CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Selection Sunday is in less than a month, but Miami (Fla.) is already in tournament mode.
The Hurricanes’ next loss could be the one that knocks them out of March Madness contention. It almost happened Monday at Boston College, but UM (16-9, 6-6 ACC) held on.
In double overtime, it beat the Eagles, a team that has just one conference win.
Miami faces another sub-.500 squad, Virginia Tech, at home on Wednesday. The Canes will have to beat the Hokies (10-15, 2-10 ACC) twice in the final six games. UM closes the regular season in Blacksburg on March 7.
Given its inconsistency at home, Miami might do better to play both games on the road.
The Canes are 8-5 in Coral Gables, a decidedly poor record for a tournament hopeful. Of the top 75 in the NCAA RPI, only Ole Miss (No. 36) has a home record that matches Miami (No. 62). Miami coach Jim Larranaga and players have pleaded for their notoriously fickle fan base to show up for games, but the young, developing Hurricanes have struggled to do the same.
They ramp it up on the road — and when a big-name opponent comes to town — which should give a worried fan confidence they might be able to close the season strong. After the Hokies, Miami visits No. 12 Louisville on Saturday, hosts rival Florida State and No. 15 North Carolina and ends the regular season at Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.
Eight Miami regulars are in their first season playing ACC basketball, including four freshmen. They have felt the pressure of facing high-powered conference opponents and the new, unfamiliar styles they play. They’ve also felt the disappointment of changing roles, going from stars on high school teams to bench-sitters.
But it gets better, redshirt freshman guard Deandre Burnett would tell you. A talented scorer still learning to play ACC-caliber defense, he was passed on the depth chart and played a combined 22 minutes in eight games leading up to BC, including six DNPs. Larranaga said Burnett’s frustration “snowballed” to the point he couldn’t trust him. “He was just down in the dumps,” Larranaga said. “It’s hard to play a guy who’s battling it mentally.”
Burnett said he realized he might catch the coach’s eye by practicing harder. Some sweat equity accrued, Larranaga looked to him Monday for a second-half spark. He scored 13 points in 18 minutes and made 5 of 7 free throws, all in the two overtime periods.
“It’s tough for anyone, especially a freshman who has high expectations of himself,” Burnett said. “You’ve just got to believe in the coach’s decision, that he’s making the right one.
“I thank him in believing in me. That’s what matters most, that we all believe in each other.”