Basketball: Miami looking for upset of Florida State before tournament time

Davon Reed wants his last time playing Florida State to be a screaming good time. (Getty Images)

A passionate Hurricane, Davon Reed wants his last time playing Florida State to be a screaming good time. (Getty Images)

A few notes before the Hurricanes head to Tallahassee to end the regular season:

Bracket watch: Entering its matchup with the Seminoles, Miami (20-9, 10-7 ACC) is between a No. 7 and No. 8 seed in most of the 123 brackets assessed by BracketMatrix. Two high-profile bracketologists, CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, have the Hurricanes as a 7-seed and 8-seed, respectively. Palm has them starting out in Sacramento, against Arkansas. Lunardi has them facing Michigan State in Buffalo.

Before the big one, though, comes Brooklyn. With a win Saturday, Miami puts itself in play for seeds No. 4, 5 or 6 at the ACC Tournament next week at Barclays Center in New York City. With a loss, the Hurricanes will be seeded between Nos. 6-9. A full breakdown of scenarios is here.

Miami is 29th in KenPom (56th in offense, 18th in defense). Jim Larranaga said his team is ready for March.

“I think it’s really, really well equipped because of the number of diverse teams we have in this league,” he said. “From a Syracuse that plays all zone to Florida State who pressures everywhere to a Louisville that’s a combination of press and zone to a team like Virginia that packs it in. Just a multitude of preparations and I think it prepares you very well for the NCAA Tournament. And the ACC Tournament.”

The opponent: Florida State, which needs a win Saturday to get a double-bye in the ACC Tournament, is the same long, athletic team that sped past Miami in the second half of a 75-57 win Feb. 1 in Coral Gables.

Leading scorer Dwayne Bacon (16.7 points per game), future NBA lottery pick Jonathan Isaac (12.6 points, 7.4 rebounds) and Xavier Rathan-Mayes (10.5 points, 4.8 assists) are a trio most teams would love to have, and there’s a lot more talent on Leonard Hamilton‘s roster. FSU is 18th in KenPom (19th offense, 27th defense).

The Seminoles (23-7, 11-6), ranked 15th, have lost three of five but are 17-0 at home.

“They’re a very talented team, a very deep team,” senior guard Davon Reed said. “They’re like a completely different team at home. But aside from all that, it’s a rivalry game. All that stuff goes out the window between both teams.

“I’m looking forward to going to Tallahassee and handling business.”

Like they are in Coral Gables, they’re excited about college hoops in Tallahassee. The Noles, currently ranked No. 15, started 18-2 and reached as high as No. 6 in the Associated Press poll. This is the best FSU squad since 2012, when it went 24-9, ended the regular season ranked No. 10, and made its most recent NCAA Tournament appearance. The 2012 squad was the best Noles team since 1993, which featured Bob Sura and Charlie Ward. 

Refreshed and ready: Miami had two full practice days to prepare for Florida State. Larranaga was no doubt watching tape of the Noles’ two-point win over Clemson at home last week, as well as their road losses in the last month against Duke, Pitt and Notre Dame.

 

This trip to Tallahassee will likely be easier than Miami’s last time away from home.

Larranaga said his team, after losing 66-61 at Virginia Tech late Monday, didn’t return from Blacksburg, Va. until 4 a.m. Tuesday. That was only part of it. On Sunday, a day after a win home against No. 10 Duke, the Hurricanes had plane trouble and sat on the runway for three and a half hours. That, plus an hour-long bus trip from Roanoke to Virginia Tech’s campus, caused them to miss their window for practice time. They had a walk-through in the hotel, and a pregame shootaround on Monday.

“With so little preparation, I thought we played pretty well,” Larranaga said.

Turning point: Despite that loss, which broke a five-game losing streak, Larranaga sees his team coming together.

Asked whether he feels his group, which has four freshmen among a group of nine scholarship players, is ready to make noise in the NCAA Tournament, he said:

“We’re planning on it. I think this team has really made great strides and can be a very tough opponent for anyone in the field.”

Larranaga said he saw the largest strides at North Carolina State on Feb. 4. He told his team it needed a big day from the frontcourt. Anthony Lawrence (19 points) and Ebuka Izundu (16) had career highs in points and shot a combined 13-of-18.

“It changed our course from being a team that maybe lacked a little confidence, to a team that was confident that they could play,” Larranaga said. “Despite N.C. State’s record in league play (4-14, 15-16 overall) they are an extremely talented team. They have a very nice home-court advantage. I thought that was a real confidence booster for us.”

After that game, which came after the Feb. 1 loss to FSU, Miami won six of seven games including wins at No. 18 Virginia and against No. 10 Duke. The only loss: a five-point setback at No. 4 Louisville.

Miami opened ACC play 4-5, culminating with that Feb. 1 loss to FSU. Since then, it is 6-2.

“Despite our loss the other night we’ve been rolling,” Reed said. “We’ve caught our stride. We’ve been playing at a very high level, I feel like. I feel we’ll continue to grow and take some good steps forward.”

 

“Last year we were expected to do so much and lived up to expectations for most of the year. … This year we were pretty much the underdogs all year and just recently started to get  little bit of national notice. We constantly have been improving ourselves all season, finding our stride.”

 

Elsewhere: Reed, who won the ACC’s Skip Prosser Award as its top men’s basketball scholar-athlete, said he was honored to receive the award. He was also proud of freshman Bruce Brown, who made the ACC All-Academic team. “Bruce is the next person to be the face of this program,” Reed said, calling him a “relentless” competitor. “He’s very well-rounded. … I’ll be leaving the program in great hands.” … Larranaga said point guard Ja’Quan Newton, has had a tough time coming off the bench instead of starting. He is shooting 4-for-15 and has four assists to eight turnovers in two games. Said Reed, a fellow captain (Kamari Murphy is the other): “We’re just encouraging him to play his game, not think so much, just continue to be the leader he’s been for us and the player he’s been all season.”

 

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