As the men’s basketball team’s regular season draws to a close, the Hurricanes try to maintain a positive outlook with the ACC Tournament quickly approaching.
Miami (11-17, 4-10 ACC) has lost two of their last three contests and had a seven-game losing streak that lasted for an entire month. After Saturday’s 73-57 loss on the road, the Hurricanes currently sit in last place in the ACC standings.
With only two games remaining on their regular season schedule, Miami is trying to gain some positive momentum going into the ACC Tournament, where they will likely have a very low seeding. At this point, the only way the Hurricanes will be eligible to participate in the NCAA Tournament will be by winning the ACC Tournament, which begins on Mar. 8.
However, Head Coach Frank Haith said that it is still too early to focus on the NCAA Tournament.
“Obviously, leagues that have tournaments give teams the opportunity to believe that if you’re not an NCAA Tournament team, that you have a chance to get into the Tournament by winning [the league tournament],” Haith said.
“That’s what excites people about playing in tournaments, but we can’t look to that just now. We’ve got to look at getting better and playing better and playing our best basketball going into the [ACC] Tournament.”
The team has had to overcome many obstacles this season. The most obvious has been their injuries, which have eliminated four players from their roster.
“I think about if we had Anthony King, if we had Guillermo Diaz, if we had what we were supposed to have, how good this team could have been,” Haith said. “Obviously, I think we’d be better than we are.”
The team has also struggled defending the three-point shot, allowing their opponents to shoot 39 percent from behind the arc, worst in the ACC.
Because of their struggles throughout the season, standout guard Jack McClinton has started the last several games off the bench. Though McClinton experienced a shooting slump midway through the season, Haith said that the change has helped him to maintain focus.
“There’s no question Jack McClinton is on the top of everybody’s scouting report,” Haith said. “I’m not saying he can sneak in and nobody knows he comes into the game, but you’re best at scouting reports at the beginning of games. When Jack slides in at the 14 or 15-minute mark, he has a chance to get into the flow of the game a little bit. Maybe it’ll take a little pressure off of him that way. I think what has helped Jack is that he’s slowed down and he understands he has to work harder to get open. I think he realizes that, and he’s done a much better job.”
Although there could have been some tension from McClinton, he said that he accepted his new role as a means to better the team.
“I think Coach believes that’s the best for our team right now, and I think it’s working,” said McClinton, who is averaging 16.2 points per game. “I can come off the bench and be that spark. It’s not about me, it’s about my team. If that’s what he thinks is best for the team, that’s what we have to do.”
Inexperience is another probable reason for their lack of success this season. The Hurricanes are dealing with a very young team this year with only three seniors on the roster.
“Obviously, we all want to win,” Haith said. “But I try to focus on those guys getting better. I think when you see teams have a record like we have, across the country, teams like that have quit. I think the biggest thing for us is getting our guys to understand that we’re not going to quit. As long as there are games on your schedule, you have opportunities. We want to build on what we do this year.”
With the ACC Tournament right around the corner, the team will now look to finish the season with some wins to get them back on the right track. However, the team has not yet begun predicting their postseason placement, whether it be in the NCAA or NIT Tournament. According to McClinton, those tournaments are too far in the future to lose sight of the task at hand.
“Once you start looking at that, you start losing focus of what you’re trying to accomplish,” McClinton said. “We have to take every game like it’s our first game of the season. Don’t look ahead, and just keep playing.”
Joel Brown may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.