There is no question the University of Miami men’s basketball team should be highly motivated for its Saturday afternoon game against Louisville.
The Hurricanes are ranked 12th; the Cardinals are 11th. The teams are in a mad scramble for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title with identical 11-4 league records (and 22 wins overall).
And it’s UM’s final home game, the last game at BankUnited Center for seniors Tonye Jekiri, Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan and Ivan Cruz Uceda.
Louisville will be equally — if not more — driven than UM because it has no postseason to look forward to. This is, in essence, its Elite 8 game. If the Cardinals win their next three games, they capture the only crown they can this season.
On Feb. 5, Louisville president James Ramsey announced, to the surprise of the team and shock of the college basketball world, that the school would self-impose a ban on the 2015-16 postseason.
The program is under NCAA investigation after the publication of a book in which a woman claims she and other escorts were paid large sums and game tickets to entertain and have sex with Cardinals players and recruits from 2010-14.
The ban will end the streak of nine consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the Cardinals. So all they have to play for is the regular-season conference title.
“We’re trying to win the ACC title; we don’t have a whole lot except these games,” Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said. “This is our tournament.”
UM coach Jim Larrañaga has warned his team that the Cardinals will be even hungrier than usual.
“I’m sure the kids are very highly motivated to try to win the regular season because that’s the goal now,’’ Larrañaga said. “It’s not the ACC tournament. It’s not postseason. Not the NCAA or national championship. They’re not going to be given that opportunity. But they are able to compete for the regular-season title, and they’ve been playing like it.”
Louisville has built a reputation for its tenacious defense, and this season has been no different. The Cardinals rank second in the ACC in blocks (5.1), steals (7.2) and scoring defense (60.8). Only Virginia has a stingier defense.
“They’re always on attack mode, and like to make the game ugly and dirty,” Rodriguez said.
Added Larrañaga: “They play a lot of pressure defense at full court and put a lot of pressure at the rim with great shot blockers.”
Many members of Louisville’s team were at the BankUnited Center on Thursday night, having fun in the stands as the 10th-ranked Cardinals women’s team beat 17th-ranked UM by 28. The Canes men hope Saturday’s visit won’t be as enjoyable.
Saturday: No. 11 Louisville at No. 12 UM men
When, where: 2 p.m., BankUnited Center, Coral Gables.
TV, radio: Channel 33; WHIM (1080), WVUM (90.5 FM).
Records: Louisville 22-6 (11-4 ACC); UM 22-5 (11-4).
Scouting report: Louisville’s Chinanu Onuaku has 10 double-doubles this season. … The Cardinals are led by graduate student Damion Lee, who averages 16.6 points per game and is within 13 points of 2,000 for his career — he played three seasons at Drexel. … The Hurricanes are coming off a 64-61 win over No. 3 Virginia. … Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, Tonye Jekiri and Ivan Cruz Uceda will be honored on UM’s Senior Day.