‘Canes in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid

The men’s basketball team’s season can be labeled a success at this point because they already have more victories than last season.

Entering Wednesday’s game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, the ‘Canes were 12-5 overall and 2-1 in the Big East Conference. The 12 victories surpass their total of a year ago, and they still have 15 games to play before the Big East Tournament. The goal, of course, is to make the NCAA Tournament, and the ‘Canes anticipate they will need about 20 victories to get there.

“If we get to 20 wins in the Big East, we’ll have a strong enough schedule to get in the tournament,” Head Coach Perry Clark said. “Obviously, we would like to win every game, but I think every coach looks at 20 wins as the number that the team needs to be at to get in the tournament.”

The ‘Canes’ strength of schedule has been questionable, but with the Big East conference play starting in the beginning of January, the ‘Canes will now face several good teams for the rest of the season.

One of those teams is the Pittsburgh Panthers, who beat Miami 84-80 in double overtime on January 10th. In this game, the ‘Canes led by two points with 3.9 seconds on the clock, but failed to seal the deal when Carl Krauser went the length of the floor to tie the game with no time left. Then, after a Guillermo Diaz three-pointer with 2.8 seconds left sent the game into a second overtime, the Panthers finished strong and earned the victory.

Still, this game proved that the ‘Canes could play with the elite teams in the conference.

“I don’t see squandering leads as a problem we have had this season,” Clark said. “Sometimes against good teams, they have a capability to make a comeback, and they get the job done.”

The Hurricanes went 7-2 over the winter break, losing to Pittsburgh and a formidable North Carolina team on the road. Their victories included two Big East conference road victories against St. John’s and Virginia Tech. They also defeated John Chaney’s Temple Owls on December 20.

“The Temple game was a great win for us,” Clark said. “The one thing I said we needed to do was to teach these guys how to win.”

The ‘Canes 12-5 record can be attributed to the emergence of Robert Hite, the team’s leading scorer at 17.2 points per game. Hite has scored in double digits every game this season and averages 1.62 points per shot, which is second in the Big East in that department. Hite is averaging 21.2 points per game in his last five games, in which he shot 67.2 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range.

The success of Robert Hite gives the ‘Canes a legitimate scorer besides Darius Rice, who is second on the team with 16.2 points per game.

“Teams will start to adjust to what Robert is doing, but that will open things up for Darius.” Clark said.

With games against UConn, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Georgetown still ahead, the season is far from over, but the team is playing well right now. If the team can win eight games the rest of the way, the Hurricanes should be dancing into the NCAA Tournament in March.

“It’s important to win at home in the Big East conference now,” Clark said. “I’m pleased with our effort, competitiveness, and resiliency, but we still need to get better.”

Darren Grossman can be contacted at d.grossman@umiami.edu