings (OK, three — we did it twice in one night in 2006) at the expense of a Duke team in the last six years.

So is this actually Florida State’s game to lose?

If you’ve seen the way FSU has played basketball lately, it’s obvious that they are on their game when they are backed by an electric crowd, whether it’s their own fans or opposing fans that have prodded them to play at the highest level. Where they once played in front of half-empty arenas, they are suddenly playing in front of crowds that want to see their team knock off the first-place Seminoles.

They’ve responded well in almost every instance during their 10-1 run, dating back to Jan. 10.

Duke’s players and coaches have made no mistake in past years that FSU is one of the toughest places they have to play, both in the ACC and in general. The 12,100 rabid fans that pack the arena for the big games always make it a snake pit for some of the best teams in the nation, which has helped move that record against top-5 teams in the right direction.

But tonight is just one night, and one game. It could go either way.

Florida State must make it a priority to contain guard Austin Rivers, and Duke’s three-point shooting in general. They can win the battle in the paint, but if Duke gets hot from the perimeter, they will have a shot. If the final score is in, say, the 60s, I see no reason to believe Duke will hold the edge.

And while FSU has shot much better from three-point range lately, if the game gets into the 80s or above, I won’t be expecting a positive outcome for the Seminoles.

This, if you didn’t know, is the biggest game in at least 19 years for Florida State Basketball. If you tune in, you will see over 12,000 fans leaving every last ounce of energy in the arena, and every player in Garnet and Gold leaving everything on the floor.

I won’t be making a prediction for tonight’s game (come on, you know me better than that), but I will say this — Duke is not a better team than Florida State. Tonight, they have a chance to prove that to the world.

Hopefully, the world will be watching, because the game of the night is in Tallahassee, Florida.

Yeah, you heard that right.

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