Brooklyn didn’t deliver any post-season magic for the Miami Hurricanes, but hopefully a trek to Dallas and sixth-seed in the South will cure UM’s confront tourney blues.

Miami rode a third-seed into last week’s ACC Tournament and caught up on some much-needed rest, courtesy of a bye until the semifinals. The lone downside; North Carolina dropped to a sixth-seed after ending their regular season with back to back losses—first to the Canes on a Ja’Quan Newton buzzer-beater and days later on the road against their arch-rival Blue Devils.

The Tar Heels got the last laugh against both, taking down Miami and Duke in back-to-back games—after beating Syracuse in the quarterfinals the Wednesday prior. North Carolina reached the ACC title game and like many others before them this season, fell to top-ranked Virginia.

The Canes had their shots against the Heels; no bigger than starting out with a 14-0 run—UNC held scoreless the first 7:09 of the game before sharking off the rust. The cold streak saw the Tar Heels starters benched once the Miami lead reached double-digits; UNC’s back-ups entering with a nothing-to-lose attitude, helping their go-to guys get their mojo back.

Carolina took a lead with 5:58 remaining in the half—the 19-4 run hugely shifting momentum. Insult to injury came at the end of the half when Lonnie Walker fouled Cameron Johnson on a 3-point attempt; Johnson knocking down all three to take a one-point halftime lead, 32-31.

ACC officiating certainly brought some of that Tobacco Road home cooking to Brooklyn; some calls so egregious, Miami coaches would’ve had no problem putting together a reel to send to the league.

Still, it was a game there for the taking and unlike the lead the Canes built up in Chapel Hill weeks back, the Heels pull-away went next-level real around the 7:33 mark when Theo Pinson dropped a 3-pointer and pushed the lead to six.

Newton droped a dime a few possessions later, pulling Miami to within three—but Pinson immediately answered just as soon as the Canes started to feel good about themselves.

Outside of two Anthony Lawrence free throws at the 3:50 mark, Miami’s offense was cooked. Chris Lykes missed a lay-up, Walker missed a one-and-one free throw attempt—turning it over two possessions later—setting up a Brandon Huffman jumper that pushed Carolina’s lead to 15.

Biggest downside to the loss; not getting another crack at a Duke squad that stole one in Miami weeks back when the Canes blew a late second half 13-point lead.

Outside of that, tough to think a Bruce Brown-less UM squad was going to somehow take down the Tar Heels, Blue Devils and Cavaliers—three consecutive games over three days, on the heels of a four-game win-streak decided by eight points combined.

In short, Miami needed to lose, rest up, regroup and prepare for an NCAA Tournament bid as the real work had been done; a strong close to the regular season—including wins over Notre Dame, a surging Boston College, North Carolina at home and a feisty Virginia Tech squad—en route to securing a six-seed.

Miami’s seeding earns them a crack against a spirited eleven seed in Loyola-Chicago, who is headed to The Big Dance for the first time since 1985.

On paper No. 6 versus No. 11 sounds doable, but many pundits and critical are calling for the Ramblers to upset the Canes—which effectively puts momentum back on Miami’s side.

Why? Look no further than that “disrespect” factor that seems to motivate favored teams that might’ve been sleeping, but were quickly jarred away after reading the headlines.

ESPN “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi says Loyola-Chicago “can and should” beat Miami—despite the Canes playing in the heralded ACC and facing eight NCAA Tournament bound teams and five who wound up in the NIT. Longtime analyst Jay Bilas also picked the Ramblers, while Las Vegas only has UM listed as a two-point favorite.

Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga seems poised to use this to his team’s advantage.

“I think they deserve the recognition they’re getting,” said Larrañaga. “I just think it shows a little bit of disrespect for us and the ACC that people must not think we’re any good.”

Pressed if he thought that would serve as extra motivation, the likable coach responded: “It is to me. I think we’re now the underdog. People are picking them. We need to embrace that.”

Dewan Huell mentioned that he and his teammates have also taken note regarding Loyola-Chicago’s recent surge in popularity.

“We have to go in, embrace the moment, go out there and play with a chip on our back because a lot of people have us losing this first game, so we want to prove them wrong,” Huell said. “This isn’t the first time people have slept on us. We’re just going to prove them wrong, like always. I think our ACC regular season prepared us for this moment.”

Lykes echoed his teammate’s sentiment.

“It’s cool [if people pick Loyola-Chicago], it just adds fuel to our fire. We’re still a little bummed out by the North Carolina loss [in the ACC quarterfinals]. We’re not going to worry about what people are saying, what expectations are. We know what we can do when we play our best basketball.”

Some added motivation for the Canes on Thursday afternoon; the injured Brown will dress out as the sophomore has been cleared by doctors.

“For those who don’t know, this will be a shock to everybody, Bruce Brown will be dressing come Thursday,” Larrañaga said.

“He won’t play, but he wants to be in uniform. Beyond Thursday, first thing is we have to play well enough to win the game. Then after that, you make decisions one day at a time. He’s been cleared. He’s in the boot right now but was out of the boot this morning walking around the gymnasium working with our trainer.”

Translation and message to the Canes; scrap your way through Loyola-Chicago and you just might have your best player back for Tennessee over the weekend when fighting for a Sweet 16 berth.

The Ramblers are an experienced, steady-paced squad that plays good defense—and shoots 40-percent from beyond-the-arc. They also force turnovers, rebound well and limit opponents’ 3-point shots—and proven back in December when knocking off the fifth-ranked Florida Gators in Gainesville, 65-59.

(For context-sake, UF’s backslide began a week earlier when falling to a rallying Duke squad in Portland, 87-84—only to get waxed by rival Florida State at home days later by 17 points. Two days later, Loyola-Chicago rolled in and seized the moment.)

All that to say, Miami knows what’s a stake come Thursday. Play, or go home—and this Canes’ team has worked too hard to hang it up in the opening game, as happened last season when drawing Michigan State out the gate.

Miami and Loyola-Chicago get a 2:10 p.m. CT tip-off in Dallas. The Game will be televised on TRU TV.

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