Since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in the 2004-05 season, the Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball team has finished higher than fifth place a total of three times entering this season. After finishing 13th last year, there weren’t many people who thought it could happen in 2021-22.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral: the ‘Canes finished the season with a 22-9 record that - thanks to the ACC being not quite as hot this season as it usually is - was enough for Miami to enter this week’s conference tournament as the fourth seed.
“The regular season is a marathon and, even though we didn’t win the marathon, we were right there,” head coach Jim Larranaga said after Miami’s comeback win Saturday over Syracuse to end the regular season with a 14-6 record in conference play.
Why is that important? Well, in addition to getting a double bye and not having to play its first game in Brooklyn until Thursday, Miami puts itself in a legit spot to win the ACC conference tournament for just the second time ever.
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The Hurricanes will open what they hope is a three-game visit to the Barclays Center against one of three possible teams - Boston College, Pitt or Wake Forest. The good news for the ‘Canes? Miami went 3-0 this season against those teams.
If Miami wins on Thursday, they find themselves playing one of three teams – with two of the options being a Syracuse team they swept this season, including last Saturday’s regular season finale, or a Duke team that Miami shocked on January 8th when the Blue Devils were the No. 2 ranked team in the country.
The one team that could stand in Miami’s way? As weird as it may sound, it could be rival Florida State. The Seminoles, losers of eight of their last 12 games and 17-13 entering the tournament, have beaten Miami in the last nine meetings between the teams and could meet the ‘Canes again if they beat Syracuse on Wednesday and Duke the following day.
In last year’s ACC tournament, Miami won their first two games before dropping a quarterfinal matchup with eventual champions Georgia Tech. Two wins in this year’s tournament would have Miami in Saturday’s title game ahead of the first NCAA tournament appearance for Miami since the 2017-18 season.
With a conference that right now does not have many legit national title contenders at this point, who’s to say Miami doesn’t have a chance to bring home another conference crown?
“The new season begins, so we’ll see who we play on Thursday and now we get an opportunity to rest and recover and prepare ourselves to be the best we can be on Thursday,” Larranaga said.