Miami's Path to the NCAA Tournament

We now take a break to inform you that the Miami Hurricanes men's basketball team has a very good shot at making the 2012 NCAA Tournament. No, really! It may seem impossible considering that up until Sunday the Canes had exactly zero wins of any significance, but a victory over Duke in Cameron Indoor can change all of that around very quickly. The Canes are at least within striking distance, but after bombing in non-conference play (without star center Reggie Johnson, but that's a discussion for when Selection Sunday gets nearer) a lone win over Duke is likely not enough to hang a hat on.

So, let's look at the how the Canes, who at 5-3 in the ACC are sixth in the conference standings, can find themselves in the field of 68 come mid-March.

Here's Miami remaining schedule: vs. Virginia Tech, at Florida State, vs. North Carolina, vs. Wake Forest, at Maryland, vs. Florida State, at North Carolina State, vs. Boston College.

Here are the ACC teams MIami has defeated this season: Clemson, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Maryland, Duke

Here are the ACC teams that Miami has lost to this season: Virginia, UNC, NC State

One path, though probably the toughest one, would be to defeat the Tar Heels. Wins over Duke and UNC in any normal year will almost certainly get you in the tournament barring a complete disaster on other fronts. But let's assume that the Canes, which lost by 20 to UNC earlier this season, are going to drop that game.

Miami needs an absolute minimum of eight wins to have a shot at a birth, and that may be just enough depending on which teams they were to beat. But to feel any modicum of comfort, the team should get to nine wins. Nine wins would be the most any Canes team has tallied since joining the ACC, but it's not really out of the question for this year's squad. If the Canes merely beat Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Maryland and BC -- four teams which sit below them in the conference standings -- they'll hit the nine win threshold, and ACC teams with nine wins historically are near-locks to receive a tournament bid.

But that path still leaves a little to be desired, as it would likely mean that Miami had beaten all the ACC teams below it, but lost to all the ACC teams above it, with the exception of the one win over Duke. Again, it may be enough, but it would put added importance on how Miami fared in the ACC tournament. The surest way to a birth would be to beat those four teams while knocking off either FSU or NC State. FSU will likely be ranked for the foreseeable future, and a win over the Noles would do a lot for Miami's resume, including potentially giving them a pass if they dropped a game to any of the teams below them. Two losses to FSU, a loss to UNC and a victory over NC State would be a less desirable outcome, but it would still pave a way for Miami to reach 10 conference wins and potentially finish fifth in the conference, and they'd certainly make the tournament that way.

From where I'm standing, the most important thing on Coach Jim Larranaga's ledger is to make sure that the Canes don't lose to any of the four teams that they should unequivocally beat. Dropping one of those four games would put UM in a bit of a hole, while winning them would more or less put them one victory away from securing a tournament birth. The Canes basketball program has been more maddening than not over the past five or so years, but the 2012 season is on the verge of getting pretty thrilling.

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