The Miami Hurricanes’ 2017-18 basketball season is a story without a finish as of yet. That could come come as soon as March 15, as late as April 2, or anytime in between. But before we look ahead to the Canes’ NCAA Tournament dealings, let’s look back at the regular season and conference tournament.
Miami came into the season ranked No. 12 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 13 in the Associated Press Top 25. The Canes took advantage of a weak non-conference schedule and powered out to a 10-0 start to the season. Included in that winning streak is an 86-81 win on the road against Minnesota in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. At the time, that looked like a really good, potentially resumé-boosting win for the Hurricanes with the Golden Gophers ranked No. 12 at the time.
These early season wins were with a limited Lonnie Walker IV, as the much-hyped freshman was easing himself back into game shape after having offseason knee surgery.
The Hurricanes’ suffered its only non-conference loss on December 24, 2017 when they lost to New Mexico State 63-54 in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic. Looking back, it was not a terrible loss and certainly not Miami’s worst loss of the season; New Mexico State won the WAC and will be a 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament, taking on Clemson.
Miami won its last non-conference game over Middle Tennessee State and its conference opener against Pittsburgh and seemed to have things back on track. But a trip to Atlanta for a mid-week matchup against Georgia Tech delivered what was arguably Miami’s worst loss of the season, a 64-54 result to the Yellow Jackets.
A win over rival Florida State temporarily gave the Canes some good feelings, but losses on the road to Clemson and at home to Duke meant three losses in Miami’s last four games and four losses in the last seven games.
Sitting at 2-3 in ACC play, Miami responded with wins over North Carolina State and Louisville in consecutive games. Unfortunately, in the Canes’ next game, a 103-94 overtime loss to Florida State, Miami lost more than the game. Sophomore guard Bruce Brown Jr., who had struggled offensively during the season but still impacted the game in other ways, suffered a foot injury. He was lost for the rest of the regular season and conference tournament and it is unsure if he will come back for Miami’s NCAA Tournament first round game against Loyola-Chicago.
In a small bit of good luck for Miami, Brown’s injury coincided with a stretch of games against some of the lesser teams in the ACC. The Canes took advantage and got wins over Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech (not one of the lesser teams and actually a win that wound up helping Miami secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament), and Wake Forest.
But, as it had been for most of conference play for the Hurricanes, what goes up, must come down. Playing against Boston College and leading 70-63 with 6:17 remaining in the game, Miami went into a scoreless drought at the worst possible time. BC, meanwhile, finished the game on a 9-0 run to end up winning the game 72-70.
That was the first of three straight losses, including dropping two home games to Virginia an Syracuse. At this point, Miami was sitting squarely on the bubble with an 18-8 record and 7-7 record in ACC play.
But what went down, came back up in the form of the “Cardiac Canes”. Miami finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak, all of the wins by three points or less. That included a three-pointer by Walker to put Miami ahead against Boston College with just a couple seconds left in a 79-78 victory.
And what is without a doubt, the biggest win of the season for a number of reasons, the 91-88 victory over UNC, spoiling the Tar Heels’ home finale and Senior Night. UNC’s Joel Berry II hit a three with about four seconds left to tie the game at 88 before Ja’Quan Newton took the ball, raced up the court and put about a 35-foot shot with two Tar Heel defenders right in front of him. The ball went in the net and after the officials confirmed the basket was good, the Canes were all good. The win over UNC was not only Miami’s highest-ranked opponent they beat this season, it also cemented their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
A combination of Miami’s 69-68 win over Virginia Tech and some other games going in the Canes’ favor meant that they would go into the ACC Tournament as the No. 3 seed. They wound up facing UNC for the second time in just over a week in the quarterfinals. Despite a strong start (scoring the first 14 points of the game), Miami could not hold on. A back-and-forth game wound up as a blowout in the end, an 82-65 loss.
When Selection Sunday came, Miami went just about where they thought they would: a 6-seed in the South Region. They will play Loyola-Chicago on Thursday, March 15, tentative tip-off time set for 3:10 p.m. EST.