As promised, this article is the first of a weekly series that will continue for the remainder of the college basketball regular season. Put simply, it is something to take the place of the weekly college football articles that I normally write during the sport’s regular season.
As you may have guessed, the series will focus on several “under the radar” teams in college basketball that I believe could have some success in this year’s NCAA tournament.
Naturally, I’m going to hit on some and miss with others. In other words, if you go back through the archives once the tournament pairings are set in March, some of the teams featured in this series will still have a chance to make some noise while others may draw a very unfavorable matchup. Some teams may not even make it to the Big Dance.
The reason that I’m giving this warning is so that you don’t trust your wallet with my expertise (ha ha). Do not take these predictions to the bank. You will be sorry.
However, if you do not take my advice and you do come out richer as a result, you owe me.
Enough of that talk. Clearly I have lost the ability to be humorous on this blog. Frankly, I think that ship sailed years ago, much to the dismay of my fans that only read my work because they are my friends or family.
Let’s dive right in and take a look at Jim Larranaga’s Miami Hurricanes.
The Basic Info
Most people remember the 2006 George Mason Patriots team that shocked the world by making it to the Final Four as an 11 seed. However, most people cannot tell you the name of the coach behind that squad. Allow me to re-introduce you to Jim Larranaga. The 63-year old coach built a consistent winner at George Mason during his 14 years at the school, guiding the team to five NCAA tournament and three NIT appearances. At Miami, Larranaga appears to be making great strides with a school that generally isn’t known for its basketball.
Currently, the Hurricanes are 13-3 and sit atop the ACC standings with a 4-0 conference record. Miami is the only team left in the ACC with a perfect conference mark, although that could come to an end next Wednesday against third ranked Duke at home. The Blue Devil’s only loss of the season came last Saturday at the hands of N.C. State, another ACC squad that has looked very strong this season.
Why I Like Them
Of all the teams in the nation that are supposedly flying “under the radar”, Miami may be the one that deserves the most respect. In addition to playing in one of the nation’s toughest conferences, albeit a little down this season, the Hurricanes possess the nation’s second strongest strength of schedule. The only team ahead of them? Duke.
In addition to the strong strength of schedule, Miami is fourth in the RPI rankings behind Duke, Kansas and Arizona. It is interesting to note that while the Hurricanes are ranked so highly, they are the only team in the RPI top 10 that has at least three losses on the year. They are also the only team from that same list that isn’t ranked in the Top 20 of the most recent AP Poll.
Typical of Jim Larranaga teams, the Hurricanes are very balanced. Eight players average 16 or more minutes of playing time per game, and four players average at least double-digits in scoring. While seniors Durand Scott and Kenny Kadji can do the heavy lifting with regards to the scoring load if need be, anyone in the starting rotation can pick up the slack on a given night.
So, Why Are They Being Ignored?
It’s still pretty early in the season, and most people want to see teams get settled into conference play before they start anointing them as potential bracket busters and sleepers. This is understandable, but Miami’s fast conference start is a good sign for the team, even if two of the wins came against teams that may end up near the bottom of the ACC standings by the end of the season.
The high strength of schedule and RPI rank can be a little misleading at this point as well. The Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) basically takes into account a team’s strength of schedule and how it did against that schedule. At this point, Miami hasn’t beaten very many quality teams, at least that we know of at this point. Assuming that Michigan State manages to bounce around the Top 25, the Hurricanes’ victory over the Spartans will continue to be seen as a solid win. In addition, the North Carolina victory last weekend could also prove to be very important for the Hurricanes.
Right now, the Miami has mainly benefited from victories over teams that managed to do well in non-conference play but which may fade over the next couple of months. That will ultimately hurt Miami’s RPI ranking.
Losses to Florida Gulf Coast and Indiana State could hurt Jim Larranaga’s squad, too, especially if they are squarely on the bubble come March. The Hurricanes also had a chance to make a statement against Arizona a couple of days before Christmas, but were soundly beaten at home.
What Can We Expect?
We can expect the Hurricanes to continue to fly “under the radar” for at least a little longer, barring a huge victory over the Blue Devils next Wednesday. Things like RPI and SOS don’t become part of most people’s vocabulary until February at the very earliest.
Frankly, Miami needs to do a little bit more. That is an obvious statement because it is too early in the season for anyone to punch a ticket to the tournament. But what I mean is that going .500 in conference play probably won’t be good enough to get the Hurricanes into the Big Dance, because that would only put them at 18-12 on the season with one solid out-of-conference victory. The ACC likely isn’t strong enough this year to coax the selection committee to put a team in that didn’t reach 20 wins without at least a few key upsets during conference play.
However, I think that Larranaga has the ability to keep his team focused during the very important month of February. I expect that Miami will manage to beat a top tier ACC squad to boost its resume, perhaps at home against Florida State on January 27th or against N.C. State on February 2nd. Beating North Carolina twice this season wouldn’t hurt, either.
If this team can go 11-7 or better in conference, I predict that will be good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, probably somewhere between an 8 and 10 seed. From there, they have the balance to surprise teams hoping to stop one star player but without the capability to play solid defense against five decent ones. Plus, Jim Larranaga knows how to get underdogs ready for the Big Dance.
If you would like to submit a team for consideration for this weekly series, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet me @KBecks_ATC or contact me on Around The Corn’s Facebook page. In addition to any submissions, you are more than welcome to send a short summary of why you think the team is a good candidate for this type of article. Thanks everyone.
- K. Becks