March Losing Streak Suddenly Raises Doubts About CanesPosted by BHayes on March 7th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
The Miami Hurricanes spent January and February making believers out of skeptics, filling a bandwagon that had never, ever been even close to full. It takes no stretch of the imagination to believe in a Duke or a Carolina team that races out to a hot ACC start, but Miami? A program with just six NCAA Tournament appearances in its history? For us to trust the Canes, they had to be spectacular – and spectacular they were. Thirteen ACC wins in a row, including a sweep of UNC and a blowout win over Duke, practically sealed the ACC regular season title, and all this before the first day of March. They looked like the best team in the league, and a legitimate national title contender to boot.
Both those proclamations may still be true, but back-to-back losses to begin the most important month in college basketball will again have the magnifying lenses hovering over the Canes. The loss at Cameron on Saturday (by just three points and with Ryan Kelly not only active but also having the game of his life) did little to damage Miami’s long-term prognosis. They still looked like the tough, veteran team that had ripped through this ACC slate — no problems there. But with that defeat now a part of a losing streak after tonight’s egregious home loss to Georgia Tech, we start to worry a little bit. There are questions again, and the doubt seeps back in with disturbingly little difficulty, because why did we really believe in the Miami Hurricanes to begin with?
It’s certainly a puzzling loss, but alarmists would do well to steer clear of Coral Gables – Miami is going to be fine. If this loss occurred in mid-January and not early March, we would currently be looking at a 14-3 team coming off a close loss in Cameron, and you better believe everyone is bullish on Jim Larranaga’s team. Obviously the loss did come tonight, and while now is the time to be finding form and not losing it, Miami will still be outright ACC champs with a win at home against Clemson on Saturday, and that is not an accomplishment a team backs into in this league.
Don’t forget the experience either. Five of the Canes’ top six are seniors, which has been a frequently-used explanation for the mental toughness this group has exhibited. This NCAA Tournament will be the quintet’s first and final shot at March glory, and while some Tournament experience wouldn’t be a bad thing to have, don’t discount the value of this unusual combination. They have all the intangibles of your classic veteran team: They play tough, together and without fear, but they will also take the floor with the desperation and desire of a group that knows this is their one and only go-around.
The man captaining the ship should also comfort concerns. Jim Larranaga has proven himself to be one of the great motivators in the college coaching ranks today, and it was only seven years ago that he guided George Mason (a team that had lost two of its final four games) to the most unlikely Final Four run in NCAA Tournament history. There’s still a regular season finale and an ACC Tournament to be played here, but Larranaga and his team are more than capable of getting him back to another national semifinal. If they do find a way to make it happen, you can toss the vacant program history and current losing streak aside. Unlike Larranaga’s first Final Four squad, this Miami team is far too good to play the role of Cinderella.