Canes control their own NCAA Tournament destiny

I’m majoring in journalism and sport administration, but today I’ll give bracketology my best shot in an analysis of the men’s basketball team’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament and what they need to do to be one of 68 teams dancing in March.

Selection Sunday looms two-and-a-half weeks away, on March 11. In that timeframe, Miami (16-10, 7-6 ACC) will play its last three ACC regular-season games and the ACC tournament to finalize its tournament resume.

The three regular season games: Florida State, at NC State and Boston College.

The Hurricanes have been considered a bubble team since the Feb. 5 win at No. 5 Duke, part of a five-game winning streak that put them in the conversation. Since that win streak, however, the team has lost three of its last four – two of them to ranked opponents.

With the Canes’ most recent loss Tuesday at Maryland, Miami, which was outscored by 10 in the final two minutes, dropped from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s “last four in” to his “first four out” of the tournament.

When the selection committee takes a look at the Canes, they’ll see that they have been a pretty consistent team. They beat the teams they should beat, but besides the Duke victory, haven’t had any impressive wins.

That is why the Super Bowl Sunday win against the Blue Devils, who are in the running to notch a No. 1 seed in the tournament, was so critical. For a team that pretty much does what it’s supposed to, that one standout win against a storied basketball program could easily be the wild card that gets the Canes in.

Other bubble teams don’t have that statement victory to prove to the committee they can pull off an upset and advance deep into the tournament. Neither Texas, USF, N.C. State nor UCF have beaten a ranked team at the time of their meetings.

In fact, the Wolfpack’s most impressive win came at Miami. Meanwhile, Northwestern is aided by a win against Michigan State, and Seton Hall’s wins against Georgetown and defending national champ Connecticut are sure to influence voters.
One thing working against the Canes, however, is their lackluster play out of conference. The best non-conference win for Miami came against Massachusetts. Jim Larranaga’s squad believed it was scheduling a very strong schedule, but with teams like Memphis, Purdue and West Virginia underachieving by their normal standards, Miami’s non-conference strength of schedule ranks 102 in the nation.

A critical component to look at when discussing Miami’s out-of-conference play, however, is that the team was without center Reggie Johnson, recovering from a torn meniscus in his knee, for most of that span. Johnson’s first game this season came against FAU in the taem’s 10th game. The Hurricanes were 5-4 at that point, having lost four of their last five before his arrival.

Nine wins in the ACC is usually enough for a tournament bid, but in a bit of a down year in the ACC, 10 might be the magic number. For the Canes to reach 10, they’d have to win all three games remaining on the schedule. Some feel a 9-7 ACC record, accompanied by the poor show in non-conference play, will require a run in the ACC tournament to solidify a spot.

If Miami were to win two of its remaining three, it’s difficult to determine which two would play best to their tournament hopes.

Sunday’s game against No. 16 FSU is huge because it’s the type of win, against a ranked rival, that could really skyrocket the Hurricanes in the minds of tournament voters.

The game in Raleigh against N.C. State is one that the team would like to win because the Wolfpack is in the bubble, too. If the Canes lose to N.C. State twice in one season, who could prove that they deserve a spot over the Wolfpack in the tournament?

The regular-season finale against Boston College (8-19, 3-10 ACC) is a must-win if only for the simple fact that it would be that dreaded “bad loss” Miami is so desperately looking to avoid. The lack of a bad loss is one thing working in the Hurricanes’ favor up to this point.

There are so many potential outcomes considering everything that can happen to either the Canes or the bubble teams they’re going up against. The only thing Larranaga’s crew has to worry about is winning one game at a time, as cliche as it might sound. The rest should take care of itself.

Larranaga likes to break down the word “win” to his team as an acronym for “What’s Important Now.”

What’s important now is preparation for a Sunday showdown with Florida State.