Ever since Miami walloped Duke 90-74 back on Jan. 13 in Cameron Indoor Stadium – ending Duke's best-in-the-nation 41-game home winning streak – the Hurricanes have been showing up in the NCAA tournament picture.
Seemingly every other week they move off the bubble and into the 68-team field, only to drop out the following week with an equally mystifying loss. Veteran coach Jim Larranaga, who took mid-major darling George Mason to the Final Four in 2006, says that's what happens when you try to incorporate nine new players into a lineup. Sometimes people wander off on their own paths for a while.
This week, conventional wisdom and ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Miami among the first four teams out of the NCAA field. But the picture is in flux. The four teams comprising Lunardi's last four in – BYU, Texas, Temple and Indiana – aren't exactly on solid footing, either. Miami didn't hurt itself by beating ACC cellar dweller Virginia Tech for the second time in five days on Day 2 of the ACC tournament, 59-49. And the Hurricanes can help themselves immensely and maybe lock up a berth in the NCAA field if they can knock off third-seeded and 11th-ranked Notre Dame in Thursday night's fourth quarterfinal.
That hasn't been the message from Larranaga to his players, however.
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“Our focus has been coming into the tournament to win the tournament,” said Larranaga, who did just that with the Hurricanes two years ago. “That means we have to win four games. If we don't, if someone beats us, then I hope that it will be with us playing our best. Not having a bad game, but someone outplayed us. But right now we've won three in a row, all on the road. Our team is confident. They're playing well -- very, very attentive to detail, and hopefully we'll play a great game tomorrow night. We're going to need to to advance.”
However, Larranaga couldn't resist a sly assist for his team as he referenced his Canes' 75-70 loss at Notre Dame on Jan. 17.
“We're 11-5 away from the Bank United Center,” he said. “That's twice as many road victories as a lot of teams that supposedly are going to get an at-large bid.”