Miami can wrap up ACC title at Duke
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP)
One of Miami forward Kenny Kadji's recollections about Jim Larranaga's very first team meeting with the Hurricanes was a discussion about power-brokers in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Larranaga asked who the best teams were. Everyone answered Duke and North Carolina.
At least for this season, anyway, it's certainly looking like those answers would be incorrect.
The fifth-ranked Hurricanes will get a chance to wrap up the outright ACC regular-season title on Saturday night, against the third-ranked (for now, anyway) Blue Devils at raucous and rowdy Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the home team has won 92 of its past 97 games, according to STATS LLC.
''Being in a place where they have to chase us, they're behind us, it's kind of weird,'' Kadji said. ''Obviously, I saw it coming.''
Duke may still be chasing Miami, but no one will pass the Hurricanes in this regular season.
The Blue Devils were beaten at Virginia on Thursday night, meaning the Hurricanes are now assured of no worse than a share of the ACC crown. The best Duke (24-4, 11-4) can hope for is to finish tied with Miami (23-4, 14-1).
So for the Hurricanes, the challenge now becomes wrapping up the outright title, which just one more win would do, and rest assured, Miami wants that clincher to come at Duke. Miami has shown it can win on the road this season, its 10 victories outside of Coral Gables more than doubling what any other team in the conference has posted.
The Hurricanes rode the strength of 27 points from Reggie Johnson to win at Cameron last season. And the number 27 might be in Duke's heads this time, but not because of what Johnson did on their floor last year. No, because the Blue Devils and coach Mike Krzyzewski surely remember a 27-point loss at Miami earlier this year, the program's worst regular-season defeat in nearly three decades.
''They embarrassed us,'' Duke guard Seth Curry said.
Kadji said Miami knows the stakes. And oddly, for Duke, Saturday still means plenty, considering the Blue Devils haven't even wrapped up an opening-round bye in the ACC tournament.
''It's going to be the best game of the year, in my opinion,'' Kadji said. ''A coach like Coach K, who in my opinion is the best coach in the world, he's going to have them ready. The whole program, the whole school is going to be ready.''
They'll especially be ready after Thursday night's loss at Virginia. The Hurricanes were off Thursday, one day after Shane Larkin scored 22 points to help Miami top Virginia Tech 76-58.
''It would mean a lot,'' Miami guard Trey McKinney Jones said, when asked about the prospects of clinching the crown at Cameron. ''One of our long-term goals at the beginning of the season was to win the regular-season ACC championship. To do it there, just to do it at all, it would mean the world to me.''
That is, especially since when he came out of high school, he never expected to be in this position. His college career started at Missouri-Kansas City, where he appeared in 61 games over two seasons, was part of only 19 wins and averaged 7.2 points per game.
Needing a change of scenery, he chose Miami.
''From where I came from, being at a mid-major school, you kind of don't think something like this is possible, like making the tournament,'' McKinney Jones said. ''Here, one of our long-term goals is winning a national championship. Being at UMKC, I never really saw that as something as possible.''
Making the tournament isn't exactly in doubt for Miami this year. For the first time since 2008, the Hurricanes will hear their names called on Selection Sunday.
Now, it's simply about getting in the best position on that bracket; maybe even a No. 1 seed. And another win at Cameron might go a long way toward that goal.
''People have been looking forward to this game on Saturday since we played them last,'' Larranaga said. ''But for us, we've had to take it one game at a time. ... Almost every team in the ACC plays better at home than they do on the road and Duke is no different. They've got great fan support. The place will be packed and rockin', probably hours before the game.''