Last-minute heroics by University of Miami freshman Lonnie Walker IV knocked off Boston College and sealed a 20th win for the Hurricanes on Saturday. It was a pivotal victory, because most 20-win Atlantic Coast Conference teams get invited to the NCAA Tournament. But the Canes’ regular season is not over just yet.
Two games remain, and Miami could all but secure a spot with a signature road win Tuesday night against ninth-ranked North Carolina (9 p.m., ESPN).
It won’t be easy, though. Here is what you need to know going into the game:
▪ The Heels (and their fans) will be fired up. It’s Senior Night, and two of the players being honored are Theo Pinson and Joel Berry, both of whom are having outstanding seasons. Pinson had 23 points, seven assists and six rebounds in the road win at Syracuse last week.
The Heels, riding a six-game win streak, will also be rested. Their last game was last Wednesday. The Hurricanes played Saturday, and traveled Monday.
“This is a very short turnaround for us, it’s Senior Day at Carolina, we’re expecting a very vocal crowd and a lot of enthusiasm,” said UM coach Jim Larrañaga. “They’re on a six-game winning streak and playing the best basketball of the season. They’ve got a very versatile team. Normally, they’re very, very big, this team is different and has a lot of three-point shooting.”
▪ This could be a “trap” game for UNC: Although Senior Day certainly will motivate the Heels, their season finale is Saturday at arch-rival Duke, which cold be good news for the Hurricanes. Hard as Roy Williams will try to convince his players that the Miami game is as big as the Duke game, there is nothing quite as big as that annual game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, with Duke students camping out at Krzyzewskiville.
▪ UM’s starting lineup a mystery: Dewan Huell and Anthony Lawrence have started every game for UM this season, but coaches have tinkered with the other three spots. Freshman Walker replaced DJ Vasiljevic in the starting lineup on Jan. 7 against FSU, and has started every game but one since. Vasiljevic returned to the lineup when Bruce Brown injured his foot, and started six games in a row. Freshman Chris Lykes replaced Ja’Quan Newton as starting point guard against Pitt Jan. 30, and started six games before coaches opted to go back to Newton and add Ebuka Izundu the past two games because they wanted more height.
Asked Monday if he will stick with the bigger lineup of Newton-Walker-Lawrence-Huell-Izundu against North Carolina, Larrañaga paused and replied: “That is being debated right now.”
▪ Williams respects the Canes: Williams was impressed with UM’s win over Boston College.
“Losing Brown was a big blow to them, but the two freshmen — Walker and Lykes — have really stepped up, and Lawrence has played much better recently. That was an unbelievable comeback they had against BC; I was able to see that, and that showed they have a lot of confidence. Lykes is not very big, but made some really big plays for them. I do believe their team chemistry is very, very good. They’re playing their best basketball right now.”
Bruce Brown will be on the bench: Don’t expect to see Brown before the NCAA Tournament. The sophomore guard had surgery on his left foot Feb. 1, has not played in the past seven games and is not scheduled to be seen by a doctor until March 12, which is after the ACC tournament.
Asked if there was any chance Brown would come back sooner, Larrañaga said: “My opinion is no.”
UM men at No. 9 North Carolina
▪ When: Tuesday, 9 p.m.
▪ Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
▪ Records: UM (20-8, 9-7 ACC), UNC (22-7, 11-5 ACC)
▪ TV/Radio: ESPN, WQAM-560 AM