With four freshmen and two sophomores playing major minutes, Jim Larranaga knew it would take a while to figure out what he really has.
He didn’t need to see it play out to know the ACC would be tough.
The Hurricanes are 11-3 and have started 1-1 in league play. Not bad. The problem for Miami, which won seven in a row before losing at Syracuse on Jan. 4: The Canes are still looking for a win over a quality opponent. That hump could be cleared Thursday, when Miami hosts No. 20 Notre Dame (14-2, 3-0) in Coral Gables. Unlike last year, when a veteran Miami squad knocked around a young Irish club, Notre Dame comes in with three juniors and two seniors. Given the Hurricanes’ youth — and the fact they’re trying to get junior Ja’Quan Newton comfortable running the point full-time for the first time in his college career — Miami’s main issue has been turnovers and inconsistent shooting.
Notre Dame could take advantage of that.
As of Wednesday, Miami was a No. 8 seed in the bracketology of ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. The Hurricanes were one of 10 ACC teams projected to make the NCAA tournament. The others: 2-seeds North Carolina and Duke, 3-seeds Virginia and Florida State, 4-seed Louisville, 5-seed Notre Dame, 6-seed Clemson, 7-seed Virginia Tech and 9-seed Pittsburgh. Lunardi also had NC State as one of his “next four out.”
CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm doesn’t have Miami making the tournament — or in his “first four out.”
Right now, Miami hasn’t really proven anything. Its best win is NC State, which has lost three of its last four, including by 51 to UNC. It handled a weak nonconference schedule and lost to two teams Lunardi has making the tournament (5-seed Florida, 8-seed Iowa State). UM also lost by 15 at Syracuse, which Lunardi doesn’t have in his bracketology.
Palm considers Miami the No. 69 team in his RPI ratings. If they’re to rise, they’ll need to avoid falling apart in the next three weeks, with consecutive road games at Pitt, Wake Forest and Duke, and home games against surprising Boston College and ACC title contenders UNC and FSU. It will not be easy. An injury could sink Miami, which has nine scholarship players and is using all but one of them heavily. The meat grinder of conference play awaits, and Larranaga is still trying to get his team to play consistent ball.
If they won’t, the Hurricanes won’t be playing in March for a second year in a row.