As a result of its impressive 78-62 win over 15th-ranked Florida State Sunday afternoon, Miami would likely earn one of the last few available NCAA tournament bids if the regular season ended today.
The question now is whether the Hurricanes can hold on to that tenuous spot in the field of 68 the next two weeks if they don't have their top big man.
Starting center Reggie Johnson, Miami's best low-post scorer and rebounder, was declared ineligible just before tipoff Sunday as a result of "impermissible travel benefits" given his family by a former member of the Hurricanes coaching staff.
The NCAA uncovered the potential infraction during its ongoing investigation into the Nevin Shapiro scandal. Miami is seeking Johnson's immediate reinstatement because it says the junior had no knowledge of the benefits his family received, but the NCAA has not given a timetable for its ruling.
"It's my understanding Reggie and his family didn't do anything wrong," Miami coach Jim Larranaga told the Miami Herald on Sunday. "They didn't know of any impermissible benefit. It was somebody else that did that. Reggie's already paid a dear price, missing this game."
If the announcement that Johnson couldn't play against Florida State began Sunday's game on a somber note for Miami, then the Hurricanes' spirits probably brightened considerably because of how they fared in his absence.
Employing mostly a four-guard attack featuring 6-foot-11 Kenny Kadji in the middle, the Hurricanes scorched Florida State's vaunted defense from the perimeter. They scored 54 second-half points and sank 7 of 13 second-half threes, never letting the Seminoles any closer than seven points in the game's final 10 minutes.
At 17-10 overall and 8-6 in conference play, Miami is clearly the ACC's best chance to land a fifth NCAA tournament bid. The Hurricanes are No. 48 in the RPI and now boast wins over Duke and Florida State, though nothing they did in nonconference play is especially impressive.
When Miami was without Johnson due to injury for the first nine games of the season, it suffered losses to Ole Miss, Purdue, West Virginia and Memphis. Johnson has averaged 10.6 points and 6.9 rebounds since returning in mid-December, helping the Hurricanes vault back into NCAA tournament contention.
If Johnson cannot rejoin the team immediately, Miami will need to play better without him than it did the first time. Even if the Hurricanes close the regular season with wins at NC State on Wednesday and home against Boston College on Saturday, they may still need to win a game in the ACC tournament to feel secure entering Selection Sunday.
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