Caveat: if the Canes lose to Virginia Tech today, ignore this article. Miami would need to be playing in the ACC tournament title game to have a chance at dance talk.
The consensus seems to have the Canes, whose RPI sits around 65 as of this writing, in or near the first four out of the NCAA tournament. If Miami wins game number 20 on the season today and gets to a mark of 10-8 in the ACC, they will do at least two things that some other bubble contenders can’t do this time of year: have 20 Ws and have a winning conference mark (the latter of which should be a requirement for at-large inclusion, in my opinion). Kansas State, Xavier, Texas, and Oklahoma State would all love to be there right now, as they continue to flounder in the cold waters of the bubbly sea. (At 18-12 (8-9) Xavier’s RPI sits at 41; at 18-12 (7-10) Texas’s RPI sits at 39. Sometimes, it’s hard to take this sport’s postseason selection methodology seriously, or at least the RPI ranking system. I know Miami isn’t far from that overall mark now…..but doesn’t having a losing conference record count for SOMETHING? And any true consideration of Kansas State at 15-15 and its RPI of 80 is just nonsense.)
Then again, there are a ton of other meh-looking ladies besides Miami waiting for their dance invitation. Illinois, who Miami beat earlier this season, sits outside the RPI Top 50, but, like Miami, can end their regular season at 20-11 (10-8) with a win today over Purdue. Suddenly bubbly Indiana can finish with the same mark by beating Michigan State, which would be a great way to impress the committee and turn the vitriol aimed at Tom Crean down some. Purdue can get to 20 wins and a strong 12-6 in the Big Ten with a win, crippling fellow bubbler Illinois in the process. Sub-20 win UCLA and Stanford squads are seeming coin flips. The SEC is a hot mess of bubble-liciousness right now, with LSU and Texas A&M likely needing big Saturday wins over Arkansas and Alabama to feel good about their chances going into the SEC tournament. Playing at horrible Auburn, Georgia might want to avoid another terrible loss to feel good about its chances.
And there’s the RPI warriors from the weaker conferences. BYU got a chance to make noise recently, and it did so by claiming one of the greatest marquee wins of the season for any team – winning at Gonzaga. Colorado State’s sub-30 RPI offsets its resume of wins over relatively nobody, which doesn’t seem fair. Boise State won at San Diego State last weekend and has been stampeding over the weak competition offered up by the Mountain West conference.
The point of all this is to show that, even if the hot-and-cold, enigmatic Hurricanes climb to 20-11 (10-8) today in Blacksburg, there will be plenty of competition for at-large spots this year. And the Hurricanes’ profile reminds me so much of another Miami team: the 2011-2012 team that was snubbed and left out of the tournament.
The 2012 team, a year away from taking us on the magical journey of 2013, came close to making the dance. That team finished the regular season 18-11 (9-7). Like this year, they went to Duke and won – 78-74 in overtime. Unlike this year, they also paired that win with another very big win – a runaway home victory over then-#15 Florida State, who went on to win the ACC tournament. In Atlanta, Miami opened with a 54-36 win over bottom-feeding Georgia Tech. They were knocked out the next day by Florida State 82-71.
Despite a winning record in the ACC, a marquee road win, and another impressive win to pair it with, two and out in the conference tournament ultimately didn’t get it done for that Miami team, who also managed to avoid the number of bad conference losses that the 2015 Canes have absorbed.
If Miami takes care of business in Blacksburg, they will be the #6 seed in the ACC tournament and will face some combination of Boston College/Wake Forest/Georgia Tech/Virginia Tech in their first game. It would be nothing more than a land-mine game; gain little by winning except not getting your season blown to pieces.
Next up would be #3 seed Notre Dame. Here’s where the Canes can make some headway from fellow bubblers, raise that RPI, and gain another desperately needed quality win. Miami’s previous tilt with Notre Dame ended in disgusting fashion, as the Canes squandered a second-half 12-point lead in losing 75-70 in South Bend. It was just one of many second half leads in potential marquee games that Miami has blown this year.
If the Canes are fortunate enough to be in that position again, they simply can’t blow it for the umpteenth time this year.
Simply put: there are too many teams vying for not enough spots, and Miami’s Top 50 wins presently consist of at Duke and NC State at home. Illinois, at Syracuse, and at Florida aren’t quite what we hoped they’d be. Neither is a ranking of 65 in the bizarro-yet-utilized RPI index.
The Canes fell one big win short of the NCAA tournament in 2012. Even though they were an NIT 2 seed, I feel confident enough to say that. If the 2015 Canes can’t find a way to dig deep and get one more truly good win – and win the two games to get there in order to do it – I fear Canes fans will feel that gut punch from Selection Sunday 2012 all over again.
This time, with so many blown chances and head-scratching losses, Miami fans would have nothing to point to but the team’s performances. Hopefully, we are in the throes of (at least) a four-game winning streak starting with the Pitt victory.
Whether the season ends with 2012-like disappointment, or the Canes find themselves dancing to our delight, it’s been an up-and-down season, and a year of lessons (hopefully) learned for a young and upcoming basketball team.