Frank Haith's basketball team will wrap up it's home schedule Wednesday night when it hosts Maryland (18-11, 7-7) at the BankUnited Center at 7 p.m.
Haith is holding out hope the Canes (17-12, 5-9 ACC) will at the very least earn a trip to the NIT Tournament with a strong finish this week and potentially a win or two in next week's ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
What would a post season trip anywhere mean for the Canes after finishing 20-13 and staying home last season? For the future success of Haith's program one could argue that it's vital.
"I think this team needs to play games," Haith said Tuesday. "Outside of Adrian [Thomas] everybody is back [next year]. Whether it's the NCAA Tournament or NIT, we'd be very happy to compete in the postseason. It's important for this team to get into the postseason."
All Haith needs to do is look right down the hallway at UM to see how much a trip to the postseason can help a team the following season. Katie Meier's team reached the NIT finals last season and is now ranked in the Top 10 nationally.
If anything, the Canes might finally learn how to win tight games more consistently. UM has a record of 6-8 this season in games decided by six points or less. Asked how his team could win more games late Haith said it starts with better decision making from his point guards.
"One thing really need to get better at is our decision making and ball handling," Haith said. "Our guard play has to be really good. [But] the teams that are really good in those last four minutes, you have to make good decisions. You got to get to the free throw line, you got to make free throws and a lot of it is guard play. We have good guards. Durand [Scott], Malcolm [Grant], those guys are good. We just need them to be better in late game situations."
When Scott and Grant first joined forces at UM last season they were expected to be improvements at the point guard position. But both combo guards have struggled when it comes to distributing the ball. UM's assist to turnover ratio a year ago was 464 to 448 or -0.5, eighth best in the ACC and 210th nationally. This season, UM's assist to turnover ratio ranks 10th in the ACC (336 assists to 400 turnovers). The Canes are 11th out of 12 teams in turnovers per game.
Grant, who finished sixth in the ACC a year ago with a 1.8 assist to turnover ratio (117 assists to 66 turnovers), has slipped to 1.3 (94 to 70). Scott has gone from having a 1.5 (113 to 73) turnover-to-assist ratio in 2010 to 1.1 (93 to 83) this season.
"You improve by experiences, what you've done in the past games so you know what to do and what not to do," Haith said. "I think we've had some improvement there. I've pointed out to you before the comparison of what happened at N.C. State and Wake Forest, same type of scenario. Obviously Wake Forest was a positive play. We executed better."
Still, Haith admits there have been conversations between he and his staff that the program might be better off finding natural point guards instead of combo guards going forward. That's something he hasn't done very often in his first seven years in Coral Gables.
"There's no question it's something we've talked about," Haith said of scrapping the combo-guard concept. "I think Durand is going to be able to do it in terms of what we need him to do. It's just a matter of him... It's a learning process. He's doing something he's never done before."
It should be noted that the Canes don't have any natural point guards waiting in the wings for next season. The only high school recruit UM signed, North Carolina native Bishop Daniels, is known for his dunks not for his passes. Trey McKinney-Jones, a transfer, is a 6-5 shooting guard.
OTHER UM TIDBITS
> Former Canes cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke opened some eyes at Tuesday's NFL combine in Indianapolis when he posted a 4.28 time in the 40-yard dash, faster than any other competitor in the field. Van Dyke (6-1, 176) ran the third-fastest 40 at the combine since 2000 behind Titans running back Chris Johnson who turned in a 4.24 in 2008 and Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt`s 4.27 in 2005.
> According to UM, baseball coach Jim Morris remains hospitalized after having his gall bladder removed on Feb. 25. Morris was recovering from surgery before an infection required him to check back into the hospital. According to UM, doctors have stopped the spread of the infection. No word yet on when he'll be back on the field. Pitching coach JD Arteaga has served as interim manager during Morris absence.
"I'm progressing and getting better day by day," Morris said in a statement released by the school Tuesday morning. "I'm anxious to get released from the hospital and rejoin the team as soon as possible."
Originally, he was expected to rejoin the team for the Hurricanes' trip to No. 1 Florida for a three-game series beginning Friday. But UM spokesman Bryan Harvey said in a Tweet that's unlikely now.