Sitting At The Bottom

With three regular-season games remaining, the University of Miami men's basketball team is living dangerously. And with time running out to make up ground, some of the Hurricanes are starting to question if the team has packed it in for the season.

Despite the Hurricanes (10-14, 3-10) latest road meltdown at Villanova Tuesday that dropped their record away from home to 1-10 and kept them in a last place tie in the Big East conference East Division, Miami is still within reach of qualifying for the league's postseason tournament.

But after turning in another forgettable performance against the Wildcats in which UM had 21 turnovers several players aren't sure if the Hurricanes can make one final push to close the season. Miami has committed 67 turnovers in the last three games- losses to Georgetown, Providence and Boston College- and been hindered by poor decisions late in several of the games.

Miami junior forward Darius Rice believes that some of the younger players have lacked effort the last few weeks. And Rice isn't very pleased.

"Man, I just don't see the same intensity we had two months ago- or even a month ago," said Rice who leads the Hurricanes with 19.1 points a game but made only four field goals against Villanova. "I really don't think we're playing with a lot of purpose right now. And that's really upsetting because the season isn't over. I'm going to fight until the final bell and it's time to go home."

Rice said that turnovers and the constant poor decisions have led to the team's downfall after a 7-4 start in their non-conference schedule. Rice added that once the Hurricanes fall behind in games the team tends to lose their focus.

"We put our heads down right away," Rice said. "And that can't be happening. We have a game on Saturday and need to pick ourselves up."

As if things couldn't get any worse, the Hurricanes turned in perhaps their worst performance of the year against the Wildcats with 21 turnovers and just 19 field goals for the entire game. Miami's shooting in the second half was so inaccurate that the Hurricanes had just 25 points with 15:00 remaining in the contest.

"I just don't know what the mental state of our basketball team is right now," said UM coach Perry Clark. "When you're dealing with young kids you just don't now. But somehow we have to get ready for a basketball game on Saturday."

Many signal out that the Hurricanes haven't won a road game since December at Central Florida. But their problems stretch way beyond being unable to win on the road.

Rice refused to leave the Villanova game and played through a hand injury. He is questionable for Saturday's game with a sprained index finger on his right hand. Additionally, point guard Mike Simmons suffered a concussion and James Jones played despite a stomach illness. Jones should return, while the availability of Simmons is unclear.

Even with a relatively healthy team before facing the Wildcats, the Hurricanes have quickly dropped to the bottom of the conference. Miami, with only Rice and Jones averaging double-figure points scored per game, is scoring just over 70 points a game. Miami has struggled from the floor, shooting .422, while allowing the opposing to shot at a .434 clip.

And even with all their troubles the Hurricanes have yet another chance to escape the cellar Saturday, Mar. 1, against the Boston College Eagles at the Convocation Center. One of the reasons the Hurricanes have struggled is their inconsistency in the backcourt and that will have to improve quickly with Boston College senior guard Troy Bell coming to town. Bell, averaging 25.6 points a game, tops in the Big East, is the Eagles main source of offense and can score from the perimeter and take the ball inside. Bell recently climbed to fifth-place in league history with 1,270 points.

The Hurricanes haven't fared well against the Eagles, period. Miami has lost their last five meetings against the Eagles, including a 76-65 defeat at Boston College last month. Miami is 8-14 overall and 4-6 at home against BC. The last UM win over BC: Jan. 22, 2000.

Miami next plays at Virginia Tech (10-16, 3-10), Mar. 5, in a game that could decide if or not the Hurricanes advance to the Big East tournament.

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