The preseason ACC media prediction was that Miami would finish 10th in the conference this season. This seemed reasonable to outsiders, who looked at UM as a team in rebuilding mode, returning only three starters from last year's team, adding four freshmen, a junior college player, a graduate transfer, and two transfers who sat out. The Canes were dealt two preseason blows when returning swingman Davon Reed injured his knee and JUCO forward Ivan Cruz Uceda was ruled ineligible for the first half of the season due to archaic and asinine rules that disproportionately affect international student-athletes. This was a team that needed to build chemistry with each other and learn how to play together. The coaching staff tried to get a jump on this process, using UM's occasional offseason foreign trip to make a ten-day jaunt through Spain to play exhibition games, as well as other team building activities such as setting butterflies free from the steps of the BankUnited Center.. It seemed to come together more quickly than planned as the Canes ran off eight straight wins to start the season, including road wins at then eighth-ranked Florida (ending their lengthy non-conference home winning streak), capturing the Charleston Classic Trophy, and a home win over a ranked Illinois squad in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Canes were ranked #15 in the polls and were flying high.
Green Bay, then the reigning Horizon League champs, came to Coral Gables and knocked off a flat Canes team, despite the valiant but rusty return of Reed. After plastering visiting Savannah State, the Hurricanes fell asleep again and were embarrassed by Eastern Kentucky, losing 72-44 in one of the most inexplicable games in all of college basketball this season. The slumping Canes succumbed to Providence in Brooklyn before ending their non-conference schedule against College of Charleston.
Entering ACC play against number three Virginia, the Canes were still sleepwalking and hadn't beaten a good team in a month. The fight returned, at least for that game, as they took the eventual ACC champions to double overtime. The Hurricanes seemed primed for ACC play, beating a pesky Boston College team at home and then stunning the nation by blowing out fourth-ranked Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, ending their 41-game home winning streak in dominating fashion.
Now the toast of the college basketball world, Miami fought a tough battle against Notre Dame in South Bend before losing by 5 in Cruz Uceda's debut. That loss didn't seem to deter the Canes, as Miami beat North Carolina State at home and Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, returning to the top 25.
Miami would then go .500 the rest of the way, including an abysmal 20-point loss at home to Georgia Tech, as the team seemed to ebb and flow with the performance Angel Rodriguez, whose success at Florida and Duke belied the fact that he is a streaky shooter who spiraled into a terrible shooting slump. Rodriguez broke out with a solid performance against Florida State before injuring his wrist at the end of the game, which kept him out until the ACC Tournament and out of the starting lineup for both of those games.
The Hurricanes finished sixth in the conference with a 10-8 record and perhaps the best win in the country at Duke, and with a win over Virginia Tech in the second round of the ACC Tournament, the team moved to 21 wins. Last night's game against Notre Dame looked like a foregone conclusion after the Canes went down 20 early, but the team stormed back behind upperclass transfers Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan, briefly taking the lead with just over four minutes to play as the Irish went stone cold. In the end, Notre Dame had enough luck, pulling out a victory and leaving the Hurricanes sitting squarely on the bubble, hoping for a few chips to fall favorably over the next 48 hours. Last night's game was truly a microcosm of the season - sometimes, we clearly pass the eye test, while for a handful of others, we don't even pass the CBI test.
The team's total body of work is baffling, featuring great wins and a few horrific losses, mediocre statistics and placements that have all but guaranteed entry in prior years. With 11 ACC wins (including the tournament), 10 road and neutral wins (including wins at Duke, Florida and Syracuse), other high profile wins like Illinois and NC State, and finishing sixth in what many consider to be the best conference in the country, the Canes are certainly in the discussion for the tournament even with what one would consider to be a traditionally poor RPI ranking (62, as of today). And even the RPI might not be fatal - since the most recent change to the RPI in 2005, a handful of teams have made the Big Dance with an RPI worse than Miami's. Will the committee give credence to the high-ceiling team that destroyed Duke and staged a furious comeback versus Notre Dame, or will they be unable to overcome the impressions of blowout losses to low-majors and ACC bottom-feeders? Would teams like Temple or Tulsa regularly beat the Hurricanes on a neutral floor? The two biggest name experts, ESPN's Joe Lunardi and CBS' Jerry Palm, believe the committee will leave the Hurricanes at home. Jon Rothstein at CBSSports.com and other writers and lesser-known bracketologists disagree and think that the Hurricanes deserve to be dancing. Those of us here at State of the U believe that the Hurricanes pass the eye test most of the time, and even the résumé test if you avoid the dullest of rubrics. Now, let's hope that the committee agrees.
Author's Note: As always a special thank you to SOTU Hoops Consigliere, Josh Frank aka @joshdacane for his input, thoughts and editing skills!
Miami falls to Notre Dame, but passes the eye test. Canes look like an NCAA caliber team. Will be interesting to see where they land.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 13, 2015
Updated bracket and bubble watch are coming shortly. Last in: Texas, Temple, Miami, Mississippi. First out: BYU, UCLA, Tulsa, Richmond.— Michael Beller (@MBeller) March 13, 2015
Will the Canes be singing "Dancing Days" come Sunday?