University of Miami

Jim Larrañaga says numbers make good case for Canes’ NCAA Tournament chances

UM coach Jim Larrañaga reacts after a play during the second half against North Carolina at BankUnited Center in Coral Gables on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015.
UM coach Jim Larrañaga reacts after a play during the second half against North Carolina at BankUnited Center in Coral Gables on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015. El Nuevo Herald

Anybody who knows Jim Larrañaga well knows the University of Miami basketball coach is a number-cruncher, a stats freak, a guy who majored in math and economics in college and uses statistical data to analyze his Hurricanes every day.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Larrañaga has dissected UM’s chances to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament as his roller coaster of a team heads into its final two regular-season conference games. The Canes (18-11 overall, 8-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) play at Pitt (19-11, 8-8) on Wednesday night and at Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon.

They may be without point guard Angel Rodriguez, who is questionable with a wrist injury, but Larrañaga is hoping for the best.

UM is eighth in the ACC standings, and Syracuse — in the sixth spot — is ineligible for postseason play, so that moves the Canes up to the seventh-highest team on the ACC totem pole, behind Pitt and ahead of North Carolina State, which has the No. 5 strength of schedule in the nation and whose No. 54 Ratings Percentage Index is higher than Miami’s rating of 71. The Wolfpack résumé includes wins over Pitt, Duke, Louisville and North Carolina.

The way Larrañaga sees it, the top five teams in the ACC — Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame, Louisville, and North Carolina — are “guaranteed’’ to earn berths to the NCAA Tournament.

“Then, the sixth, seventh, and possibly even eighth will depend on how they finish in the RPI,” Larrañaga said. “If you look at N.C. State, I think they have a very strong case because their nonconference RPI is very, very good. I think Pitt has played very well in February, but we’ve put ourselves in position at 8-8, we’ve done some good things throughout the season to get serious consideration.”

The Hurricanes have signature road wins at No. 4 Duke (a convincing 16-point victory, Duke’s only home loss this season), at Syracuse in front of 31,000 fans at the Carrier Dome, and at Florida when the Gators were ranked No. 8. They also beat then-No. 24 Illinois, and took No. 2 Virginia (28-1) to double overtime, which will raise some eyebrows.

But the Canes have two bad home losses, a 28-point loss to Eastern Kentucky and a 20-point loss to Georgia Tech. They also have a loss at Florida State. All are rated below 100 in the Ratings Percentage Index, and Eastern Kentucky is No. 151.

“The way I see it, we are 10-3 in nonconference,” Larrañaga said. “In the league, we’re not done yet. But any team in our conference with a winning record, which is 10-8, you need to get serious consideration because chances are your eight losses are to really good teams.”

He pointed out UM had losses to Top 20 North Carolina and Louisville (twice) and to No. 2 Virginia in double overtime “which shouldn’t count against us,’’ but admitted the losses to FSU, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech “really hurt us.”

His wish now is that his team will find “our inner confidence” and the best way to do that, he said, is to win multiple games in a row. “If we could win three or four in a row, that would do this team a world of good.”

And, it would likely earn them an invitation to the tournament, too.

Wednesday: UM men at Pittsburgh

When/where: 8 p.m.; Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh.

TV/radio: ACC Network, WQAM 560.

Records: UM 18-11, 8-8 ACC; Pitt 19-11, 8-8.

Noteworthy: Pitt has an RPI of 50 and UM is ag 54, as both bubble teams battle for NCAA Tournament consideration. … UM guard Angel Rodriguez is questionable with a wrist injury. … The Canes will likely go with a smaller lineup to combat Pitt’s perimeter, so expect to see Manu Lecomte, DeAndre Burnett, JaQuan Newton and James Palmer. UM lost to Pitt 59-55 when they played Feb. 5.

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