Hurricanes believe they’re poised for March run

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Despite the Miami Hurricanes’ many accomplishments during the Jim Larranaga era, they haven’t beaten a Top 25 opponent in March since he became coach.

That could change even before tournament time.

This week the No. 25 Hurricanes are ranked for the first time all season, and they close out the regular season Saturday at No. 15 Florida State.

In six years under Larranaga, Miami is 0-6 in March against Top 25 teams. That contrasts with an overall March record of 23-11 (.676), including an Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title, two trips to the NCAA Sweet 16 and a runner-up finish in the NIT.

Now the Hurricanes believe they’re poised to make another late-season splash.

“We’re planning on it,” Larranaga said Thursday. “This team has really made great strides and can be a very tough opponent for anyone in the field.”

That includes ranked teams. The Hurricanes are 20-9 overall and 10-7 in the ACC, and last week they earned back-to-back wins against Top 25 opponents, Virginia and Duke.

The Hurricanes lost Monday at Virginia Tech, but Larranaga’s young team has made steady progress after beginning the season with only 10 scholarship players, five of them newcomers.

“We were pretty much the underdogs all year, and just recently started getting a little national notice,” senior guard Davon Reed said. “We’ve constantly been proving ourselves all season.

“I’m happy but not satisfied with where we’re at. We know what we’re capable of doing. We know what we set out to do at the beginning of the season, and we’re looking forward to executing it.”

Three freshmen have played significant roles down the stretch, including Bruce Brown, who scored 25 points in the win over Duke.

“We have a really young team,” Brown said. “We didn’t know what to expect coming into the season. To be playing so well at this time is great for us.”

The Hurricanes are virtually assured of their third NCAA Tournament berth under Larranaga, even if they lose at Tallahassee and in their opening game of the ACC Tournament. But they’ll likely be seeded lower than they were in 2013 (second) or 2016 (third), meaning they’ll likely face a ranked opponent the first weekend.

Larranaga said his team is ready for the postseason challenges to come.

“It’s really well equipped, because of the number of diverse teams we have in this league,” he said. “It prepares you very well for the NCAA Tournament.”

The ACC deserves at least 10 berths, Larranaga said.

“The league is about as good as any conference has ever been in this country that I can remember,” he said.

That includes Florida State (23-7, 11-6), which won at Miami 75-57 a month ago — one of the Hurricanes’ two home losses this season.

The Seminoles are tough at home too. They have a 20-game winning streak in Tallahassee.

“It’s a rivalry game — all that stuff goes out the window,” Reed said. “It’ll definitely be a great last challenge for us before stepping into March Madness. I’m looking forward to going to Tallahassee and handling business.”

Both teams are trying to position themselves for a high seed in next week’s league tournament. Brown confirmed as much in a phone conversation with former AAU teammate Terance Mann, who plays for the Seminoles.

“He called me talking about how they need this win to get two byes,” Brown said with a smile. “I’m like, `What do I look like? We need this win too.”‘

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