Unbeaten UM has opportunity to make impression

Dec. 13, 2001


There’s another undefeated University of Miami team on campus, an 8-0 team that sweats just as much as the football team but so far has been virtually ignored by South Florida fans and national pollsters.

The UM men’s basketball team quietly climbed to No. 20 in the RPI power ratings after last Saturday’s road win over Texas A&M, and is one of 12 unbeaten teams remaining in the nation. Six of the undefeated teams are ranked in the AP Top 25, including Oklahoma State (9-0) and Boston College (8-0), both of which have lower RPIs than UM.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes are buried in the “Also Receiving Votes” category with 29 votes in the AP writers’ poll and 24 in the USA Today/Coaches poll.

A win over No. 21 Indiana Saturday in the Orange Bowl Classic could be what UM needs to get noticed. The Hoosiers (6-2) are coming off wins over previously-unbeaten Notre Dame and No. 15 Ball State. Their roster features Jared Jeffries, the 2000 Big Ten freshman of the year, who averaged 25 points in the wins over the Irish and Cardinals.

“I think we’ve been overlooked, but hopefully if we can win this game, we’ll get some attention,” said UM forward Darius Rice. “I know Indiana’s a really good team and it will be a huge challenge.”

The atmosphere at AmericanAirlines Arena for the doubleheader — No. 4 Florida plays Charlotte in the second game — should be better than the murmur that often greets the Hurricanes at home. More than 7,500 fans are expected. A few thousand will likely be cheering for the Hoosiers, who draw fans everywhere, with or without Bob Knight.

UM coach Perry Clark admits beating the Hoosiers would be a big confidence boost, but insists breaking the Top 25 is not a priority.

“The season is so long that I don’t give polls any thoughts at all at this point,” Clark said. “I’m so engrossed with what our team is doing that I couldn’t even tell you the top 10 teams in the country. Most people voting haven’t even seen most of the teams. I figure if we keep winning, everything will take care of itself in due time.”

The Hurricanes have a few chances to get noticed in December — Saturday, Dec. 22 against Charlotte, and Dec. 27 against Louisiana State in the Sugar Bowl Basketball Classic. If they win two or three of those games, chances are the Hurricanes will be ranked going into the Jan. 2 Big East opener at Georgetown.

UM opens conference play with four straight road games — at Georgetown, UConn, St. John’s and Virginia Tech.

“One of the goals we set at the beginning of the season was 13-0 in non-conference games,” said guard John Salmons. “We aren’t surprised to be 8-0. We have so much talent, and we believe we’re a good team. We think we deserve some respect, and maybe it will happen if we beat Indiana.”

UM players said it is a baffling to see teams with worse records and lower RPIs in the rankings. Michigan State ranked No. 23 with a 5-3 record and 50 RPI. UCLA is ranked 17 with a 4-2 record and a 47 RPI.

“People just don’t know about us yet, but they will if we keep winning,” Rice said. Despite the perfect record, Clark said his team is not worthy of comparisons to the UM football team. Yet.

“Our football team has a very special mentality. . . . when they step on the field, they feel they’re supposed to win,” Clark said. “It’s not cockiness or arrogance, it’s a belief in ability. And that’s something we’re just starting to get. We’re a work in progress.”