January 16, 2015

(AP) - Miami's Jim Larranaga says he hasn't been around the game long enough to anticipate how a team will play in March.

He's only in his 32nd season as a head coach.

''I'm going to have to do this 20 or 30 more years before I get a feel,'' Larranaga said with a smile Monday.

It's an unpredictable business, but Larranaga does have a good feeling about this year's Hurricanes. Consecutive wins last week over ranked teams propelled them to a season-high No. 7 in the poll and allowed them to forge a tie with No. 8 North Carolina atop the ACC.

The Tar Heels moved back in front by half a game Monday when they beat Syracuse. But if the Hurricanes (23-5, 12-4) win on the road in their final two regular-season games against struggling Notre Dame (19-9, 10-6) on Wednesday night and at Virginia Tech on Saturday, they would be assured of at least a share of their second league title in four years.

And Larranaga said his balanced, experienced team has the talent to win the national championship.

''There is that potential,'' he said. ''The reason I say that is because right now there's nobody ahead of us. It's not like I look around and there are five or 10 teams much better than us. We think we're in the strongest league in the country, and yet in a week we could be regular-season champions.''

One reason for Larranaga's optimism is that he considers guard play critical in March. The Hurricanes' backcourt includes leading scorer Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez, the catalyst in their 73-65 comeback victory Saturday over No. 11 Louisville.

The Hurricanes remain in a come-from-behind frame of mind.

''We're still the chasers,'' forward Kamari Murphy said. ''We still call ourselves that. We have a lot of self-motivation. We've got to finish strong.''

Murphy and teammate Davon Reed smiled when informed they had climbed five spots in the latest poll and were back in the top 10 for the first time since midseason.

''I believe we lost the last time we were in the top 10,'' Reed said. ''It would be nice to be there for two weeks instead of one.''

The Hurricanes climbed to eighth in mid-January and promptly endured back-to-back losses for the only time this season - at Virginia and at Clemson.

They've gone 10-2 since, with a 79-70 victory over the Fighting Irish during that span.

''We're feeling very good,'' Reed said. ''Things are clicking at the right time. We're definitely hitting our stride right now. Everybody is very confident and playing very well together.''

Miami will play this week without sixth man Ja'Quan Newton, who is serving a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules.

''We don't replace him. We just tell Angel to play a lot more minutes,'' Larranaga said. ''Ja'Quan just had a fantastic regular season. I believe he should win the ACC sixth man of the year award.''

Newton will be back for the ACC tournament next week. The Hurricanes say they will still be ''the chasers'' then - and even if they reach the Final Four.

''The goal,'' Reed said, ''is to win it all.''

Less than two weeks ago, the Fighting Irish were still aiming for a league title. However, they went 1-2 on a recent road trip while being limited to an average of 62.3 points. Notre Dame is coming off Saturday's 77-56 loss to Florida State where it had a season low in points and shot 35.7 percent.

''We just haven't been very efficient offensively,'' coach Mike Brey said. ''You can talk about our defense or our ball-screen defense - and it's been an area where we wanted to improve, and I think we made some progress. But so much is based on our offensive efficiency and we just haven't been as good.''

The Irish can clinch a double bye in the league tournament with home wins against the Hurricanes and North Carolina State on Saturday.

Brey said Miami, like Florida State, took advantage of the Irish in the first meeting by continually driving the ball inside. But his concern is more on the offensive end, saying this week in practice he returned to some offensive drills they hadn't used recently.

''I think we have to get back to offensive stuff, passing the ball, getting guys in better positions and just kind of go back to stressing some break-down drills that we do when we're building our offense,'' he said.

Point guard Demetrius Jackson said the Irish need to return to the style of play they are known for.

''I think just having more purposeful movement, just being sharp with the ball, keeping it sharp with our cuts, our screens and stuff like that,'' he said.

But he also thinks the Irish need to do a better job defensively against the Hurricanes, who are shooting 47.5 percent and hit 56.4 percent of their attempts in the first matchup.

''We have to get consecutive stops. Then, also, we have to keep people in front of us and sliding our feet and keeping people out of the lane,'' he said.

The Irish will be seeking to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time since finishing the 2013-14 season with three straight.

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