The University of Miami men's basketball team will go into Sunday night’s game against Maryland unranked in either of the two major polls (AP and USA Today/ESPN), which isn’t surprising since the Hurricanes had a meltdown in Hawaii over the holidays.
They lost two of three games, one a 19-point thrashing from Arizona, the other an overtime collapse against Indiana State.
And they have been playing without starting center Reggie Johnson since just before Christmas.
Without the 6-10 bullish senior, who was averaging a double-double (12.6 points, 10.1 rebounds) at the time of his injury, the Hurricanes were seen as damaged goods.
But since getting back to the mainland, the Hurricanes have won three in a row, including their first two in Atlantic Coast Conference play since joining the league in the 2004-05 season.
Most significantly, both of the wins came on the road, the last a 68-59 victory Thursday night at North Carolina that ended a 10-game losing streak to the Tar Heels. They had opened conference play by beating Georgia Tech 62-49.
Not surprisingly, the subject of the polls, where the Hurricanes are not even listed among those not even receiving votes, came up the next day upon the team’s return to Coral Gables.
“It’s not important to me at all in one regard,” coach Jim Larranaga said of the rankings’ snub. “In another sense, it’s very important because I think fans follow it, and I think that would help us draw more fans to our arena if they thought that we were a top 25 team.
“And we would be talk about more in the media which would help generate interest as well.
“From the standpoint does that mean we’re good enough to be in the NCAA tournament, we’re focused much more on the RPI and the things we have to do to qualify for an at-large bid.”
In the RPI rankings the Hurricanes are No. 7 in the country behind only Duke, Kansas, Minnesota, Arizona, Michigan, and Gonzaga. Those teams have a combined total of three defeats with Duke and Michigan the last two unbeatens in the country.
Miami is 11-3 against a schedule that is ranked No. 1 in toughness ahead of Duke.
That, and the fact the Hurricanes were playing on national television at North Carolina, could get them some attention soon, assuming the voters are paying attention.
“Winning on national television especially against a traditionally rich program like North Carolina gets everybody’s attention,” Larranaga said.
Of course, before those media members and coaches vote in their respective polls, the Hurricanes will play Maryland,
The Terrapins come into the game with a 13-2 overall record but fell to 1-1 in the ACC after losing to Florida State 65-62 in their last outing. They had won 13 in a row after dropping their opener to Kentucky.
“They’re big, they’re athletic,” Larranaga said. “Quality players. Size. Speed. Quickness. Jumping ability. Shooting ability. They’ve got a very deep and talented team. They play at least 10 guys every game.
“Guys coming off the bench, I think their second unit could be the starting unit for some ACC teams. That’s how talented they are.”
The Terps rank second in the conference in scoring margin (plus-16.2 points a game), second in shooting (49.5 percent), first in field goal defense (35.7), and first in rebounding margin (plus-12.1).
“They’re a very good team,” senior forward Kenny Kadji said of the Terps. “I watched their first team against Kentucky, and they looked pretty good. Alex Len (13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds) is a pretty good player.
“We haven’t watched film on them yet, but from what I saw last year, they beat us there and it was a tough game here, I think it went double overtime, so it’s going to be a good game.
“We’ve got to come out ready.”