The second season begins Thursday for the University of Miami baseball team.
And judging by the national RPI rankings released by the NCAA, the Hurricanes would be hard-pressed to find a better tune-up for the NCAA tournament than the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
All eight of the teams that qualified for the ACC tourney are ranked in the top 20 in RPI — the most from any conference.
The unranked and No. 8 seed Hurricanes (35-21, 14-16 ACC) open their bid for an ACC title at 3 p.m. Thursday against top-seeded North Carolina (47-8, 21-7) — ranked sixth by Baseball America, fifth in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and second in RPI.
The games are at Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C., described by UM coach Jim Morris as “a tee-shot away’’ from UNC’s home in neighboring Chapel Hill.
“North Carolina has been ranked No. 1 in the country just about every week,’’ Morris said Tuesday. “Outstanding starting pitching and a really good bullpen. Their position players are really good and their third baseman, Colin Moran, was just named the ACC Player of the Year.
“Just an outstanding club.’’
The Tar Heels, led by Moran (.376 batting average with 83 RBI), had been ranked No. 1 all season by Baseball America until losing back-to-back series against Georgia Tech and Virginia the past two weekends.
The ACC tournament, which begins Wednesday with an 11 a.m. game between No. 7 seed Georgia Tech and No. 2 Florida State, has a pool-play format. Each team plays one game through Saturday against each of the other three opponents in its pool. The two teams with the best records within their respective pools play each other for the league title at 1 p.m. Sunday.
UM’s other two games are against No. 4 seed N.C. State (42-13, 19-10), the only ACC team the Canes haven’t met this season, at 11 a.m. Friday and at 3 p.m. Saturday against No. 5 seed Clemson (39-17, 18-12).
Miami, which won the ACC tournament in 2008 and was runner-up last season, defeated then-top-ranked UNC one out of three on the road and beat Clemson two out of three at home in 2013.
Morris said Miami’s usual No. 3 pitcher, left-handed sophomore Andrew Suarez (3-4, 3.13 ERA), will start the opening game after sitting out in the final regular-season series with a pulled groin.
“He’s got a slight pull in his push-off leg, and we did not want to take a chance,’’ Morris said. “He pitched well against Carolina, and Monday he said he felt great.’’
Usual No. 1 starter Chris Diaz (6-4, 1.58), another lefty, is set to pitch Friday, with first-team, left-handed All-ACC pitcher Bryan Radziewski (8-2, 1.64) pitching Saturday. If UM gets in the title game, right-handed senior Eric Whaley (3-1, 4.50) will start — unless for some reason Suarez can’t go Thursday and Whaley replaces him.
ACC Pitcher of the Year Kent Emanuel (9-3, 2.28) will start Thursday for UNC.
“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,’’ said UM right-fielder Chantz Mack, who leads the Canes in hitting with a .299 average. “We’ve beaten every team [we’ve faced] in the conference, and we’re not afraid.’’
Said Radziewski: “It’s a new season now. Whatever happened before doesn’t really matter.’’
Morris likes the round-robin format because it gives teams a chance to prepare players for the NCAA regionals without overworking the arms of the pitchers. Next year, however, with the addition of Pittsburgh and Notre Dame in the ACC, the format will be switched to double elimination.
“I know that’s what the coaches voted on,’’ Morris said, “but it’s not what I wanted. You can blow your pitching staff out. It has been proven in the past. Games are being played at 2 a.m. trying to get them in due to the weather.
“The Atlantic Coast Conference needs to do everything it can to go out and develop a team to win in Omaha.’’
UM won four national titles — two under Morris — before it played its first season in the ACC in 2005. The last team from the ACC to win a national title was Wake Forest in 1955.