University of Miami

UM basketball team can impress NCAA selectors with upset of No. 15 North Carolina

UM coach Jim Larrañaga, talking with Ja’Quan Newton during a game at Wake Forest on Feb. 11, 2015, says of the Canes’ NCAA Tournament chances: “We’re very much in the hunt.”
UM coach Jim Larrañaga, talking with Ja’Quan Newton during a game at Wake Forest on Feb. 11, 2015, says of the Canes’ NCAA Tournament chances: “We’re very much in the hunt.” AP

February turns to March this weekend, which means college basketball madness is about to begin. It is time for NCAA Tournament bubble teams such as the University of Miami to do some late-season résumé building (and finger-crossing) in the hopes of an at-large bid.

Bracketologists have begun predicting who’s in and who’s out, and the Hurricanes (18-10, 8-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) are teetering on the edge of “last teams out.”

A home win Saturday over 15th-ranked North Carolina would boost their record against top-50 teams to 3-5, which would be duly noted by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.

The Hurricanes have signature road wins at No. 4 Duke (a convincing 16-point victory that quieted the Cameron Crazies), at Syracuse in front of 31,000 fans at the Carrier Dome and at Florida (not as big a deal now as when Gators were ranked No. 8, but still a big road win). They also beat then No. 24 Illinois and took No. 2 Virginia (26-1) to double overtime, which will not be ignored.

But the Canes have a pair of bad home losses they wish they could erase, namely a 28-point loss to Eastern Kentucky and a 20-point loss to Georgia Tech. Both are rated below 100 in the Ratings Percentage Index, and Eastern Kentucky isn’t even top 150.

Miami has an RPI around the mid-60s, depending which index is used, and its strength of schedule is between 75 and 80. Its nonconference RPI is 43, and the Hurricanes are 6-6 in their past 12 games. UM is tied at seventh place in the ACC standings, and early predictions have six ACC teams in the tournament — Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame, Louisville, North Carolina, and N.C. State (No. 2 strength of schedule, No. 35 RPI, wins over Pitt, Duke, Louisville and North Carolina).

The Hurricanes are coming off a thrilling 81-77 win over Florida State, in which they managed to weather 30 points — including 26 in a row — from Seminole freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes in the final 4:38 of the game. One big reason UM won was the play of point guard Angel Rodriguez, who found the shot that had deserted him for weeks.

Rodriguez, relaxed and inspired by a 20-minute phone conversation with renowned sports psychologist Bob Rotella, went 8 for 14 for a team-high 25 points. He was 9 of 12 from the free-throw line, had five assists and three steals.

“He was trying to make me think positive, told me to have fun, it’s just a basketball game,” Rodriguez said. “The coaches have been telling me to call, but I’m hard-headed. I’m like, ‘No I got it.’ I listened to them, called him and look what happened. That’s all it took.

“When you see your first couple shots go in, the rim gets bigger and bigger.’’

Despite the two bad losses, UM coach Jim Larrañaga feels good about his team’s chances.

“With one more point against Virginia in overtime, we have a win over a top-two team in the country,” Larrañaga said. “With one more three-pointer against Wake Forest, we have another great road win. With a three-pointer against Louisville which we had — we were shooting a three for the win — we’d had another great road win against a top-15 team.

“I think our team right now should feel good about themselves. We’re very much in the hunt. We have to play our best. That’s it.’’

No. 15 North Carolina at UM men

When/where: 2 p.m.; BankUnited Center.

TV/radio: CBS; WQAM 560 AM, WVUM 90.5 FM.

Records: UM 18-10, 8-7 ACC; UNC 19-9, 9-6.

Noteworthy: Fewer than 350 tickets remain for UM’s home season finale. … The Tar Heels are coming off a rare 58-46 home loss to N.C. State and have lost three of their past four games — to N.C. State, Duke and Pittsburgh. Tar Heel players to watch include Marcus Paige (13.3 ppg), Brice Johnson (7.8 rpg), and Kennedy Meeks (7.8 rpg). North Carolina averages 78.3 ppg. North Carolina leads the ACC in rebounding margin and assists.